The phenomenon of sustained, leaderless and massive public protests on the streets of Delhi against the hideous gang rape has shown once again and more pointedly since the anti-graft movement in 2011, that the educated youth of the country is now a force to reckon with. These young people, armed with education and the skills and wherewithal needed to quickly build networks, have emerged as the most assertive section of the polity.
The death of the young woman after 13 days of acute, unspeakable suffering is mind-numbing. Yet, this is only one instance of horrible gender crime in a country where rape, bride-burning, witch-hunting, honour killing, female foeticide and forced prostitution occur in such numbers that the nation ranks among the worst offenders against women in the world.
Only a day before the December 16 gang-rape incident, a 16-year-old girl was dragged out of her home in Fatehpur, Uttar Pradesh, beaten up and strangled to death by goons who had raped her a year back. She was being pressured to withdraw her police complaint and her refusal to do so resulted in the fatal attack. There has been no outcry against the incident.
In Patiala, a minor rape victim committed suicide after being frustrated in her attempts to get the culprits booked under the law.
But Delhi’s enlightened youth is largely apathetic. The news of child rape or the rape of minor girls from an underprivileged background never elicits any visible protest.
India very nearly heads the world in women and child trafficking. In West Bengal, a total of 11,228 children disappeared in 2011, mostly from villages. It is difficult to understand why our social conscience would not be roused at the news of such a massive number of children being sucked into prostitution or child slavery.
Apparently, then, our educated youth reacts when the circumstances of a crime seems to threaten their own sense of security and entitlement. It is the identification that the urban youth in Delhi and other Indian cities felt with the 23-year-old paramedic student that roused their fears and fuelled indignation against the authorities. They were in it as much for themselves as for the victim, who had been one of them.
In 2011, Team Anna succeeded in mustering a huge support among the educated middle class netizens on the issue of corruption. Even without much of an understanding of the nitty-gritty of the pr oposed Lokpal Bill this section of civil society supported the cause, because they perceived corruption to be one of the chief bottlenecks to India’s growth, and hence to their own upward mobility in a global order based on competitiveness and professionalism.
Yet, if India has to emerge as a humane and equitable society it has to pin its hopes on its educated, aspirational youth. According to the 2007 UN State of the World Report, by 2030 more than 65 per cent of the country’s population would be below 35, and the average age of an Indian in 2020 will be 29. It is well, then, that there are signs now of the emergence of an apolitical ‘civil’ youth as a major stakeholder in the progress of the Indian socio polity.
Standing on the cusp of a youth resurgence, we have to devise and adopt means to eradicate the schisms and divided loyalties that seem to plague this resurgence of the power of youth. We have to remember and spread among the youth of middle India Swami Vivekananda’s revolutionary declaration of the deep kinship of all Indians: “Poor Indians, illiterate Indians, sub-caste Indians are all my brothers, my blood.” They must realize that they cannot progress while the majority of their countrymen continue to be in misery and indignity. As Rabindranath Tagore said in a poem, “Those you plunge below will bind you to the bottom. Those you keep at the back pull you backward.”
Dr Suparna Banerjee is a writer based in Kolkata firstname.lastname@example.org