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BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA
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EVENT A recent panel discussion focused on the role young people can play in shaping India’s future

CAtching them youngThe panel discussion in progress
CAtching them youngThe panel discussion in progress

From the struggle for India’s independence to the fledgling years of the new nation, young people had a major role to play. According to one estimate, more than 10 per cent of the entire student population of the country was involved in the organisational work of the Quit India Movement. People between the ages of 25-40 years constituted 26 and 32 per cent of the first and second Lok Sabhas respectively. Today, the figure stands at 6.3 per cent.

A recent book, titled The Ocean in a Drop: Inside-Out Youth Leadership (Sage Publications), authored by Ashraf Patel, Meenu Venkateswaran, Kamini Prakash and Arjun Shekhar, tries to understand how this happened and what can be done to arrest, and reverse, this trend. A panel discussion on the book, comprising Meenakshi Natarajan, Member of Parliament from the Indian National Congress, Belinda Bennet of Christian Aid, Venkatesh Srinivasan, assistant representative, UNFPA, Ashraf Patel of Pravah and Commutiny – The Youth Collective (CYC) and Manak Matiyani of Must Bol Campaign, was organised recently by Pravah and CYC to shed light on the concepts articulated in the book and chart a road-map for the youth.

The book argues that the youth has traditionally had access to just four spaces – home, career, leisure and friends. The book imagines a fifth space, which is not an alternative to these above spaces but rather an assimilation of them. It goes beyond the commonly used terms of volunteerism and active citizenship and focuses on three critical aspects – understanding the self, building meaningful relationships and affecting society.

Linking the concept of the fifth space to her own experiences, Meenakshi Natarajan remembered her college days where she and her friends started a monthly newspaper, which would encourage submissions by young people. While they did not have vocabulary for it, they were also working towards the same ends – to expand the sense of self in order to meaningfully affect society.

With the youth of Delhi taking to the streets in protests, one could argue that this is already happening. What is needed, the panellists seemed to agree, is a sustained campaign. In this regard, the youth could be assisted by the old, insofar as they do not assume leadership of the movement.

As Ashraf said, “Young people take ownership and leadership when they are allowed to co-create and make decisions, not just follow the rules that adults have laid in homes, schools, colleges etc. The fifth space enables this learning by experience by taking a collective journey with other youth from self to society.”

BUDHADITYA BHATTACHARYA

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