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Unnoticed, underutilised? Fridays with Future: Registering youth voices, thoughts

By Mansee Bal Bhargava* 

While addressing the nation few days ago, the Prime Minister called upon the youth (Bal Mitra) to help maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour, insisting that the lockdown would be the last resort. Later, the final year medicos are asked to jump into the medical practice for covid care due to the shortage of the healthcare human resources during this unprecedented medical crisis.
Further, when Niti Aayog calls upon the young doctors with incentivised package for expediting covid care, is there a prejudice that the youth aren’t doing enough? Studies do show that the youth are participating in the fight matching shoulders with others as they do in other occasions. Yet there are a large number of youths who aren’t engaging or are not able to engage.
There is something crucial to look through in both situations. Are the youths registering their thoughts/voices enough and are they heard enough on the happenings of the society so that they chose to engage? My take is a big NO! with valid reasons. There is lack of room for the youths to share, ask, join, argue, and even disagree. It is a matter of serious concern to build responsible citizenry.
Many youths are found clueless to engage with the society even if they wish to do so; many even become indifferent after being helpless for long to do something and many have lost the hope to do something as it would not make much difference. Many of such youths, especially from the middle classes, either land up abroad, further alienating themselves from the society, and many even join the radical groups, as can be seen in the political dramas. Then, many just submit to the system to go the ‘business as usual’ way.
Indeed, there are a few youths who rise and make their marks in the society by engaging vocally, socially, culturally, technically, and even politically. The concern is about the larger chunk of the youths that are serious resource of the country go unnoticed and underutilised.
In a year’s Covid lockdown period, having opportunities to connect with hundreds of youths from teaching-learning at ten plus universities/institutes and speaking-hearing at 50 plus webinars on various topics, I find that the youths are constantly observing things happening in society. Barring a few, most of them hold a worldview and seem to reason out happenings; however, they miss substantial avenues to register their thoughts/voices.
Unfortunately, this lack of room to register thoughts/voices leads to lost hope to engage with society both to complement as well as to contest on the happenings. In both ways, the lost battle should be a deep concern for any society.
Why are the majority youths reluctant or unable to register their thoughts/voices? Lack of room in the social-cultural-political space is an obvious answer. Then briefly the culture, when the children are loaded with all kinds of questions, for the difficult ones often parents-teachers chose to shut them up stressing upon that it is rude to ask questions.
Anyway, as a culture we don’t seem to distinguish between interrogation and objection. So before even children establish their worldview, their inquiries and inquisitiveness are crushed. I recall this in the classrooms when students are not asking enough questions since they are not nurtured to ask questions both in parenting and in schooling.
But yes, there are those few who are bold to speak their minds. There also the youths who rose to various occasions to not only get their minds registered in the social-cultural-political spaces, they have also asked several instrumental questions to the society. Just a few examples of young women (no gender bias on this but just making a case) voices from my last article: Ranging from Shehla Rashid, Aisha Ghosh, Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Safoora Zagar, and Nodeep Kaur, to the recent Disha Ravi.
We also saw in the recent times youths registering their voices in the mainstream politics and societal matters, be it the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) of last year or the Farmers Bill this year. Also, not to forget the mega JP movement of the 1974 which changed the history of Indian politics was also a youth movement.
But why this issue at this time? History tells that youth are the game changers in the society. Therefore, their inquiries and inquisitiveness must be live. However, since few last years the youths are put under severe pressure to supress the voices/thoughts. Then came the last year’s lockdown with schools-colleges closed (rightfully so) till date, which in my opinion is furthering the suppression of their freedom of thinking, questioning, and expressing.
Here is an example of why. In a Digital India, when the government can reach every (smart) phone, why isn’t it utilising to reach out to the youths regularly before deciding for them? A simple survey can also make youth feel more inclusive to the entire governance process. Be it, when to shut or open schools-colleges, efficacy of the digital teaching-learning, when/how the exams to be conducted, how to combat covid, how they may/can engage in the fight to covid, etc.
The system can take the opinion of the youth if it considers them part and parcel of society beyond their education, sports, culture, innovation, etc. Instead, while the government imposed several covid-lockdown regulations upon the youth, they did take note of the flouting of the regulations by the government machinery, politicians, celebrities, and elites which are regularly raised in the classroom conversations.
A simple example being, while the schools-colleges are closed, all other congregations are taking place from social-cultural-religious festivals to election campaigns. Then there is the example of netas promoting to wear mask both on hoardings, while not wearing the masks themselves.
Most crucially, the medical distress augmented with the discriminatory vaccination policy will certainly go deep in the minds of the youth especially when ordinary citizens may get vaccinated. Now when the vaccination is opened for all, the youths have digitally enrolled only to find that there aren’t enough vaccines available in quantity as well as quality at this time.
More heart wrenching are the matters of corruption in medical and development practices, be they beds in hospitals or the buildings in the Rajpath area. Then of course there is this the undercurrent of New India through Hinduvta which youths are absolutely mum, about both out of concern as well as non-clarity. The youths learned hard facts about lost values in society and that should be a matter of deep concern for the society’s front runners.
Investing in the youth population is the best way to leverage the nation’s competitive advantage – its demographic dividend. Just to remind us that India’s youth population is among the highest in the world. The youths want to be more meaningfully engaging with the society.
Every youth is full of energy, ideas and skillsets to pour out emotions and engage in the society. The youths should not be treated as mute spectators and subjected to only one-way prescription/instructions of dos and do nots. They need to be provided with room to be heard with healthy dialogues, discussions, debates on the various matters pertaining to the wellbeing of the society. A healthy country is one where the youths are proud of their society and want to participate in the best possible way.
It is thus among the prime duties of the seniors/system/society to provide enabling environments to keep the enthusiasm, empathy and emotions run among the youths. Else, after a while, the youths have the power to take charge of the society. History tells that whenever the society is wrecked by power, it is the youths who have resurrected the sanity back in place.
With that hope some of us have come together to initiate regular digital Dialogues/Debates/Discussions with the youths on various matters of the society through the 'Fridays with Future' meetings on every Friday at 6.00pm. The meetings will be open house to register thoughts/voices with all as speakers.
Look forward to meeting the youths on the inaugural of may 7 at 6.00pm for a digital diagnosis of 'More power to the centre or empower the states?', in the context of the Covid governance of the current times and general healthcare otherwise in the country.
Check out on other/every Fridays what is being discussed and share your views also at fridayswithfuture@gmail.com.
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*Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, water enthusiast, governance scholar and keen political observer. Click here for more about Mansee

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