Afroz Alam Sahil, 27, wanted to take his RTI activism up a notch by educating people about how to follow up on their applications. So in December last year, Sahil, with like-minded friends, started a non-profit, the Insaan International Foundation.
Similarly, Skilled Samaritan was born in September 2012 when investment banker Gauri Agarwal, 26, quit her job to bring change. Her organisation works towards sustainable development through eco-tourism and helps locals develop skills. Both Sahil and Agarwal have plans to expand their campaigns, a dream shared by many young Indians.
Youngsters are coming out to change the rusty system that surrounds them. “The youth today is undergoing a social and political consciousness and not just to vent their frustration,” says Sanjay Kumar, Fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Kumar points out that a whole generation is coming of age. India is getting younger — with more than 50% of the population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below 35.
In India, youth have been at the vanguard of protests, be it against the Delhi gang-rape or corruption. An unexpected sense of solidarity prevailed, says Kumar, citing a nation-wide study, Indian Youth in a Transforming World: Attitudes and Perceptions. “It reveals that the young are still rooted to social values and take social issues very seriously,” he says.
The issues, however, have changed with time. Deepa Gupta, who has worked with Australia’s Getup.org, a grass-roots community advocacy group and is now launching Jhatkaa says, “Organisations here were specific and issue-oriented. Now, (they) are coming up with campaigns against a variety of social problems.” A study conducted by Delhia-based think tank Youth for Policy & Dialogue (YPD) recommends formation of a Youth Consortium which facilitates interaction between the government and young people. “To tap the potential of youth-led sectors, we need to ascertain the strength of these groups,” says Bhanu Joshi, YPD.
India’s 62 million social media users, 75% of which are below the age of 35, are also fuelling activism. “Internet has helped people identify with each other, collaborate and voice their concerns,” says Dr Anja Kovacs, project director, Internet Democracy Project. On the downside, it has also turned youngsters into ‘slacktivists’ who pick and discard causes, without any deep engagement. “In the end you need a plan, a focused group or organisation to execute your plan,” says Kovacs.
Non-profit associations: 4924
Halabol, launched on Republic Day last year, has created a one-of-a-kind social network to bring like-minded youngsters together and ‘make an impact, collectively’. Even non-profits like Amnesty International, Pravah, WWF India are active on Halabol’s network. “It’s easy to get lost advocating a cause. Halabol provides simple tools that inform people about campaigns and causes to choose from,” says founder Ankur Gupta. The organisation focuses on creating petitions, pledges of bringing change and initiating campaigns with support from other NGOs.
Volunteers across 12 colleges
Their objective, born out of the minds of a few VIT students in Vellore in 2010, is to ‘reach out to youngsters and impart life skills at a peer-to-peer level’. “We give a voice to every individual, with issues ranging from bullying, escapism, depression and substance abuse,” says Siddharth Sinha, co-founder. Peer counseling makes it easier for students to talk about problems. Peer educators conduct workshops and group discussions to help cope with ‘negative peer pressure’.
IYCN (Indian Youth Climate Network)
Volunteers: 200 in eight cities
IYCN comprises youngsters who initiate dialogues on environmental issues. “We try to engage youth in not just on-ground projects, but in policy making,” says Chaitanya Kumar, national coordinator, IYCN. Climate change is voiced through a network of youngsters at the grassroots. Started in 2008, IYCN runs projects such as waste management, rural energy projects, herbal gardens etc. It has also sent delegations to the UN Climate summits in Durban (2011) and Doha (2012).
Member students: 2,275 in 51 colleges
Enactus empowers youth by developing entrepreneurial skills to uplift the marginalised, through tie-ups with corporate big-wigs such as Walmart, Tata etc. “Young people are looking for meaningful jobs and are interested in social entrepreneurship,” says Farhan Pettiwala, president, Enactus India. Enactus encourages students to present ideas that impact people and generate profit. From providing cheap solar electricity in villages to educating women in slums about sanitary napkins and cervical cancer, or getting loans for rickshaw-wallahs, college students have come up with inexpensive sustainable ideas.
ADR (Association For Democratic Reforms)
SMS subscribers: 50,00,000+
ADR works with young minds to assess the Indian political system. “There used to be apathy, but now young Indians want to reclaim the space consumed by dirty politics,” says Anil Bairwal, national coordinator, ADR. The birth of ADR was marked by a PIL requesting the disclosure of electoral candidates’ backgrounds. The Supreme Court in 2002 made it mandatory for all candidates to disclose details prior to elections. With this beginner’s luck, the organisation moved forward to bring transparency and accountability.
Volunteers: 100+ in nine cities
Blank Noise was the first forum to publicly address sexual harrasment and evolved into a form of public art to provoke thoughts on a ‘normalised’ issue. Started in 2003 by nine students, the forum took up the issue. They don’t set guidelines on what constitutes eve-teasing, instead they open space for the public to explore, question and debate. “There was an attitude of indifference, of denial when it came to street harassment,” says Jasmeen Patheja, co-founder. The first step was to get people to acknowledge the issue and create a dialogue in both public and virtual space.
CADD (Community Against Drunk Driving)
Prince Singhal started CADD in 2001, after realising how drunk driving was consuming youngsters. “When we started no one identified drunk driving as the major cause behind accidents, not even police,” says Singhal. More than 10 years of struggle seems to be paying dividends; the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has selected Road Safety theme for 2013. CADD works in 17 states with police and transport departments creating awareness.
Often tagged as feminist and leftist, this theatre group steered towards activism in the late 90s, engaging youth through performances and topics revolving around women, children and marginalised groups. “When we get older we get stuck in certain paradigms, which can only be broken by the young,” says Sanjay Kumar, group director and DU professor. These young theatre activists have done plays on the Gujarat pogrom, Nithari killings and the Delhi gangrape.