ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Aspirations, Agency, and Frustrated Freedom among Muslim ‘Middle-class’ Youth in Jamia Nagar

The neo-liberal discourse has raised the aspirations of Indian youth for professional employment, making them believe that they are agents who can usher positive changes in their lives. The functioning of opportunity structures, however, remains weak for many, making the process of attaining aspirations arduous. Scholars have termed this as frustrated freedom. This paper engages with the concept of frustrated freedom through the narratives around employment-based aspirations and choices of Muslim youth living in the Jamia Nagar neighbourhood of Delhi. The paper discusses the critical role of social networks and embeddedness in shaping the experiences of frustrated freedom among the Muslim youth, arguing that these networks mitigate frustrated freedom at the level of aspirations, whereas at the stage of employment, these networks remain somewhat ambiguous.

The author would like to express their sincere gratitude to the anonymous referee for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The content and opinions expressed in this paper are that of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by/do not necessarily reflect the views of the Azim Premji University, Bengaluru.

Within the neo-liberal discourse, India’s rise to a global economic power accompanies the aspiration of its people to be active participants in its success story (Gooptu 2013; Mankekar 2015). Access to education (Jeffrey 2010; Kumar 2016) and the perception of the ease of upward social mobility in the country (Gooptu 2013) have the youth striving for a “good life” (Berlant 2011; Fischer 2014). Aspirations for the youth are bolstered by the phenomenal success stories of seemingly ordinary people popularised by the media (Gooptu 2013; Mankekar 2015). The Prime Minister of India, whom the media portrayed as a tea seller in his early days, is one such example. In his speeches, the Prime Minister strategically addresses an “aspirational” India. On the 75th Independence Day, for instance, he pledged that the government should work towards addressing the aspirations of Indians. Capturing the imagination of the people, the Prime Minister serves as a role model for those who aspire for upward social mobility. At the same time, with the withdrawal of the welfarist functions of the state, the onus of achieving these aspirations rests with the individual, requiring them to develop an enterprising self (Gooptu 2013) and be the agents of the change that they envisage. Developing aspirations for upward mobility and channelising private resources to achieve them has captured the dominant discourse (Foucault 1981) at the risk of excluding discussions around opportunity structures1 and the role of the state in facilitating mobility. 

Within academia, the conceptual understanding of aspirations, as popularised by scholars such as Arjun Appadurai, can be cited as an example. Appadurai (2004) views aspirations as a capacity to navigate pathways to achieve a desired future. Due to their multidimensional disadvantages, the poor are less equipped to navigate these complex pathways. Conversely, the rich, having had more experience with the “good life,” have a more developed capacity for aspiration. Appadurai suggests that efforts should be made towards raising the capacity to aspire for the poor. His appeal mirrors that of the neo-liberal state. Overlooking the role of the state in providing avenues for mobility in India, Appadurai applauds community-based efforts, as seen in the form of various grassroots-based social movements spearheaded by the poor. 

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Updated On : 10th Dec, 2023
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