During lunch at a fancy seminar, I was subjected to an interesting conversation which eventually turned into a monologue. An elderly man of about 60 was not mincing words on how the younger generation is ‘indifferent’ towards the social causes that an array of organisations and activists engage with. He vehemently, and in fact, very loudly, put forth his point of the youth being infested with laziness, convenience and a lack of goals. When asked about the reason for this opinion, he said, “We don’t hire fresh graduates because they’re not passionate enough about our cause.” This set the tone for the next three days of the seminar. It was going to be yet another event where people, mostly men, in the age group of 50-65 would discuss their skills and successes. They would also cover the difference between the challenges they face today and those faced 20 years ago.
Now, I will try my best to not come across as someone who is ‘indifferent’ or ‘lazy’. I will also fight, to the best of my ability, the cynicism that my generation is synonymous with. Having graduated from a premier social science institute a year ago, I was full of energy, passion and positivity about making a dent in the social sector. I was confident about my learning and pedagogy. I was absolutely sure of how I would shape my career. Two years in that institute taught me to strategically deal with a gazillion problems. ‘Strategically’, being the operative word here. After graduation, I had anticipated situations where I would not be trusted or would be looked down upon for being young in the sector. I had my ammo for that. However, this was different.
In a span of seven months, I have attended about four national seminars and a couple of other conferences. This makes me no expert on the subject, but I still think these parties only act as a platform for older men to say negative things about people who are young. Parties that are funded by other bigger organisations because everybody has a boss that they are answerable to. At the last seminar I attended, I had already lost the zeal to debate or have a discussion with the older professionals about youth participation in social movements. It felt useless, even redundant. To put it simply, it felt like trying to explain the taste and texture of cheese to a lactose intolerant person – pointless and a waste of time.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not on a high horse myself. In July 2016, when I attended my first national conference as a professional, I was shocked by how low the number of young people was. It was disheartening and unsettling. How could they not participate to voice their opinion on what the PSUs and the corporates were doing with their land in the name of mining? Another conference in Himachal Pradesh echoed similar concerns. Where are the young people to overthrow a multinational corporation from destroying the ecological balance of the valley? Fancy conferences followed suit.
In the meantime, I reflected on my own treatment of causes and issues. The institute that I graduated from focuses on practice, backed by theory. It teaches students to think analytically, strategise effectively and act responsibly. With the amount of groundwork being done by the faculty and other professionals associated with it, my understanding of the social sectors (which I deemed good, by the way) was that, in order to solve issues of social welfare and challenges of social justice, one needs to devise plans at various levels.
There needs to be an efficient implementation of policies and programmes for these issues to see some improvement in the respective fields. This was all part of the teaching and learning at the graduate level. However, one cannot look at pedagogy in isolation with the economic realities of our country. At the end of the day, I would be employed for my skill sets by someone who needs them. It is a fair exchange. I need them and they need me, right? Probably not so much in the social sector. There seems to be a disparity between the expectations of organisations and potential employees.
Some organisations and professionals who have been in the sector for decades have had experiences of a different kind. Young professionals and fresh graduates have different realities, perceptions and world views. Today’s youth would not wait around in an organisation that does not offer professional and personal growth, be it any industry or sector. What makes us impatient and ‘free-floating’ also makes us curious and always striving for what’s better. We are constantly being misjudged and doubted for a lack of experience, and are often left bereft of opportunities to participate because the older professionals feel we have poor work ethics. At conferences, when we do put across new ways to solve problems, our ideas are shunned for being too radical or impractical. Panel discussions on gender issues or tribal rights or environmental crimes rarely have a young professional to represent the youth’s participation.
All of this could just be my experience within the development sector, but it irks me to be at the receiving end of an unreasonable misperception fuelled by a different kind of ignorance. It annoys me each time an old professional explains the nuances of youth participation while completely dismissing what I have to say about it. After long days of attending futile seminars, when I sit in my bed reflecting on my work and thoughts and passions, I end up second-guessing myself.
The question that I ask myself is, “Are young people really indifferent and placid? Or do we not have enough space to participate freely without being judged or doubted?” I am still trying to find an answer to that.