We’re not gonna take it | The Economist

DELHI found itself under siege last month. Young men blocked roads and canals that feed people and water into the city. They looted, set fires and dragged women out of cars to rape them. The protesters, from a relatively privileged group of land-owning peasants called Jats, were agitating to be included in India’s list of “other backward classes”, which guarantees university places and government jobs.

Faced with dry taps, Narendra Modi’s government was eventually forced to concede to the demand.

This is the fury to which Somini Sengupta refers in the subtitle of her sharply observed study of India’s young, “The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young”. The median age in India is 27. Every month between 2011 and 2030, nearly 1m Indians will turn 18. Those coming of age this month were born well after the country started opening up its markets in 1991; they have spent their formative years in a world of optimism and rapid economic growth. But Ms Sengupta calls India “a democracy that makes promises it has no intention of keeping”. Advertisement

By 2030 the majority of Indians will be of working age. This could be what economists call a “demographic dividend”, creating a high worker-to-dependent ratio—or it could be a time bomb. India is producing nowhere near enough jobs for the tens of millions of young people joining the workforce every year.

The argument running through Ms Sengupta’s book, made of seven richly detailed portraits of young Indians, is both simple and beguiling. For centuries Indians born into wretched circumstances have accepted their lot as karma—punishment for misdeeds in past lives. This belief explains the persistence of the caste system, and the remarkable fact that a country that is home to one in three of the world’s poor has not come apart at the seams. But young people no longer accept karma, argues Ms Sengupta. Ideas of aspiration and free will have entered the Indian consciousness. Young Indians today demand the right to shape their own futures. If fury is in ample supply, so is hope.

Yet at every step the young are thwarted. It starts in the womb. A traditional preference for boys means that India has one of the most skewed sex ratios in the world: 1.13 boys for every girl, second only to China. (The ratio in America is 1.05.) One in three children under five is underweight. Nearly two-thirds of food meant for early-childhood feeding programmes is pilfered. A rare bright spot is education: in 2013, 96% of primary-school-age children were enrolled. But here, too, India fails its young. By the age of ten, only 60% of students can complete work at the level of a five-year-old. More than half cannot subtract.

Source: We’re not gonna take it | The Economist

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