The restless and the rest

Ananya Revanna | Updated on November 11, 2018

A book maps India’s youth unrest, and beyond

India’s youth bulge — at its largest in the 2001-2011 decade — continues to churn out disgruntled youngsters who make up 34.8 per cent of the country’s demographics. Yet, whenever they speak up, their voice is considered detrimental to the nation’s development.

We saw their names in the news over the last few years — Rohith Vemula, Burhan Wani, Umar Khalid, Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mevani, Chandrashekhar Azad; read about their struggles and, thereafter, quickly termed them ‘anti-national’. In this haste to dismiss them, a larger movement was inadvertently created, which journalist Nikhila Henry documents in The Ferment (Pan Macmillan India). There exists a correlation between youth unemployment and increasing discontent, but what India is witnessing now is not that, she argues. While the book does explore how society is unable to provide for the enormous workforce it has created, it also weaves in narratives of social and cultural injustice that have given rise to hoards of angry, and determined young people bent on changing a system that doesn’t support them. Be it the #JusticeForRohith or Pinjra Tod movements, as youngsters with bright futures agitate in colleges across the country, the book draws attention to the innovative ways in which these protests attempt to break the complacency that grips most of us. The #DalitLivesMatter campaign, the Pads Against Patriarchy movement, the protests against the Dadri lynching and Bhima Koregaon violence, the creation of platforms such as Dalit Camera and Round Table India: these forms of agitations are more than simplistic acts of violence. They are, Henry says, a way for the youth to express themselves.

Having spent years reporting on the various youth uprisings across the country, she questions those who draw a binary of political and apolitical campuses. How can the IITs and IIMs, which have historically made no room for political expression on campus, help change the status quo without engaging with the real world, she wonders when analysing how IIT Madras dealt with the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in 2015. Even as some choose to remain mute spectators, those who attempt to critique and rectify a skewed system are vilified and tormented, not by a mythical enemy but by the very institutions that promise protection.

The book attempts to bring together these supposedly isolated instances and provides perspective on how the country should treat its youth. She says that India’s National Youth Policies, which claim to encourage youth participation in elections, don’t really expect them to be a part of the political process.

As Henry elaborates on her travels to Kashmir, Chhattisgarh’s Red Corridor, and the fractured North-East, it is hard to miss the irony. The same institutes that court the youth also try to suppress such uprisings through brute force (especially in States where the Armed Forces are given more leniency), justifying such actions by simplistic rhetoric questioning the legitimacy and timing of the protest.

Millennials are frequently accused of being “self-indulgent or rhetorical” and making conflicting demands. But as in the case of the #MeToo movement, what we are seeing is an outpouring of repressed rage. And while each individual protest fizzles out quickly, as a whole, it provides catharsis. This, in turn, creates leaders who know how to channel their energy into the right fight. Will all of this translate to policy changes? It is the small anecdotes and Henry’s reportage work over the years that coalesce the headlines into a cohesive story. In all, an interesting read.

Published on November 11, 2018

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