I can’t think of any ‘free’ society in the world that is as terrified of youth as we are. Youth, for us, is something to be capped in a bottle and put in the freezer.
Ours is a land of perpetual infantilism. One is always a baby. One is never old enough. Add to this our natural nosiness. Your business is my business. We don’t treat young people as individuals with their own life plans and the freedom to take their own decisions.
It’s all about control, whether it be the teacher, or parents, or the landlord, or the police. We decide how you should lead your life. Follow or perish. An attitude like this only encourages subterfuge. What we’ve done is give birth to a generation of consummate liars.
When I say Indians are terrified of youth, what it boils down to is this: Indians are terrified of sex. All attempts to bridle the young are essentially efforts to control and manipulate their sexuality. Even after thousands of years of civilisation, we persist in seeing sexuality as a threat, a dangerous and damaging force.
But India is changing. Young Indians, armed with qualifications, are pouring into our cities to exploit the opportunities in the new economy. They are the drivers of our growth story. We’ve embraced Western-style capitalism but we aren’t ready to accept the changes of lifestyle that this brings. Young people now rent apartments, stay single for longer, have multiple sexual partners. They drink and do soft drugs. They work hard, often for long hours. They use the weekend to let off steam, so that they can return on Monday with their batteries recharged.
We are in denial about all of this. We want the kids to go make pots of money, then come home and go to sleep. It’s an unreasonable expectation.
One landlord I had didn’t like my friends coming over. It didn’t matter if they were men or women. No guests after 11 pm! One of these friends was a freelance photographer, another played in a band. Gigs and shoots often finish late. Times have changed. People are involved in new professions. This simple fact was lost on the landlord who was, of course, exceedingly greedy about money. Another friend had to introduce his girlfriend to his RWA (Resident Welfare Association) before moving in. It was like facing a panchayat in a village. Funnily, the more middle class a neighbourhood is, the more stringent the morality. Young people have flooded lower-middle-class areas like Nep Sarai in Delhi because here the landlords simply don’t care.
Nowadays, housing societies grudgingly accept one steady girlfriend: Chalo, ok, as long as you get married to her. But only one girl. What if I am single? What about being footloose and fancy-free and looking for one’s partner in the marketplace of relationships, through a process of trial and error? Forget it. It’s not in our culture.
You can’t get a partner to your own apartment, so you take her to a park or the beach, where the cops will harass you. You take her to a club, chances are the club will be raided. As a song by Imaad Shah called ‘Mera Bharat Jawan’ goes, “Khullam khulla/Phir aa gaya thulla/Mere des ki ye prem kahani” (Out in the open/Here comes the cop again/This is the love story of my country).
Indians are such a suspicious lot that they won’t even trust you with your mother. In Delhi University, my mum and me were once pulled off a cycle rickshaw because a policeman thought we were a couple. Now that’s a crime for you, to be a couple. Another time, she was thrown out of my post-graduate hostel because it was after eight, and the hostel johnny said, “Sorry, rules. No ladies allowed in rooms after eight.” What was I going to do? Have sex with my mom? Stop it, you pervert.
In fact, the residents of the hostel had, earlier in the year, fought to have girls in their rooms. Girlfriends had joined in the dharna, which lasted several days. This irked the warden who screamed at the girls: “I don’t know what kinds of families you wicked women come from.” See. Sexuality is always the woman’s fault. She is the agent of destruction.
What’s shocking is that parents and the police seem to share the same moral attitudes. After a raid in a Mumbai pub, a parent was quoted as saying, “I don’t think I can trust my 20-year-old anymore. From now on, I’ll keep a close watch on her.” Another said, “We try to ensure that our children have the best facilities so that they don’t have any complaints. And this is how they repay us.”
Could it be that parents have been the biggest enemies of their children? They provide for their children, sure, but then they expect them to perform like robots. They have never been friends to their offspring. We are taught to touch our elders’ feet. In school, we were taught in letter-writing class to start letters with: “Poojya Pitaji, Sadar charan sparsh” (Dear Father, I touch your feet with love). The parent is god. Maintain your distance.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that young educated Indians in cities are killing themselves at unprecedented rates. A sensational Lancet study says that suicide is the second most common cause of death among young people aged 19 to 25. Vikram Patel, author of the study, said: “There must be something toxic in the social environment in the rapidly developing states of India…We don’t know what it is and we need to unpack it.”
Which brings me to the final point: Are young Indians partly responsible for the miserable state they find themselves? Contemporary young India is ripe for rebellion, but the big question is: Where is the rebellion? Why aren’t we tearing down walls? Why are we satisfied with Karan Johar films and Chetan Bhagat novels? Why are the novels, films, books and music meant for young India so tame? Why are the slogans on their T-shirts so tame? Has society taken the fight out of them?
It’s time this generation took the bull by its horns.
