Tuesday, August 15, 2006

India's Youth: Their Thoughts and Aspirations

As reported in The Hindu, India's National Newspaper

By Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar

Are India's youth a homogenous group? Do they have different social values? Are they optimistic about the country's future? The Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey on the attitudinal profile of the young.

The Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey prepared a special questionnaire for the youth, or those below 30 years of age. A total of 3,254 people (out of the 14,680 interviewed) fell in this category. The composition of this group, surveyed in 19 states and 833 locations across the country, was broadly similar to the social profile of the rest of society: 74 per cent from the rural areas, 80 per cent Hindus, 12 per cent Muslims, 20 per cent Dalits and nine per cent Adivasis. Women (44 per cent) were slightly under-represented.

Continuity of belief

The findings show that Indian youth are not a homogenous category. The usual social factors -- the urban/rural divide, class, gender, caste and community -- play a role in shaping their attitudinal profile. Unlike advanced industrial societies, where age is a significant social factor and there are sharp differences of opinion across generations, there is a strong continuity of belief in India. While this guards against disruption of social and family life, it means that there are limits to perceiving the youth as harbingers of change.

The standard media image of the youth is that of trendy, gadget-wielding, metropolitan boys and girls. A nationwide survey such as this reminds us of how far reality is from this image.

Only one out of six Indian youth has a personal mobile phone or a two-wheeler -- possibly, the two most coveted consumer goods. Only three per cent have an internet connection at home. (This figure goes up to seven per cent if all those who have access to the internet are included.)

Access to such goods and technologies is strongly determined by location and the economic condition of the family. Urban upper class youth are nearly 10 times more likely to possess these in comparison with those who fall within the lower half of the rural population.

Information divide

There is an information divide between rural and urban youth.

A little over half the respondents say they read newspapers. The number of those who watch news on television is a little higher.

However, youth are more exposed to the media than elders. They also access entertainment on television and in cinema halls in greater numbers.

But even here there is a clear rural-urban divide, further accentuated by class divisions. It is worth noting that less than one-fifth of the respondents have read any book other than those prescribed in their syllabi.

The Indian youth are still far from entering the `information age.' This is reflected in their level of awareness. Nearly one-third of those polled could not say what August 15 was all about.

Forty per cent failed to identify the year in which India became independent. And three-fourths had not heard of the Emergency.

While the responses are closely linked to educational qualifications, the awareness level of graduates leaves much to be desired. More respondents knew about Valentine's Day than about the Emergency.

Class conditions aspirations

Respondents were asked to cite the monthly income that would be sufficient to meet the needs of themselves and the family. Fifty seven per cent mentioned a figure up to Rs. 5,000 a month (approximately $125 US).

Among the rural lower classes, three-fourths were satisfied with this. Only one out of seven mentioned a figure in excess of Rs. 10,000 a month (five per cent among rural lower class and 50 per cent among the urban well-to-do).

But class distinctions have no bearing on mobility aspirations. A majority of those in villages would like to leave and settle in towns.

The difference between upper and lower classes on this issue is insignificant. Only 24 per cent of village youth oppose moving. Nineteen per cent do not have a strong opinion on this issue. About half of those polled are prepared to leave their States in search of a job. Only 33 per cent are unwilling to do so.

Interestingly, the urban poor have a greater attachment to their locality than the rural poor. Better off urbanites see more opportunities for mobility and are more open to moving, even to a foreign country. The upper class is enthused by this prospect.

A willingness to work abroad does not mean a willingness to give up Indian identity. When asked whether they would trade Indian citizenship for that of the United States, only 12 per cent said yes. Sixty four per cent said they would not.

Interestingly, the rural and urban poor reject giving up citizenship more strongly. The urban well-to-do is more prepared to do so.

Nationalist strains were also reflected in unease about globalisation. More respondents see globalisation as a threat than an opportunity. However, nearly half of those polled did not have an opinion on this crucial question.

The signs of changing attitudes are noticeable in the responses to questions on lifestyle. Many think there is nothing wrong in being `successful and ambitious,' and that simplicity is not a virtue.

Youth icons

In the choice of role models, youth are no different from elders.

Mahatma Gandhi, followed by Indira Gandhi, emerge the two most popular choices. Three figures deserve special mention here: Bhagat Singh is still something of a youth icon, Dr. Ambedkar's status as a national hero has risen in the last few years, and President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has endeared himself to the younger generation.

There are very few signs of change when it comes to social and family values.

Three-fourths believe in God, and most worship regularly. As their parents do, the youth are also against dating. They also endorse the view that marriage should take place within one's own caste-community, and that parents should choose their partners.

Indian youth also favour staying with parents after marriage, and believe that it is their responsibility to look after parents.

Not adventurous politically

In politics too, the youth are not very adventurous. Their rate of participation in political activities, and their level of interest and support for democracy are not very different from the rest of the population.

If there is one piece of good news in the survey, it is that the younger generation is very optimistic about its future and that of the country.

The optimism is more pronounced on economic questions as they expect poverty to be reduced and their economic condition and that of the country to get better. They think India will remain united, secular, and emerge as a superpower.

These expectations do not square with their anxieties, as nearly two-thirds are anxious about employment and career. Prospects of marriage are much lower on their anxiety list.