Inside the Mind of Young India

The sampling methodology and the survey instrument have been explained in detail, and the field work relatively recent, done in mid 2007. Not meaning to be xenophobic, it was still a bit sad to note that such a study got done because Konrad Adenauer Stiftung initiated and commissioned (and presumably funded) it. It is true that in India, we generally have trouble finding adequate funding for regular studies of this kind which tell us more about ourselves. If the quantum of data were proportionate to the quantum of our usage of the term demographic dividend, we should have had several more and larger youth studies in the public domain. One is not referring to country wide studies done for private companies that measure cola consumption or media habits or advertising preferences of young India; but of public domain insights on how young people think and feel about issues like those which this book captures - 'family and social networks', engagement with 'politics and democracy', views relating to 'governance and development', and their  view of the world and globalization, their hopes, dreams and concerns and so on.

To set the big picture context, according to the 2001 Census of India, we have almost 20% of our population in the age group of 15 to 24 (that's what actually ought to be considered the core youth target group), and around 27% in the age group of 15 to 29.  They are 69% rural and 31% urban, yet what rural youth are thinking about is a big blind spot for many of us, because it never finds mention in any of the media surveys; only 14% have finished school, and the number is just 9% for women. Even in urban India, only 25% of urban youth have finished school, and that actually represents around 8% of all India youth. So let's mute the applause for the big bold move with wide ranging benefits of the MHRD initiative to abolish the std X exam.

Despite low levels of education and income for the most part, according to the survey report, optimism runs very high. 84% of the 15 to 34 year olds in India (referred to in the report and henceforth in this article as the 'youth') are optimistic about the future, and only 3% are pessimistic, the remaining 13% are uncertain. We always talk about aspiring young India, and indeed 53% have high or very high aspirations as compared to 28% who have low or very low aspirations. Does it hold for the weaker sections of society too? It most certainly does. 30% of upper class youth have low or very low aspirations, while only 24 and 26% respectively of the Dalits and tribals have low or very low aspirations. However aspiration levels do rise with socio economic status, but even on this count, at the lowest strata, 43% have high or very high aspirations and outnumber those who have low or very low aspirations. Just imagine the power of hope and desire that we are sitting on, if only we could channelize it properly! With aspiration comes anxiety of course, and 68% of the youth have highly anxiety about their future, 50% very high anxiety. If my generation paid the price of the socialist ideology, then this generation is bearing the cross of the free market, survival of the fittest, keep up with the joneses society that we are becoming.

What do they see as the big problem that this country has to deal with? It is poverty and unemployment (27% votes each), while only 4% chose illiteracy and lack of education, 3% terrorism, and 6% corruption. In fact if we were to add population growth to unemployment and poverty, then 67% of young people are saying " I am optimistic but please give me opportunity and improve my quality of living" . Poverty is seen to be the #1 problem ahead of unemployment by those in the lowest socio economic strata and the illiterate, but unemployment is what everyone is deeply concerned about across the board - irrespective of education levels or socioeconomic status. When asked 'what should be the first priority of the government", guarantee of employment wins by a very wide margin over provision of educational facilities or betterment of health services. Maybe it is time to debate the value of jobless growth in the economy, and the notion that growing self employment is out of choice

And what kind of social issues will gen next grapple with? Ensuring environmental sustainability comes in a distant third after "strengthening defense". Gender equality will be a strident call, especially from the women, and more so from the less educated women. Related to that, presumably will be shaky marriages, though belief in family still reigns supreme.

A big thank you to the editors Peter De Souza, Sanjay Kumar and Sandeep Shastri for putting this in the public domain, and let's make a new year wish that we will have internally generated funding to do more of this kind of work that will help us both in business strategy and public policy, to understand ourselves better, and shape the future better.

Rama Bijapurkar is an independent market strategy consultant