Outwardly modern, Indian youths’ views reflect a troubling inclination towards intolerance

youth5The Centre for the Study in Developing Societies (CSDS) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) have come up with a new report, “Attitudes, anxieties and aspirations of India’s youth: changing patterns”. Excerpts from the the 180-page report, based on survey conducted in 19 States of the country among 6122 respondents in the age group of 15-34 years in the months of April and May, 2016:

In India, about two-thirds of its population is aged below 35 years and about one-third falls in the age group of 15-34 years. The population of this young cohort rose from 353 million in 2001 to 422 million in 2011 and it is expected to increase further to 464 million by 2021 before it starts declining. Further, the median age in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal is much lower at the moment than in countries such as USA, UK, Germany and France. While the latter group has median ages between 37 and 44 years (Pew Research, 2014), the South Asian region has them ranging from 21 to 31.

youth1This youth bulge in India and its immediate neighbourhood has meant that the emerging economies of the South Asian region currently have a demographic dividend that is not possessed by several other countries including the best of the developed world. However, this is naturally not going to last forever. These relatively low median ages in South Asia will inevitably increase in the next few decades. India’s median age for instance is expected to rise from 25 to 30 by 2025 and to 39 by 2050. Similarly, Pakistan’s is expected to increase from the current 21 to 27 by 2025 and to 34 by 2050.

This means that both the youth bulge and the promise of the demographic dividend for South Asia will gradually subside. It therefore becomes necessary to understand the issues, needs and aspirations of the young populations of these countries so that their potential can be tapped and fully realised before it gets too late. More significantly, an understanding of the sociological and psychological well-being of young people is also crucial.

Employment concerns

The CSDS-KAS Youth Survey 2016 finds that among young employed Indians today, only a small fraction is employed in decent paying professional jobs. A vast proportion reported themselves as either being self-employed or engaged in low-paid jobs that do not guarantee a steady wage. It is little surprise then that the survey also found employment and jobs to be the top-most concern of young Indians.

youth3When asked in an open-ended question what they thought was the most important issue facing India, a plurality of young Indians said it was unemployment. Nearly every fifth youth who was surveyed cited joblessness as the greatest problem confronting the country. The survey also found anxiety with respect to jobs to be among the top five anxieties of the youth, irrespective of whether they are employed or not employed. In the survey, about one-third of young respondents described themselves as students on being asked about their occupation. This proportion describing themselves as ‘students’ is more than two-times the one recorded in the youth survey conducted by CSDS-KAS in 2007.

While the fact that more and more youngsters are studying now is undoubtedly a positive development as it increases the possibility of a higher degree of skill formation among them and perhaps indicates a desire among them to move away from menial and low paying work, what is cause for serious worry however is that the survey also found self-reported unemployment to be much higher among young graduates than those with lower levels of education.

youth4In other words, it found the acquisition of greater education and skills by the youth to be not necessarily guaranteeing gainful employment to them. This could be due to three factors. One, the demand doesn’t match the supply. That is, there just aren’t enough jobs being generated for the millions of graduates entering the labour market every year. This includes youth belonging to communities that have traditionally not been highly educated but are now beginning to make huge investments in education in order to achieve social and economic mobility. Two, some educated young people might be choosing to stay unemployed than work in jobs that they believe are not commensurate with their educational qualifications. And three, it is also highly possible that the sectors in which they are seeking jobs – service and manufacturing – do not find their education and skills to be such that it would make them employable.

Despite having registered much faster rates of growth than the agricultural sector, the survey indicates that the service and manufacturing sectors have not been able to wean away young Indians from agricultural jobs. The survey found the farming sector continuing to be a major employer of young Indians. One in every six, as opposed to one in every seven a decade ago, described being associated with it with many of them describing themselves as agricultural workers rather than farmers tilling their own land.

youth6Misplaced modernity?

The second major takeaway from the survey is the streak of illiberalism that one notices among the youth with respect to their opinions on social and political issues and also with respect to some of their practices. In his book “Mistaken Modernity” (2000), sociologist Dipankar Gupta had lamented about a superficial version of modernity among India’s middle classes and elites. According to Gupta the modernity of this particular class of Indians was characterised more by the adoption of Western consumer habits and lifestyle than by the adherence to notions of equality and tolerance. Gupta had defined true modernity in terms of attitudes, especially those that come into play in social relations.

