Is it fun to be young? Not really. The Hindustan Times-CNN-IBN Youth Survey, studying urban 18-25 year olds, shows that for 50%, the source of happiness is parents, more want to join government service more than any other profession, 60% have never had a girlfriend or boyfriend and romance is far down their list of priorities. For most, a good salary, rather than new challenges, is most important when choosing a career.
"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven," wrote William Wordsworth about the heady times of the French Revolution. But the 18-25 generation in 21st century India doesn't want revolutions. Far from it. In fact they are highly risk averse, more politically right-wing than before, extremely socially conservative and disinclined to opt for rebellion. With such a shockingly conventional generation, where are the free thinkers, the adventurers, the Mark Zuckerbergs and the Bill Gates going to come from?
The young's relationship with their parents is conventional. Priyanka Todi and Nirupama Pathak may have chosen life partners in defiance of parents, Manoj and Babli may have defied the Kaithal khap panchayat, but the overwhelming majority of young want to marry and live according to their parents' wishes.
While this may be good news for those worried about the breakdown of the Indian family, in some ways it also shows that in spite of films like Udaan and Three Idiots that interrogate parental diktat on children's destinies, questioning or challenging parents is simply not part of the mentality of today's young. This is borne out in the unquestioning way that sons and daughters today meekly follow in the footsteps of their actor or politician parents or even in the fact that young men are prepared to murder their sisters if they step out of the family line. In return for this devotion, parents provide absolute protection. Even educated mothers dote on their children to such an extent that, a la Manu Sharma, they will even bend the law to protect the offspring who has committed murder.
How healthy is this fierce attachment of parent-child, of total protection in return for total devotion? Rich parents in metros are rearing a generation of cosseted spoilt brats who will touch the feet of their parents in ostentatious mock respect but recklessly flout the law on the street in a bout of drunk driving, confident that Dad and Mom will get them off any trouble with the law. The Indian family — India's most prized institution — was once a classroom of good behaviour both inside and outside the home. Today it can sometimes become a cynical trap of wealth and power where children and parents are united by a common rather feudal pursuit of status and family success, unmindful of social responsibility, public good or a consciousness of being part of a wider social world. Obedience and respect towards parents is wonderful.
Yet, it is individuals who tackle the world independently and on their own terms, who intelligently question their parents' choices, who choose to venture into the world in a spirit of discovery, who are likely to become leaders, risk-takers and original thinkers. Being cocooned in the family womb and making nightly forays in Dad's Mercedes may keep mothers happy. But it won't create an individual likely to enrich society.
The young aren't only incredibly family-minded, they are also extremely socially conservative. Over 70% disapprove of homosexuality and over 60% want marriage partners to be virgins. As for politics, four times more young people prefer right-wing politics to left-wing politics. If two decades ago the political centre of gravity of the young was with the Left, in 21st century India, the urban youth are firmly with the political right. This is not a surprising finding.
Facebook and Twitter may have created the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. But in India, Facebook and Twitter are dominated by young people openly pouring scorn on 'pseudo-secular liberals', minorities and the so-called 'anti-nationals'. Young Indians proudly call themselves 'nationalist' without quite spelling out what their 'nationalism' means. While economic reforms have created an optimistic belief in private enterprise, hardline attitudes to minorities and preference for a hard State spell doom for liberal democracy.
So why are India's urban youth conservative and politically right-wing? The perceived loss of culture due to globalisation could be a reason why Indian "culture" is aggressively asserted even as 'global' lifestyles sweep through the metros. Pop traditionalism, albeit in a modern garb, has returned with a bang. Trendy clothes, skinny figures and latest gadgets coexist with a passionate attachment to religious rituals. If rituals and religious rites were once the activities of grandmothers, they are now being adopted by the youth as aggressive demonstrations of identity. No wonder marriage remains central to the youth's dreams and giving birth to sons is the preferred option even in the upmarket social strata.
There's a great deal to be proud of in the youth survey too. In spite of their own attachment to family, India's youth has chosen the self-made Sachin Tendulkar and APJ Abdul Kalam over scions born into privileged 'royal' families. But the survey contains portents of the future. India in the next two generations will be powered by a majority of success-oriented, deeply conservative citizens whose ambitions are narrowly focused on money and status. Poets, bohemians, rebels, intellectuals, dissenters, freethinkers, adventurers or even risk-taking entrepreneurs may become a vanishing breed.
Sagarika Ghose is Deputy Editor, CNN-IBN. The views expressed by the author are personal.