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A Brief History Of India’s Generation Gap And How The Russian Revolution Influenced It

‘Generation gap’ is one such phrase which often takes all the blame upon itself when people – mostly parents or teachers (on one side) and their children or students (on the other) – do not find any point of reconciliation on some issues regarding daily affairs or those that have wider implications.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines generation gap as “a situation in which older and younger people do not understand each other because of their different experiences, opinions, habits, and behaviour.” While trying to gain an edge over younger people in an argument, it’s quite common for older people to say something along the lines of – “You don’t really understand the meaning of what I am saying now because of the generation gap and your lack of experience. I’ve seen a lot more through all these years – and you too will realise the same once you reach my age.”

However, the interesting thing here is that in numerous such instances where this statement is used, the opposite turns out to be true. Rarely do people realise the meaning of what was once said by their elders in the same way they meant it, even after they reach the so-called ‘age of enlightenment’. Most often, they simply stick to the opinions they held initially. However, it’s only this statement that continues to be reiterated through generations.

People often take for granted that the ‘age-factor’ is the determinant for defining a generation gap. It is often thought that people belonging to the same age group universally share similar opinions on common issues. It is also believed that such people come in conflict with the people from a different age group or ‘generation’. But this isn’t necessarily true.

For instance, on several matters like technology, films, music, job preferences or dressing style, the youth from the Indian middle-class would probably, to a large extent, agree with the views of the older and younger generations in the West or even with the elite Indian upper-class. However, in all probability, it is the older generation of the Indian middle-class that may come in conflict with this united front of diversely-aged people.

What then, is the determining factor for the generation gap that is quite visible among the youth and the older generations of our time? Again, the keyword here can be found in the same clichéd word repeated by the elders – experience. Yes, experience is the key factor that defines and determines the gap between different ‘generations’ to connect with each other.

Experiences are neither universal nor static. They are case-specific, relative and dynamic and are definitely not something that converge in the same point at the same age. Going back to the Cambridge English Dictionary, experience is defined as “(the process of getting) knowledge or skill from doing, seeing, or feeling things.” Singling out the attributes that define ‘experience’, we can easily find the implications of the existing divide in the way the youth of today think (or act) – differently, or at times, in total opposition to the value systems of the elders. The way the youth travel, communicate, gather information, write, eat or even live, have been greatly influenced by the changes and advances that have come along in course of time.

While the elderly people of our times have grown up walking long distances to schools or writing weekly/monthly letters back home, the middle-class youth of today has grown up on cycles or buses and may not have ever written a letter except during an examination. Some may say that even the elder generation catches up with these changes. But then, the influences in the formative years do stay on for a long time – and they do colour one’s preferences. Also, it wouldn’t make much sense to expect a generation brought up in an age of video-calling and instant messaging to be patient enough to wait for days or weeks for letters. The pace of doing things has increased – and the ways have become easier. The youth is clocked faster – and yes, the youth of today is among the earlier generations post the digital revolution.

Image source: NU SCI

Some scholars opine that the advances in technology from 1980 to 2020 will be much faster, more innovative and ‘newer’ compared to what had happened between 1600 and 1980. The current youth has grown up while experiencing rapid changes in the way of doing things during their formative ages, unlike the elders who probably grew up seeing changes at a much slower pace. Both the generations may perhaps be equally susceptible to the changes brought in by technology, but the youth probably finds it much easier to catch up – and are also perhaps more welcoming towards changes. In fact, they get ‘bored’ with things quickly and are demanding changes at a faster pace.

Having said that, what has the Russian Bolshevik Revolution (that took place in 1917 – more than 100 years back), got to do with the wide generation gap among the Indian middle-class? It would perhaps be a matter of surprise to find the significance of such an event in the behavioural changes in multiple Indian generations. But then, the undercurrents set off by the Socialist Revolution has had a huge impact on the lives of people throughout the century. The effects were not just confined to the Soviet Bloc; instead, they spread globally.

The Socialist state that was set up after the revolution, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was seen and hailed as a paradise for the working classes. Whereas, the very idea of a State controlled by the working class was a nightmare come true for the bourgeoisie of the western world. To ensure that the working classes in their own countries (whom they had been exploiting for quite a long time) were not lured by the Marxist call (“Workers of the world, unite”) to revolt, the western imperialist states started showering benefits and welfare schemes targeted at the workers, including retirement pensions and allowances. Welfare schemes and social security measures were taken up as ‘state policies’ to preserve their legitimacy. Such measures trickled down to the imperial colonies as well – and laid the foundations for the idea of a State as the fountainhead of benefits and welfare.

The independent republic of India, which succeeded British India, furthered the British legacy in this realm, with an additional choice to follow the path of the Soviet Union – of planned development and state-triggered growth – towards the aim of attaining a ‘socialist pattern of society’. This policy of the Indian state which employed a large chunk of the educated Indian populace led to the formation of the ‘salaried government servant’ class, which seemingly led and represented the discourse of the Indian middle class in the decades that followed.

This mixed economy with socialist ideals triggered incremental and comprehensive growth. It also seasoned the Indian populace, especially the middle classes, to accept and incorporate changes in a slow and steady fashion. Government jobs were seen as desirable in comparison to private-sector jobs which were thought to be relatively unstable. Production and competition were restricted by the ‘licence-raj’ – and the bipolar power structure in the global arena restricted the neo-liberal forces from making an entry to the Indian economy.

The Cold War era was the period in which the elders of today were born and seasoned. The character of the erstwhile polity – one of slow but stable changes – was therefore imbibed by the generation.

Representative image

However, the Cold War ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and the world witnessed drastic changes in every sphere, thereafter. The present young generation was born and seasoned during this period – a period which saw the advent of free-market economies, the digital revolution, rapid privatisation, globalisation, trans-border flow of finance and human capital, e-governance and social media. The collapse of the Socialist Bloc minimised the threat of a communist revolution – and the capitalist economies once again walked out into a safe zone.

The welfare-state policies are now slowly being revoked. The retirement pensions have become (or are becoming) contributory pensions. Subsidies are being slashed. Job vacancies in the government sectors are now often seen to be on a temporary or contractual basis with not many employment benefits. Government agencies and departments are rapidly being privatised or outsourced. Public-private partnerships seem to be managing the affairs of the State.

The ATMs, which once substituted bank cashiers, are now being substituted by Paytm and UPI. Retailers are being substituted by Amazon and Flipkart. The grocery market has been replaced with Amazon Grocery or Big Basket.

The gramophone record had long back given way to audio cassettes and compact disks (CDs), which are now again giving way to pen drives and memory cards. The VCR or the DVD players have become a thing of the past – while Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hotstar have all taken over.

Seen in this light, how can anyone, even in their wildest dreams, expect the youth of today (seasoned by privatisation, the digital revolution, globalisation and social media) to be inclined towards public-sector jobs, paperwork, letters or telegrams – in exactly the same fashion the older generations used to? Is it not almost morally criminal to measure the value systems, lifestyles and ways of thinking of people belonging to two different eras (the pre-Cold War era and the post-Cold War era) with the same yardstick?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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