It is perhaps impudence to ask what a country can do for its youth. But, 65 years since India became a republic, this is a question worth exploring. India is the most populous democracy in the world.
It is also the country where young men and women were once hauled away to forced sterilization camps. The youth learned that even the fundamental right to propagate one’s kind could not be taken for granted. But they still had the right to propagate political delusions.
In 1977, when Indira Gandhi closed the sterilization camps and called for fresh election, the philosophy of population control was quickly voted out of existence.
People marched into the polling booths and voted against it with a feeling of vengeance. But this was a rare moment in the history of Independent India because moral outrage in politics rarely has its roots in the love of liberty and justice.
However, it did not take long for Indira Gandhi to wield power over the people again. Public memory is, indeed, short. I find this amusing, but I record this fact because it is a key to understand the nature of the Indian democracy.
Is it possible that such a society has something of value to offer the youth? Schooling in India is free and compulsory, but if you turned out just fine, you probably would have turned out fine anyway.
The average Indian may now be more schooled than a Frenchman or an Italian fifty years ago. But as in much of the developing world, he is literate only by definition. Children still cannot read, write or perform basic arithmetic operations satisfactorily. Save for a few institutions, a degree from a college in India is not worth the paper on which it is printed.
Although it’s hard for an eccentric to carve out his niche anywhere in the world, here it is often too large an order.
The Indian constitution “guarantees” freedom of speech and expression. But an instructive refutation to this claim is to imagine what would happen if a young man were to speak his mind, whether in print or person. If he can do so without being hauled into the courtroom, or escorted to the lunatic asylum, it would be quite a spectacle.
Also, if you are robbed, mugged or cheated out of your money, you can, at best, pretend it did not happen. For often, it is pointless to visit the police station or the court. The cure is worse than the disease. Despite the much debated Delhi gangrape case, it is still hard for a young woman to walk down most Indian streets.
It is indisputable that the Indian republic has failed the people somewhere.
Many believe that the young are apathetic, but this may not necessarily be the truth. Several causes still make them go screaming to the barricades or disrupt traffic and metro train services. Perhaps they do not care in a more meaningful way. Perhaps their passions are more developed than their minds. In the aftermath of the Delhi gangrape, many of those on Facebook who were dreaming up ingenious methods of torture, did not know that chemical castration does not actually castrate the person.
There is plenty of blame to go around, but it is improbable that the youth are innocent victims in all this.
In the 1950’s, when a pair of American researchers asked a mother in Khalapur in Uttar Pradesh what kind of man she hoped her young son would be when he grew up, she said, “It is in his fate, no matter what I want.” Yes. It is in his fate. True in 1950. Truer in 2014.
Today, the most valuable of all possessions that a young man can have is the intellectual equipment with which he is born. If God had sent him to earth marking his place at the top of the IQ pyramid, he should count his blessings. He can flee to fairer lands. But, then, our most valuable possessions are not a gift of the Indian republic.
Shanu Athiparambath, 30, is a journalist. He tweets at deadmanoncampus