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Revisiting the National Youth Policy

A critical exploration of the National Youth Policy (1988 and 2003) to understand the ways in which the category "youth" has been imagined by the government, the role assigned to youth in society and politics, and if the policies reflect the needs of the youth in contemporary globalised times. While the 2003 policy is an advance of the earlier one in several aspects, it still stops short of according a role or responsibility to the various categories of youth identified by it.

COMMENTARY

Revisiting the National Youth Policy

Jhumpa Mukherjee, Shoma Choudhury

A critical exploration of the National Youth Policy (1988 and 2003) to understand the ways in which the category “youth” has been imagined by the government, the role assigned to youth in society and politics, and if the policies reflect the needs of the youth in contemporary globalised times. While the 2003 policy is an advance of the earlier one in several aspects, it still stops short of according a role or responsibility to the various categories of youth identified by it.

Jhumpa Mukherjee (jhumpa_27@yahoo.com) and Shoma Choudhury (shomach@gmail. com) teach political science and sociology respectively at St Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

Y
outh all over the world today, constitute a significant category for policymakers, governments, marketing specialists, politicians and social scientists alike. Yet one notices a relative silence in social science when it comes to the concerns of the youth, especially in the context of India. There are studies which primarily focus on the youth, in particular historical moments and conjunctures, or as a category with a specific set of problems. However, an in-depth and nuanced understanding of the contemporary issues pertaining to the youth in our country calls for attention. Why do the youth need to be given special attention all of a sudden? We can think of at least three immediate contexts in which the youth as a category has gained both visibility and importance.

Youth: Playing Varied Roles

The youth in India today, under the age of 34 years, constitute about 41% of the total population according to the 2001 Census. It is estimated that by 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 years for China and 48 years for Japan. An increase in the productive population, that is, those belonging to the “working age category” (falling between 15 and 64 years) caused due to a decline in fertility rate, signals an advantage in many ways for a country like India. Hence, the youth who are a significant proportion of this “bulge” have been hailed by experts as contributing to this “demographic dividend”.

Second, in another context we find the youth playing a major role under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi in the formation of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government following the elections in 2009. This has translated into a rise in the number of young faces holding ministerial positions, and in politics at large. Subsequently, we come across efforts by the Youth Congress to rope in large numbers of young people through programmes such as Aam Aadmi ke Sipahi, to be sent to villages to work for the underpriv

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clude more and more young people in the decision-making process of our country.

While a positive role of the youth is evident in the above context, a more sensitive and double-edged participation of the youth is found, in another context – in the recent rise of a variety of social movements in different pockets all over the country where they are in the forefront. From the rising violence of the Maoists in the Jungle Mahal region of West Bengal, or the mobilisations of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) for a separate state for the Gorkhas, to the most aggressive and divisive politics of regionalism practised by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, we see the youth playing a subversive role, tilting the balance of a unified nation state. In other words, the youth today are a force to reckon with.

In the light of the above-mentioned contexts, this article tries to revisit the National Youth Policy (NYP) of the gove

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nment of India, with an eye towards the future. There have been two national policies on the youth so far, in 1988 and 2003, one instituted by the Congress Party under Rajiv Gandhi, and the other by the Bharatiya Janata Party under Atal Behari Vajpayee. Here we try to understand the ways in which the category has been imagined by the government in power. What has been the role assigned to the youth in society and in politics? Is there a difference in the conception with a change in the parties who form the government? Do the policies reflect the needs of the youth in contemporary globalised times? These are some of the lines along which we seek to examine the national youth policies as documents reflecting the thinking of the government.

The Nation and Its Youth

India aspires to produce young people who are empowered, able to realise their full potential, and understand their roles and responsibilities in making

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ful contribution to the development of the nation. This perception underpins our youth policies.

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Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

Recognising the youth as a potential human resource in the dynamic task of nation-building, the national youth policies consider youth development as a comprehensive and multifaceted approach, that provides opportunities and support for young people to maximise their individual and collective creative energies for personal development as well as development of the society and the nation at large.

