The Fifth Dimension

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If statistics are anything to go by, India can actually boast of being one of the youngest countries, with half of its population below 25 years of age.  Yet, we are governed by the world’s oldest cabinet. What can draw our youth to politics? A recent panel discussion – an initiative of Pravah, an NGO committed to supporting youth citizenship and Community: The Youth Collective (CYC), a group that promotes youth development – on the recently released book The Ocean in a Drop sought to find answers.

Written by Ashraf Patel, Meenu Venkateswaran, Kamini Prakash and Arjun Shekhar, The Ocean in a Drop talks about the four legitimate spaces that take up most time in a young person’s life — family, friends, education/career and leisure. The book examines the need to develop a fifth space, which involves understanding the self, building meaningful relationships and impacting the society. Not only does it describe the manner in which the youth have contributed to society in the past, it also suggests newer ways for them to take initiative.

Gouran Lal, founder and board member of Pravah, moderated a session with panelists Meenakshi Natarajan, Belinda Bennett, Venkatesh Srinivasan, Ashraf Patel and Manak Matiyani. “Wherever I have worked, I have come across a handful of young people who always think differently. But when you are between 18 and 23 years of age, no one takes you seriously,” said Natarajan, a Congress MP from Mandsaur. “We need a space for their aspirations. We need youth in politics as this is vital for the reformation of society.”

Venkatesh Srinivasan, assistant representative, UNFPA, spoke about the need to look at the social dividend, and not just the demographic dividend. “I’ve met at least four young people who came out of deprivation and started earning well, only to leave these ‘lucrative’ professions and move towards social service. That is when they start to think beyond what they think is being ‘successful’. We need to provide them these spaces where they can develop themselves to work towards the society,” he said.

Ashraf Patel, co-founder of Pravah and CYC, spoke at length about how these spaces have to be created at a young age, in families, schools and colleges. “The space does not really inspire the youth, but a function of it. Is their environment loose enough it allow them to exercise their influences?”

While the youth grapples with their identity quests and self-development, what role should the adults take? Manak Matiyani, who heads CYC’s ‘Must Bol’ campaign that aims at creating awareness on gender violence, emphasised the need for the youth to be allowed to have experiences of their own. “Young people should be given a platform. The experience of doing what they want, and then failing or succeeding at it should be guided,” he said.

There is a pressing need to get the youth more involved in every aspect of politics and society. And this is where books like The Ocean in a Drop make an important intervention.

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