The Covid-19, or the novel Coronavirus, has taken its toll on the urban landscape in 21st century India. Recoveries have indeed boosted morale amidst an avalanche (and counting) of cases and major urban sprawls such as New Delhi have reported a significantly low number of deaths. However, the pandemic and the nationwide lockdown have caused immense grief and distress to even those uninfected by the ever-spreading virus.
Not to be left behind is the young Indian. Barring odd cases, the novel Coronavirus is not known to particularly claim the lives of young people. The youth of India constitute close to 65% of the population i.e. the under-35 years age group.
With Work-From-Home (WFH) thrust upon the youth in an era of gleaming infrastructure and state-of-the-art office spaces, a certain reclusiveness may have creeped in regarding to work deliverables. However, one cannot underestimate, in any circumstances, the determination of a country, where close to 40% of the population is 18 or under 18 years old, to bounce back.
Unlike the US which has thrown up record losses in active employment, most people in India have not filed for unemployment. However, out-of-work labour, particularly migrant workers who have exited major cities such as New Delhi for their hometowns in, for example, rural Uttar Pradesh, and other domains face a critical lack of opportunities, following a drastic and hitherto unforeseen scale-down in professional human activities.
Government offices that have resumed work since the end of the second phase of the lockdown (from 4th May) have been operating at 33% of total staff capacity, with severe limitations on operations and strict social distancing guidelines and work norms. Subsequent phases of the lockdown promise more freedoms to the citizens of a country left lonely and depressed by a pandemic that has emerged from a country India is presently striving hard to rival on the global stage – China.
Experts predict that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth next year is likely to be an appalling zero percent. Most industries will need government stimulus packages amounting to a significant percentage of the present GDP to resume production. This bodes poorly for jobseekers, most of them being the youth.
Jobs are not the only area where the youth matter. India will seek to project its nubile workforce, and even attempt to integrate home-grown talent and exceptionally-bright sparks in the economy, rather than allow another of the many ‘brain drains’ contributing to India’s failure to effectively and efficiently utilise its human capital.
For instance, Kerala has long been a ‘feeder’ to rich Middle Eastern nations that have pounced rather opportunistically, for several decades, on cheap Indian labour to build their oil-driven economies. As per a panellist on a webinar organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs, Kerala has planned to integrate migrant returnees from the Middle East into 3 lakh jobs. If more states follow suit and take up such initiatives, Indians abroad may finally shine back home.
The youth are the pride of what is undoubtedly a young nation. For the first time in history, India seeks to overhaul its many post-colonial failures to posit the country as one of the world’s three premier countries, alongside China and the United States. However, India’s youth need to overcome multiple challenges – lack of modern infrastructure, public healthcare and law and order, widespread poverty (projected to increase due to the pandemic), malevolent and rigidly anti-India neighbours, etc.
The youth will also have to contribute to the rise of India wholeheartedly. Young business leaders need to emerge at national and international levels, while other areas where youth leadership is found to be lacking include science and technology, research, liberal arts, education, etc.
According to Dr Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament (MP) from Thiruvananthapuram and former Union Minister under UPA Government, youth participation in politics is woefully lacking as only 2.2% of the MPs in the Lok Sabha are under the age of 30. It is sad that India, though diverse and with a positively narrow demography, does not have an independent, youth-pioneered, and youth-driven political party, with a credible claim to actively contribute to national governance and solely focused on India’s genuine rise, and not partisan politics and corruption-driven agendas.
Instead, the major national parties, the Indian National Congress, and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, promote their youth wings extensively through their large private corpuses. This does not benefit a secular, developed, advanced, and modern India as both parties have historically and consistently divided India over several contentious issues that continue to bog the country.
India’s median age will figure in the late-30s to early-40s by and beyond 2050. This may not bode well for the country’s aspirations post 2050, but till then, it can aspire for a ‘youth dividend’ to finally surface and make India a first-world beacon. India must certainly seek to rise on the broad shoulders of its flourishing young population to eliminate all the ills that have stymied its aspirations for the many decades since its independence.
The views expressed in the above article are entirely the author’s, and do not represent the views of his employers.
Jay Maniyar is a Research Associate at the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi. He writes on the maritime issues of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the ASEAN.