In the aftermath of the December 16 gang-rape, they gave India her biggest protest in recent memory, thus refuting generalisations about the middle-class youth being socially apathetic. But that sense of social responsibility seems to have waned.
According to the HT-MaRS Youth Survey 2013, only 42.1% of the urban young from the upper and middle classes in the country believe they must give something back to society.
Youngsters in Chennai emerged as the most philanthropic with 55% of the respondents saying they want to give back to society while only 31% in Ahmedabad said so.
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan cites a lack of trust in social systems as a barrier to service. Indeed, 42.6% of young, urban Indians believe corruption is the biggest challenge facing the country. As a problem, it trumps terrorism (12.3%), unemployment (12.2%), poverty and hunger (10%), illiteracy (7.3%) and income inequality (5.1%). Clearly, the vociferous anti-corruption movements in the past couple of years have had their effect. “Corruption is the most advertised public problem. Most people assume the money is anyway going elsewhere, not being used for the purpose it’s meant for,” said Visvanathan.
But what keeps the young from attempting to serve society? Almost half (48.2%) said it was lack of money while 38.3% cited a lack of time.
Ahmedabad had the maximum youngsters (73%) who said they did not have enough money to be socially responsible. “It’s hard enough to meet daily expenses, thanks to inflation and little or no savings. Where is the money for social service?” said Aditya Jain, 24, a graphic designer in Ahmedabad.
In Jaipur, almost a quarter said they had no interest in serving society.
Writer and social activist Nityanand Jayaraman is not surprised. “Between our nuclear families and segregated education systems, children from upwardly mobile classes in cities grow up with no sense of community and no exposure to what life is like for most people,” he said. “They grow up with a belief that their good life is a birthright.”
Visvanathan said serving society may not be a priority for 18-to-25-year-olds, especially if they are upwardly mobile aspirants with many anxieties of their own.
“They have to focus on themselves, if they want a career. Perhaps when they reach 60, they may want to give something back. But many people at 60 give back to god instead of society,” Visvanathan said. “The sense of reciprocity and responsibility to give something back are very high within the family and kinship networks. But an individual’s relationship with society is more contractual, so there is not much reciprocity.”
However, the spirit of community service is not completely lost among the youth; 42.2% of the respondents said they had donated books or clothes to the poor. One-third of the respondents from Kolkata have given food to the homeless. Delhi’s youth came out on top (32.3%) among those who had participated in a cleanliness drive in the past one year even though almost 40% of Kolkata’s youth confessed to having littered. Only 11.8% of the youth said they were guilty of drinking and driving while 21.6% confessed they had broken traffic rules in the past. So while serving society may not top the agenda of the urban youth, their acknowledgement of what they are doing wrong is a sign that there is hope for change.