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Is the Youth of India only capable of Arm-chair Activism?

Are we only capable of clicking through or do we actually have it in us to effect real change?

Youth smiles without any reason. It is one of its chiefest charms.
-Thomas Gray

India, with a population of 1.3 billion people and an average age of 29 years is one of the youngest countries in the world!! Sounds superb, doesn't it? Sure. Read on.

The 21st Century marks the advent of technological innovation where space- travel, digital economy and electric cars are on the roll. The constantly evolving space of the internet and social media has transformed the world into a global village. But just like everything else, this century too has come with its set of cons- Climate crisis, food shortages, gender disparity, institutionalised racism, communal violence and so on…

India being at the centrestage of this era — with its ever-increasing literacy rate, entrepreneurial youth and mercurial enthusiasm towards tech- surely stands to gain a demographic dividend like no other.

But while the above is a fact, the following is a reality too —

In just the last five years, India has plummeted to the 142nd rank in World Press Freedom Index , 133rd in Women, Peace and Security Index and 86th in Corruption Perception Index.

A country whose history is drenched in the blood of young freedom fighters (who with their clenched fists and youthful passion for revolution granted India its freedom from the British less than a century ago), one finds the youth who stand most affected by these systemic issues, conspicuous by their absence.

So where is the outrage?

What seems to be the trouble in actually getting out and taking action?

Or are we, the GenZ just good enough to twiddle our thumbs away at our smartphones? Thinking the ‘submit’ button will make all our nation’s woes go away with a Tweet?

It is undeniable that youth activism has taken a back seat in this country that once stood for justice and equal rights. Perhaps ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ where apparently the means to end global problems…is only a click away…much like everything else. Or maybe these issues are just one of those open windows on your phone where typical chronology the fingers follow is:

  1. Check texts from crush on Whatsapp
  2. Order sandwich from Swiggy
  3. Hit retweet on an issue that's burning national and international press coverage

“Bas bro.. I did my part, na ? What else could I do more?”

Some of the recent instances of youth apathy have angered us even more. The anger towards the issue is definitely there. But, what makes us angrier is —

Why are YOU not angry?

What were you doing when the Delhi riots broke out in 2020?

On the eve of February 23, riots broke out in Northeast Delhi between Anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and pro-CAA protestors. The violence took a communal turn and led to the death of over 53 people over the course of the next 10 days. Shops and houses were burnt down and even Mosques were attacked and vandalised.

A mob out for blood -A group of men chanting pro-Hindu slogans, beat Mohammad Zubair (Source: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)

With hundreds dead and thousands displaced, the horrific incident left the country shell-shocked!

But do you know what YOU were doing?

Same sh*t — Drawing conclusions and weaving conspiracy theories being the privileged Twitterati while conducting self-appointed social media trials.

No demands for investigation. No demands for accountability. No concerns raised for the victims.

What were you doing when migrant workers walked back hundreds of kilometres to save themselves and their families during the Janata curfew?

A poorly handled pandemic along with the imposition of a nationwide lockdown within short notice left thousands of migrant workers astray during the first wave of COVID-19. With transportation systems suddenly screeching to a grinding halt and all means to return home shut, thousands of daily wage workers marched on foot towards their homes — not from one suburb to the other. But from one corner of the country to the other extreme corner!

Many bore the brunt of the police lathi charge. Hundreds died on their journey home - most from coronavirus, others from starvation.

But do you know what YOU were doing?

Epic sh*t —Marking your online presence with Dalgona coffee, viral memes, Quarantine pillows and Ludo King! Some slightly socially-aware ones also contributed with aggressive liking, commenting, retweeting, sharing. Yeah, yeah. You did.

Surely, you have the valid argument — The country was under lockdown, dude! What could I have done even if I wanted to?

Migrant workers lacking any other means to go home walked back home during the suddenly announced lockdown (Source: AP)

What were you doing when children who couldn't afford the means to Digital Education lost crucial years of learning in Covid?

Educational institutions such as schools and colleges were completely shut down in the wake of COVID 19 protocols while non-essential outlets such as shopping malls, bars and elections campaigns were authorised to run at over 50% capacities.

The nationwide economic crisis, massive unemployment juxtaposed with the new digital divide, forced many girls and boys from rural areas out of school and into child marriage/child labour.

And the Government continued to do what it does best- Change! As institutions and students grappled with the ‘new normal of education’, the Central Government passed the National Education Policy (NEP) aiming to further digitise school and college education.

And yet, do you know what YOU were doing?

Educated sh*t- No outrage, no demonstrations, no outcry against such brazen privilege divide. You chose to look the other way as your peers were brutally ostracised and their futures bulldozed before your screens.

What were you doing when the Farmer of the country was sitting on the streets in protest for over a year?

