INDIA’s YOUTH AND ITS DELIVERANCE : WE NEED TO BUILD OUR NATIONAL CHARACTER
(Published in the Times of India, 30 May 2019)
Researchers and biologists will tell you that youth across the different species of mammals are characterised by some similar traits — risk-taking, urge for adventure and exploration, boundless energy, vulnerability, establishment of self-identity amongst others. Perhaps this common characteristic is a result of the late development of the prefrontal cortex in the mammal species. This part of the brain is responsible for rational behaviour and thought, and it tells us that physiologically, youth are specifically engineered to have high passion, idealism and risk-taking ability. It is little wonder, therefore, that human history is testimony to the key role played by youth in its shaping. Thus, on one hand, while we have positive examples of Bhagat Singh, Malala Yousefzai, the Arab Spring and the US Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King amongst many, where youth involvement was the key, on the other hand, youth related terrorist activities are negative examples of youth movements. This perspective needs to be viewed in light of the fact that India today is one of the youngest nations in the world with close to 500 million citizens below the age of 29 years, with large numbers unemployed or under-employed. Whether India can occupy its rightful place in the comity of nations depends in large measure on whether we can harness this enormous youthful Human Resource constructively over the next decade. While the Indian Union and State Governments have a plethora of programmes for positive engagement of youth, such as NCC, NSS, Nehru Yuva Sangathan Kendra, Skill India, Start-up India and so on, current trends of youth crime, substance abuse and general lawlessness in the country are worrisome. The need for comprehensive nationwide youth engagement on a war footing is evident, failing which we may indeed be staring at a demographic time bomb ticking away. All though this comprehensive engagement would perforce need to include better education and skilling of youth, coupled with employment and opportunity for growth, however the focus of this article is on the equally important yet often ignored aspect of “moral mooring” of our youth. And this is where organizations like the NCC play a key role with our current focus on personality, character and leadership development, discipline, integrity and national integration.
That the importance of these qualities in the success and progress of both our nation and youth is often underplayed is surprising when viewed in light of the evidence supporting it. Japan and Germany both arose from the ashes of World War II by dint of efficiency, discipline, hard-work, integrity and teamwork: hallmarks of their national character. A glance at the Global Corruption Index 2018 conveys a very clear and simple message. Most developed nations are amongst the least corrupt. There is, therefore, a dire need to address this facet in the grooming of our youth if we are to harness our full potential as a nation. The current education system prevalent in India focuses more on development of ‘verbal-linguistic’ and ‘logical-mathematical’ intelligence in our youth, with minimal attention to other elements of our cognitive intelligence — emotional, moral, social and spiritual. An examination of a 2008/2009 Gallup Poll on countrywise importance of religion available on Wikipedia throws up an interesting insight. India, which is amongst the nations where religion is given more importance, stands at 78 out of 180 nations in the Global Corruption Index. In fact, this common thread seems to run true for other nations also which give more importance to religion. Most of these nations lie in the Developing/ Third World and are high in the Global Corruption Index.
Another dichotomy visible in our case needs to be flagged. National surveys have consistently shown the Indian Armed Forces to be the most respected profession in India, yet the Indian Army suffers acute officer deficiencies year after year. All these facts highlight a few aspects. Firstly, it seems that “respect” is not a priority for competent Indian youth in their professional lives. Secondly, “high on religion” does not necessarily imply “high on character”. Thirdly, if we are to grow as individuals and as a nation, we need to build on our National Character.
During our extensive interactions with the youth through NCC, their aspirations, idealism, energy and dreams have been evident, as is their frustration, cynicism and despair. This youthful powder keg is also susceptible to widening fissures in society today. Procrastination and incremental measures to tackle this demographic challenge are not an option anymore and governmental measures may perhaps only touch a fraction of the youth. The need, therefore, is for every organization, institution and citizen to stand up and be counted. We need to start from our homes, where our children have to learn to say ‘no’ to corruption and ‘yes’ to moral redlines, through examples we set. We need our educational institutions to emphasize equally on character and not only on academic achievement. We need our enlightened citizenry to come together to assist the government in this task, some by giving time and others by monetary contribution. And above all, we need role models for the youth to emulate and to give them hope. Perhaps therein lies the destiny of our great nation.
(Maj Gen Rambir Singh Mann was the Additional Director General of the National Cadet Corps for the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh. Contact email : email@example.com)