A decade and a half since Gupta’s treatise on the hypocrisy of the Indian middle class little seems to have changed. The CSDS-KAS Youth Survey found a fairly large proportion of young Indians across classes, to be exhibiting the same set of traits that Gupta had lamented about with respect to the Indian middle class. As young people are struggling to navigate a rapidly changing environment, they appear to be becoming outwardly modern in their appearance and consumption habits but their thoughts and views reflect a troubling inclination towards intolerance and conservatism.

youth7The survey found about two in five young Indians to be either highly or moderately style conscious, that is, they were found to be fond of wearing stylish clothes and shoes, keeping the latest mobile phones and visiting beauty parlours and salons. Meanwhile, as a response to new opportunities for consumption and entertainment in the form of an emerging café, multiplex and mall culture, there has been a marked increase in the consumption and spending patterns of youth, particularly among those residing in cities. Close to half the youth in big cities and about one-third in smaller ones reported regularly watching movies in a cinema hall, regularly eating out at restaurants and cafes and regularly visiting shopping malls.

However, when these consumption practices are juxtaposed with their attitudes on socio-cultural issues we notice a paradox. It seems that youth’s responses to the frenzied globalisation of the last two decades have been different from what may have been anticipated. What the young have adopted in the name of modern is a form of consumerism. While they have welcomed the introduction of consumer goods and adapted to new modes of entertainment and consumption, their ways of thinking have not significantly transformed.

youth8The survey found a significant proportion of aspirational, style-conscious, smartphone-savvy and mall-visiting young Indians to be also holding illiberal (even regressive) views, although they may be slightly less likely to do so compared to those who are not as stylish and aspirational. Even as they embrace a certain aspect of Western modernity, the youth do not seem to subscribing to Western ideas of equality. To put it differently, there is a dissonance in their modernity; many of them seem to be modern in attire but not in their thoughts. For instance, overall over half the youth were found to be holding patriarchal and misogynistic views, including many young women.

Two in every five young Indians do not feel it is right for women to do a job after marriage, a similar proportion agreed with the proposition that men make better leaders than women. Over half the respondents also agreed in varying degrees with the proposition that wives should always listen to their husbands. Western studies have shown that having daughters has the potential of sensitising fathers to issues of gender equity. We tested this on our sample and found it to be working in the opposite direction. Young married men who said they had a daughter/s were found to be as patriarchal in their attitudes as those with sons.

youthAcceptance of homosexuality was also found to be quite low among the youth. Only one in every four approved of it either fully or partially. While this figure of approval might be considered by some to be promising given that there is social stigma around the issue and discussions about sexuality, particularly homosexuality are usually discouraged in Indian society, it is nevertheless very low compared to Western societies. Interestingly, the survey found acceptance of same-sex relationships to be much greater among those youth who were found to be highly religious in practice than those who reported being less religious or not religious at all. Moreover, acceptance of it was far greater among youth living in villages than those residing in big cities.

One would have thought that a more liberal attitude with respect to this issue would be more prevalent in cities, but that is clearly not what the survey reveals. On the issue of marriage the youth show a mixed attitude. While many more youngsters now than a decade ago do not consider marriage to be the be all and end all in life and many according to the survey seem to be delaying their age of marriage, at the same time their attitudes and practices with respect to inter-community marriages have largely remained unchanged.

youth2Only a little over half the respondents were found to be in approval of inter-caste marriage. Although this figure has registered a sharp increase compared to a decade ago, nonetheless the survey findings reveal a paradox. This is because the reported outcome of inter-caste marriage (married respondents who said their spouse is not from their caste) was found to be only 4 percent. Meanwhile, the reported outcome of inter-religious marriage was even lower at 3 percent.

The survey found that parent-arranged marriages are still the norm with over four in every five married youth describing their marriage as such. Only one in ten reported having had a love marriage. Not surprisingly, this tiny minority of youth with self-arranged marriages was found to be far more liberal in attitudes regarding love and relationships than those with parent-arranged marriages. They were for instance twice as likely to approve of dating before marriage, live-in relationships and the celebration of Valentine’s Day as youth with arranged marriages, or for that matter even unmarried youth.

A plurality of young Indians also seem to lack a scientific temper since close to half the respondents were of the opinion that religion should get precedence over science when the two clash with each other. This sentiment was particularly high among highly style conscious youth, three in every five of whom preferred religion over science. Surprisingly, many graduates also took this position, although they are also more likely to take the counter position. Quite worryingly, censorship of cinema, an issue that comes up from time to time, does not seem to bother young Indians much. Three out of every five respondents agreed with the proposition that films that hurt religious sentiments should be banned. The survey also found fairly widespread support for the continuation of the death penalty with only about one-third wanting it abolished.

On the issue of India-Pakistan relations, while a plurality was found to be in favour of improving relations with Pakistan, there was a significant chunk (about one-third) that was opposed to any peace initiatives with the neighbouring country.

Click HERE to download full survey report

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