We get a clear conception of the category “youth” for the first time in the 2003 policy. It includes persons in the age group of 13 to 35 years. However, such a broad division is found to be inadequate to take into consideration the “differing social roles and requirements” of a wide variety of youth. Hence, the policy goes on to further delineate this large category into two subgroups: (i) 13 to 19 years, and (ii) 20 to 35 years. The 2003 policy is also more n uanced as it identifies various categories of youth who would be the target of its intervention, namely, the rural and tribal youth, the out-of-school youth, disabled youth, female adolescents, and youth who are victims of trafficking, street children and the like. In this way it seeks to be qualitatively different in its scope from the earlier policy which posed youth as a rather uniform category.

Youth Policies: An Assessment

The NYP of 1988 outlined that the youth should be given a due share in the country’s life and progress. The state was to be responsible for creating opportunities which would enable them to become active participants in national development. But the policy did not spell out clearly the strategies to achieve the above. The thrust of the 2003 policy, conversely, is “youth empowerment in different spheres of national life”. In fact, this policy revolves around the idea of effective participation facilitated by “identifiable structures, transparent procedures and wider representation of the youth in different bodies”.

Towards this end of youth empowerment the policies focus on overall development, the need for providing adequate opportunities and of creating youth awareness and respect for our constitutional values, history and culture. Despite the varied backdrop in which these policies were framed, the policymakers emphasised on the critical need of enabling the youth to become “productive, self-confident and a committed force for national development”. To achieve this gigantic task, the 1988 policy, in the absence of a clear-cut strategy to achieve the purpose, appears highly notional, whereas the 2003 policy marks a novel departure by not only identifying a specific way forward for n ation-building, but also creating scope for youth initiatives in different ministries and departments with identifiable fund allocations.

The NYP 1988 is largely mainstream in its content, in the sense that the government seeks to socialise the youth by instilling in them an awareness and respect for constitutional principles and values. The policy specifically reiterates the values of national integration, nonviolence, secularism, socialism, etc. The 2003 policy goes a step further in focusing on the need for developing citizenship values for creating future leaders, thereby envisaging a positive role for the youth in public life – as of creating local pressure groups to fight corruption, resisting fragmentation of society along caste, linguistic, religious lines, and promoting an inclusive approach towards the poor. Whilst the 1988 policy emphasises on education, awareness building, training, etc, the subsequent policy devotes a lot of space to and elaborates on concrete forms of interventions towards the goal of “good citizenship”.

In another remarkable departure from the 1988 policy, the 2003 variant seeks to incorporate youth as a participant in the protection of ecology. Considering the importance of community in the preservation of the environment, the policy exhorts the youth to play a significant role in m obilising the public at large. The policy outlines a concrete course of action emphasising on environmental education (which was made compulsory in school and college curricula subsequent to the policy), motivating youth to establish n ature clubs in villages, assisting nongovernmental organisations and local bodies in planning and management of our forests, and receiving vocational training in recycling materials which would then provide a local source of livelihood. With the youth showing responsibility in environment protection programmes the policy seems to have attained, if not in totality, its objective of channelising youth participation.

Rights and Responsibilities

The policies of the government dwell upon both – the rights and responsibilities of the youth. The NYP 1988 clearly states that the youth should get “their due share” in the country's progress, and envisages a role for the youth, urging them to contribute to national development. The youth are expected to balance the challenge of economic development and technological progress, while also keeping in mind a concern for social justice. Unfortunately, such statements though challenging, r emain ambiguous in the absence of concrete strategies or a plan of action through which the youth can realise their goals. The youth policy of 2003 goes a step further by clearly outlining the “privileges” and “responsibilities” of the youth. The former constitutes aspects which are necessary to ensure a proper life such as education, clean environment, protection from exploitation, access to sports and physical education, and scope for participation in the decision-making process, etc. The responsibilities of the youth include, among others, upholding the unity and integrity of the nation, promoting religious pluralism, imbibing and perpetuating dominant cultural norms and values like respect towards parents and the elderly, fighting corruption and other social ills, etc.

