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Sagarika Ghose
Wednesday, February 09, 2011 at 07 : 04

Old at heart


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Rightwing conservative youth on a collision course with liberal democracy.

Is it fun to be young? Not really. The Hindustan Times CNN-IBN Youth poll surveying urban 18-25 year olds shows that for 50 per cent, the source of their happiness is parents, more want to join government service more than any other profession, 60 per cent have never had a girlfriend or boyfriend and romance is very far down their list of priorities. For most a good salary rather than new challenges are most important when choosing a career.

'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven," wrote William Wordsworth about the heady times of the French revolution. But the 18-25 generation in 21st century India, don't want revolutions. Far from it. In fact they are highly risk averse, more politically rightwing than before, extremely socially conservative and disinclined to opt for rebellion. With such a shockingly conventional generation, where one might ask are the free thinkers, the adventurers, the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Bill Gates going to come from?

The young's relationship with their parents is very conventional. Priyanka Todi and Nirupama Pathak may have chosen life partners in defiance of parents, Manoj and Babli may have defied the Kaithal khap panchayat, but the overwhelming majority of young want to marry and live according to their parents wishes. While this may be good news for those worried about the breakdown of the Indian family, in some ways it also shows that inspite of films like `Udaan' or `Three Idiots' which interrogate parental diktat on children destinies, questioning or challenging parents is simply not part of the mentality of today's young. This is borne out in the unquestioning way that sons and daughters today meekly follow in the footsteps of their actor or politician parents or even in the fact that young men are prepared to murder their sisters if they step out of the family line. In return for this devotion, parents provide absolute protection. Even educated mothers dote on their children to such an extent that a la Manu Sharma, they will even bend the law to protect offspring who have committed murder.

How healthy is this fierce attachment of parent child, of total protection in return for total devotion? Rich parents in metros are rearing a generation of cossetted spoilt brats. Spoilt brats who will touch the feet of their parents in ostentatious mock respect but recklessly flout the law on the street in bout of drunk driving, confident that Dad and Mom will get them off any trouble with the law. The Indian family, India's most prized institution, was once a classroom of good behaviour both inside and outside the home. Today the great Indian family can sometimes become a cynical trap of wealth and power where children and parents are united by a common rather feudal pursuit of status and family success, unmindful of social responsibility, public good or a consciousness of being part of a wider social world. Obedience and respect towards parents is wonderful. Yet it is individuals who tackle the world independently and on their own terms, who intelligently question their parents choices, who choose to venture into the world in a spirit of discovery, who are likely to become leaders, risk takers and original thinkers. Being cocooned in the family womb and making nightly forays only in Dad's Mercedes may keep mother happy, but will not create an individual likely to enrich society.

The young are not only incredibly family- minded, they are also extremely socially conservative. Over 70 per cent disapprove of homosexuality and over 60 per cent want marriage partners to be virgins. As for politics, four times more young people prefer Right wing politics to Left wing politics. If two decades ago the political centre of gravity of the young was with the Left, in 21st century India, the urban youth are firmly with the political Right. This is not surprising. Facebook and Twitter may have created the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt, but in India Facebook and Twitter are dominated by young people openly pouring scorn on `pseudo-secular liberals', minorities and so called 'anti-nationals". Young Indians proudly call themselves `nationalist' without quite spelling out what their 'nationalism' means. While economic reforms have created an optimistic belief in private enterprise, yet at the same time hardline attitudes to minorities and preference for a hard state spell doom for liberal democracy.

So why are India's urban youth conservative and politically rightwing? The perceived loss of culture due to globalization could be a reason why Indian "culture" is aggressively asserted even as `global' lifestyles sweep through the metros. Pop traditionalism, albeit in a modern garb, has returned with a bang. Trendy clothes, skinny figures and the latest gadgets coexist with a passionate attachment to religious rituals. If rituals and religious rites were once the activities of grandmothers, now they are being adopted by the youth as aggressive demonstrations of identity. No wonder that marriage remains central to the youth's dreams and giving birth to sons is the preferred option even in upmarket social strata.

There's a great deal to be proud of in the youth survey too. Inspite of their own attachment to family, India's youth have chosen the self made Sachin Tendulkar and APJ Abdul Kalam over scions born into privileged 'royal' families. But the survey contains portents of the future. India in the next two generations will be powered by a majority of success-oriented deeply conservative citizens whose ambitions are narrowly focused on money and status. Poets, bohemians, rebels, intellectuals, dissenters, freethinkers, adventurers, or even risk taking entrepreneurs may become a vanishing breed.


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More about Sagarika Ghose

Sagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India before moving to CNN-IBN as prime time anchor and Deputy Editor. She is the anchor of the award-winning flagship debate programme Face The Nation on CNN-IBN. She is also a columnist for the Hindustan Times. She has won numerous awards including FICCI Media Achiever Award and Gr8-ITA Award for Excellence in Journalism. She is a graduate in History from St Stephen's College and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she gained an MA and M.Phil in History and International Relations. She is the author of two acclaimed novels The Gin Drinkers and Blind Faith, both published worldwide by HarperCollins Publishers.
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