Being “woke” is cool, yes! But then, farmers are not part of that special place in your heart, right?

For over a year, the man who grows the food you eat, the Indian farmer, was charged with water cannons, tear gas, police lathicharge, state-encouraged violence and ludicrous media trials. Why? Because he was conducting a peaceful protest against the newly-framed Farm laws that the Government had decided to thrust upon him.

And yet again, do you know what YOU were doing?

Not-so-woke sh*t — The youth of the country mostly remained away and deeply uninterested in the farmers’ story.

It wasn't their battle to fight.

Farmers protesting against the Agricultural Bills in Delhi (Source: Getty Images)

Who are YOU really? A generation of lazy, apathetic, trend-mongering bunch of Internet fanatics who only care about your own DP and followers across social media platforms? The majority believes so. But we don't.

Not really.

While there are definitely arenas where increasing participation of youth is more desirable; not all hope is lost in the Indian YOUTH. History has remained witness to several instances of raw-courage, mass mobilisation of youngsters who locked horns with state machinery, often shocking governments into corrective action and leaving a lasting impact in the socio-political landscape. India and abroad.

Remember the Rohith Vemula’s suicide case?

When PhD student Rohith Vemula hung himself from the ceiling fan of his dorm room, you ensured a massive nationwide protest ensued. YOU brought light to the lesser-known malady of instituitionalised casteism and the bias that prevails against our peers on campus. You ensured that your friends from top universities across the country participated in an encore that shook the roots of the Government.

Classes were suspended in the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi as students staged demonstrations at the iconic Jantar Mantar and demanded resignation of Union ministers Smriti Irani and Bandaru Dattatreya as well as the Hyderabad university vice-chancellor, the latter being accused of abetting Rohith’s suicide.

Yes, YOU were there. In action!

At a protest over the suicide of Rohith Vemula, outside the HRD Ministry in New Delhi (Photo by: Tashi Tobgyal)

Remember when the Citizen Amendment Act, colloquially known to you as the CAA, was passed by the Government?

Perhaps one of the largest student protests in Indian history, the Anti-CAA, NPR (National Population Register) and NRC (National register of Citizens) protest started in 2019 where thousands of young students marched across Shaheen Bagh in Delhi in protest.

The Act when implemented along with NRC would create a deadly farrago of policies that would inadvertently omit Muslims and other marginalised communities from becoming Indian citizens because it granted Indian citizenship to those Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who migrated from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan on or before December 31, 2014. Those in Assam were protesting too —The Citizenship Amendment Act stated that its beneficiaries can live in any state in India bringing up obvious fears in the hearts of native Assamese citizens. They would be far outnumbered by Bangladeshi migrants and settlers from other areas of India.

And you, listened! You understood and you came out, up in arms!

The number of protestors reached as high as 100,000 making the Shaheen Bagh protest one of the longest peaceful protests of its magnitude in modern India. Your fellow students from Jamia Millia Islamia University and Jawaharlal Nehru University faced the forces of law-safeguarding machineries, were arrested, were brutually beaten up and were threatened to stop the continuous demonstration by right-wing bodies.

It spread like wildfire across the country, across religions and castes, across regions and belief systems. This time, students from the IITs, IIMs, AIIMS, Indian Institute of Science and even the private universities joined their counterparts in premiere public universities in Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Pune, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Bhopal, besides institutions in small-town India, to express solidarity with the students in Jamia.

Students from different universities participating in Anti-CAA-NPR-NRC Movement [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

That’s YOUR power. That is who YOU are. India’s able working population that will carry the Nation into the next wave of Development all the way to 2055. India’s current and future voters, politicians, employers, entrepreneurs, consumers, employees, scientists, educationists- who will make sure we are represented on every stage the World sets.

And do YOU know your biggest power? YOU are well aware of the immense potential of the internet. YOU know how to use it — to mobilise support, to spread information, to effect change.

No matter what they call you, YOU have time and again stood in solidarity with the victim, vociferously questioned those in power, fearlessly protested against regressive policy and more than often looked directly into the eyes of fascist forces and demanded accountability. And you have not just done it by screaming.

You know the power of your blog, you also know the power of your meme. You know how effective a dharna is, you also know how effective a signature campaign can be.

So please, set your priorities straight. Collectively and physically mark your presence where there is injustice. Get off your beanbags and sit at the front wheel of issues of national importance. Stop ridiculing your own selves and rise up in action.

The country is looking at you- Build it right so those coming don't curse you for your inaction like you are cursing those who went past.

“Ab bhi jiska khoon nahi khaula khoon nahi vo paani hai, jo desh ke kaam na aaye vo bekaar jawani hai”

-Chandra Shekhar Azad

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