Justice and Creative Pursuits

An important aspect that the 2003 policy elaborates upon is the idea of justice, and for the first time we get a differentiated account of the idea as “gender justice”. A lthough the 1988 policy urged that the youth should be concerned about justice for the underprivileged sections, it did not specify any inclusive strategies for the same. The 2003 policy recognises “the prevailing gender bias” as a reason for discrimination, poor health and wellbeing of women in our society. Hence it tries to reach out to young women through various policy initiatives like seeking to provide every girl child and

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JUNE 26, 2010 vol xlv nos 26 & 27

COMMENTARY

young woman access to education, granting women access to adequate health services as well as recognising their reproductive rights, viewing domestic violence against girls/women as a violation of their basic human right, shaping the behaviour of young male adolescents through education and counselling to respect the status and rights of women, etc. An interesting aspect to be noted here is that even as the policy lays down these strategies for a gender just policy, it promotes conformity to the dominant value system. It acquires a normative tone in prescribing that the youth should be made aware of “a family value system that nurtures a closer bond between men and women and urges equality, mutual respect and sharing of responsibility between the sexes”. Not disregarding the importance of family in our lives, it would be wise to remember that gender-based discrimination often starts from the family itself! Moreover while emphasising family values as the dominant form of value system, are we then disregarding all those who may be outside this value system either by choice or due to certain kinds of compulsion?

Another underlying concern on the part of the state, more pronounced in the 2003 policy, is regarding the relatively unstable character of the youth, primarily the adolescents. The state feels that they are “highly impressionable”, and are often “prone to high risk behaviour”. Therefore their energies need to be channelised towards creative pursuits. Towards this goal the 2003 youth policy outlines a role for the youth which can be largely said to be two pronged – involving manual labour and an educative role. This is amply demonstrated when the policy discusses the health-related issues of the youth. The policy calls for engaging the youth in the construction of lavatories and wells, cleaning public places, organising blood donation and community surveys or in educative projects like spreading awareness about issues of health, hygiene and sanitation, and organising information, education and prevention campaigns with respect to health concerns like malaria, malnutrition, sexually transmitted diseases/HIV/AIDS, etc, at the community level. It is the youth organisations at the local level like the youth clubs, the national service scheme volunteers and the Nehru Yuvak Kendra Sangathan members who are expected to perform the above role.

Youth in Society and Politics

With emerging complexities in national life, the country needs young minds that can generate new ideas of good governance. The question is: Did the policymakers consider the need for involving the youth in decision-making? The 1988 policy recognises the participation of youth in the nation’s progress, specifically in the economic and social sphere, but it is silent on political decision-making. The 2003 policy focuses on the need for greater participation in the processes of decisionmaking and execution at the local and national level. It affirms the significance of developing youth leadership in various socio-economic and cultural spheres in the course of “working with the youth”. Furthermore it speaks of equipping young people with knowledge, skills and capabilities to deliver their responsibilities. The Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development cc

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budur after Rajiv Gandhi passed away, is expected to train, disseminate and develop such capacities. But, again, the policy is rather sketchy in this regard. Apart from giving the youth a role in mobilising people to create pressure groups to fight corruption and other ills, not much has been envisaged in terms of a political role.

The NYP appears to be a tad one-sided, viewing the youth primarily as a “human resource”. The only way to reach out to the youth is by providing proper education, which entails an inculcation of “national” values and attitudes to issues and problems. The nation has expectations from the youth but the expectations of the youth from the nation do not find space. Tying the destiny of the youth closely to that of the nation creates a rather limited scope for the enormous variety that is found within this category itself. While not denying the fact that the youth have a responsibility towards the nation at large, a danger with such stringent limits is that any activity (of the youth) construed to fall outside the purview of such a framework can be easily categorised as anti-national or causing violence to the idea/existence of the nation. We see this in the case of regional movements like the Gorkhaland movement or the struggle waged on behalf of the dispossessed by the Maoists, where the youth are a substantially large section. Although various categories of youth have been identified, the policy shies away from giving them a role or responsibility. The cultural distinctiveness of this category can only be preserved if the individualism and creativity of the youth are recognised and given space to flourish.

References

GoI (1988): “National Youth Policy 1988”, Department of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, accessed from http://www.nyks. org/1988/1988_intro.htm

– (2003): “National Youth Policy 2003”, Department of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, accessed from http://www.youthpolicy.com/ policies/IndiaNATIONALYOUTHPOLICY2003.pdf

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