Mehrotra is the author of The Butterfly Generation
India’s youth is beleaguered
Forms of Punishment
On February 23, the police took Kuber Sarup, a 25-year-old man, to a police station in Khar, Mumbai, fined him Rs 1,200 and lectured him on Indian culture because they claimed he was indulging in indecent behaviour at Carter Road in Bandra (West), an upmarket suburb. Sarup said that all he had done was hugged a woman friend and pecked her on the cheek while seeing her off. The police said this qualified as indecent behaviour. When Sarup protested and told the police that he had done nothing wrong, the police gave him these alternatives: Pay the fine and appear in court or spend the night in jail. He paid the fine.
On February 1, Barjinder Singh, 23, woke up at 4 am in his home in Humbra, a village in Punjab, to find his sister, Navdeep Kaur Gill, and her lover, Harpreet Singh Johal, together in her room. Enraged, he took his father’s pistol and fired four shots at Johal, killing him on the spot. Seeing the bloodshed, his sister tried to flee, but Singh chased her and fired two shots in her head, killing her instantly. Hearing gunshots, neighbours called the police, and Singh was arrested.
The spheres of their lives that come under attack
Partying and going out
Across the country, enforcement of archaic and conservative laws have restricted the nightlife in cities with significant youth populations. In most tier-1 and tier-2 cities, the deadlines are between 11.30 pm and 1.30 am, with establishments in five-star hotels getting an extension till 3 am (Delhi has an advantage since it has more nightspots in hotels than any other city). Even as India’s urban youth protest, the authorities have taken it upon themselves to enforce regular crackdowns, sometimes slapping charges based on outdated laws and wrongfully detaining partygoers, a phenomenon that has become increasingly common over the past year.
Choosing a career
Tejas Sonawane, 25, came to an engineering college in Pune from Nashik in 2004 to do a four-year course in Information Technology. He wanted to become a filmmaker, but his parents objected, saying it wasn’t a stable or a respectable career. Unhappy and unmotivated, Sonawane performed very poorly at his studies, spending most of his time watching movies and at film festivals. It took him seven years to complete his engineering degree, with extremely low marks and no job to his name, before he enrolled himself in a film school in Mumbai. Today, in his second year as a film direction student, he is at the top of his class.
Finding a home
Aditi Moorthy (name changed), 23, a PR professional from Dehradun, came to Mumbai in 2010. She first found accommodation as a paying guest in Andheri, where she had to leave within three months because her landlord thought her a ‘bad influence’ on her college-going son, as she regularly came home from work after 11 pm. Trying to find a new place was taxing; her roommate and she were regularly rejected for being single girls. Then, at their next apartment in Matunga (East), society members objected to their timings, having parties with both men and women attending, and loud music. After seven months, they returned home one evening to find that their door had been locked from outside and society members refused to give them the key, saying that they should vacate the apartment within two days.
In Ranchi, Jharkhand, a little-known group known as Jharkhand Mukti Sangh put up handwritten posters around the state capital on August 6 warning women not to wear jeans and not to come out in public without dupattas after August 20. Any women who violate this rule, they threatened, would suffer an acid attack and their families would not be spared either.
On July 28, a group of youngsters comprising eight boys and five girls were assaulted and molested by a mob claiming to belong to Hindu Jagarana Vedike, a right-wing Hindu organisation, at a homestay resort in the outskirts of Mangalore. While the HJV’s southern convenor, Satyajit Surathkal, denied responsibility in planning the attack, they admitted that some of those involved in it were their members and justified it, saying that the youth were indulging in "immoral activities".
Family and extended community
In January, Waheeda Shahpurwala (name changed), 30, an IT professional based in Hyderabad, fell in love with and married Gajesh Iyer (name changed), a Tamil Brahmin also working in the same field. Her parents, who are staunchly religious, were initially opposed to it, but within six months, came to accept it and even started interacting warmly with the two of them. However, her older brother, an engineer settled in Saudi Arabia, was vehemently opposed to the marriage and was furious when he came to know that his parents were socialising with their Hindu son-in-law. He threatened to break all ties with his parents if they continued fraternising with his sister, who he believed had dishonoured the family. Eventually, Waheeda chose to stop visiting her parents to relieve them of the dilemma of choosing between son and daughter.
On June 8, in Mumbai’s Lower Parel area, a team led by Vasant Dhoble, assistant commissioner of police (Social Service), raided Café Zoe, a restaurant. Dressed in plain clothes, Dhoble and his team arrived at Zoe in the night and started taking videos of patrons. The owners were fined for violating rules under the Bombay Police Act of 1960. The next night, Dhoble’s team raided Shiro, a lounge in the same area, around 1.15 am, for similar reasons. This time, patrons were lined up and made to give personal details to the police. Many were able to leave only by 4 am. The police cannot film or detain people whom they have not charged with violating the law.