2020 has been quite a year for India and it wasn’t just the pandemic for us. The GDP hit a record low given the locked down economy, the unemployment rates have soared, we saw two state elections with ample theatrics, we grappled with social and political unrest as witnessed during the many bill related protests, including the unfortunate communal riots in Delhi.
When the pandemic hit the country, the agitation, unrest and uncertainties were unparalleled. The sudden advent of the phenomenon didn’t exactly give us a chance to sit back and prepare. The sights of thousands of migrant labourers walking back to their homes without food, shelter, sleep…are not long gone. With the lack of proper infrastructure, lost jobs, no predictable direction for schools/ educational institutions, deaths of people we know…love, deteriorating mental health and compromised wellbeing on a whole… lives turned completely upside down. Amidst the looming reality and the hastiness of our response to the unknown, we felt loneliness, silo and disintegration at such scale and magnitude for the first time. Most uncertain have been the future of the youth…the future of the country. But are their lives, how they lead it and what they make of it…a story of a distant future?
In our country of 1.35 billion people, 543 million are young. And the theme for the National Youth Day this year amidst the slump that 2020 happened to be, is ‘Channelising Youth Power for Nation Building’.
The bulging youth demographic is expected to play a significant role in articulating and building the nation. With the exponential increase in access to knowledge for young people, they now are more opinionated, aware, decisive and aspirational. It’s a rare inflection moment, which can pivot us way beyond the demographic dividend thinking that permeates the youth discourse today.
Amidst the thick of challenges all around us when the present and future would seem bleak…young people across the country collaborated most resiliently and are at the forefront of many inspiring stories of social hope and positive change! The COVID-19 crisis has been a testament to what youth leadership can do, especially without any real systemic agency and the role played by young people cannot be applauded more. They came up with the most innovative and daring solutions! Campus movements for change have been alive and impactful, over the past year, as have several CSO and Government initiated youth citizenship movements. In many ways, it’s how young people would describe, a ‘woke’ moment, with Jagriks (Jagruk + Nagriks) being born every day. Across the world, we can see, the battle to save the planet is being led by children still in school; Another example of youth leadership and youth engagement is seen in the movement against racial discrimination. Even as we look around us, heads of state across the world are getting younger by the day.
We as a society have placed immense expectations of the young people to lead ‘Nation-Building’ for India, but as a nation, we must create an enabling environment for our youth. This duty only be accomplished if we co-create the right space and context and narrative in which the young can have agency, take important decisions, feel included and understood and reach their own potential even as they make change in the world.
Therefore, it is imperative to create a framework for youth duties and rights that seeks to engage young people, parents, communities, educators, institutions, employers, corporates, media houses, UN Agencies, civil society organisations and others in collaborative intergenerational dialogues to move youth-centric development from the margins and make it a new norm in every space that young people occupy or that impacts young people such that they become ‘Jagruk Nagriks’.
In a country where nation building is the constant ask of young people, there is also a need for generation building to ensure that it is sustainable. As we celebrate National Youth Day today, let’s also celebrate each young person in the country and invest in them such that we harness the demographic dividend and the youth are able to become a force multiplier. Now, more than ever, it is time for GenNation Building towards Nation Building.
Pratibha Pathak, Senior Coordinator, Campaigns and Dissemination, ComMutiny – The Youth Collective and the vartaLeap Coalition