The youth of India have great creative energy with the positive potential to take them to spiritual heights. If human creativity is a special quality, then the “Never say die!” spirit is its apex. Demographically, today’s India is at its youngest best and has the power to meet any challenge with the collective consciousness and effort of all people, especially young people.
This is the perfect time when youth is alert and aware and provoked by the environment and lack of values. India is a nation facing incredible challenges. This is evident from the utter lack of safety and security for the girl child and women anywhere in the country and the impunity with which monstrous elements like rapists heap violence on girl children and women.
On the one hand, people can see such huge wealth and on the other, more than one-third of the people go without a second meal every day. We have examples of the very affluent as well as the extremely poor. And millions of our children have no access to education, even at the primary level. And we are still grappling with the issue of child labour.
Swami Vivekananda delivered a lecture on the issue of difficulties in life. He made the plea for the need for nationwide renovation with the ideals of ‘tyaga’ or sacrifice and ‘seva,’ selfless service, the most imperative aspects of shaping the life of young people. The monk made the point that this way of life is what can be called ‘spiritual pursuit’. The brevity of human triumph and the impermanence of material wealth were of serious thought to this philosophy. What he challenged us to do was to give ourselves a noble reason to live, a lofty ideal to live for and a higher state to reach within the boundaries of human existence.
The only qualification that Swamiji looked for in youngsters was to cultivate and nurture the ability to ‘feel’. He offered his potential ‘mantra’ and desired to take solid action so that those who wanted to go beyond just feeling could do so. The most influential P’s are: Purity, Patience and Perseverance. The P’s are the great traits that the youth of today are rich in and this is evident from their keenness to be part of positive change that will have impact on entire society.
Purity is of thought and achievement. Patience is to understand the dynamic form and need to focus on the area for improvement. Today’s youth needs enormous perseverance to take part in the multifaceted challenges we face in today’s society. They need to place their efforts in the realities of livelihood, societal stages and political variety. And for these attempts to seriously address socio-political and ethical-moral issues, they need great perseverance. If not, one could easily get drained and unmotivated.
Swami Vivekananda believed that working for any social change required massive energy and spirit. Hence, he requested the youth to amplify both their mental energies and physical fitness. What Vivekananda wanted from the youth were ‘muscles of iron’ and ‘nerves of steel’. Today, the youth are exceptionally responsive and they just need to be encouraged in their quest for justice for common benefit. Swami Vivekananda was and is not only the medium; he is himself the message as well for the youth of India.
Jan 12, Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, is celebrated as National Youth Day. It is his 150th birth anniversary this year.
“The world now has the largest generation of young people in history. I place great hope in their power to shape our future,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told leaders and dignitaries at High-Level Event on the Demographic Dividend and Youth Employment, held at UN Headquarters in New York on June 1st.
Much the world is poised experience a demographic dividend – the economic growth that can occur when a population shifts from one with many dependents and comparatively few working-age people to one of many working-age people with fewer dependents. Demographic dividends have helped produce unprecedented economic growth in several East Asian countries. The Republic of Korea, for example, saw its per-capita gross domestic product grow about 2,200 per cent between 1950 and 2008.
But, as Egypt’s Minister of Population Dr. Hala Youssef told the policymakers and leaders present, “The demographic dividend is not automatic… It is a window of opportunity.”
Igniting the potential of 1.8 billion
To realize the dividend, countries must invest in the empowerment, education and employment of their young people. There are 1.8 billion young people in the world today, representing a staggering amount of human potential. Yet too many of them are trapped in poverty, with few opportunities to learn or to earn a decent living.
“We all appreciate the massive waste of human capital in our world when 74 million young people cannot find work,” said Mr. Ban.
Young people are hungry for better options. “They are rejecting the status quo and demanding a better future. Many of them are claiming their right to a decent living, and they are willing to take risks to do so. We have seen in recent times the high numbers of young people taking risks around the Mediterranean, trying to reach a better life,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.
But if these youth are allowed to realize their full potential, developing countries could see huge economic gains.
“The more young people grow into well-educated adults with fewer dependants and new opportunities to acquire wealth, savings and purchasing power, the more they will be able to accelerate economic growth and development,” said Sam K. Kutesa, President of the 69th Session of the General Assembly, who convened the high-level event with support from UNFPA and the International Labour Organization.
“It is estimated the African continent could add up to about $500 billion per year to its economy for as many as 30 years,” Mr. Kutesa added.
Steps towards a better future
There are clear steps that can help countries achieve a demographic dividend.
Increasing investment in young people is key. This includes promoting quality education that prepares them for future opportunities. A “diversity of training will be needed – from quality primary and secondary schools to technical training, to two-year colleges and to research-intensive universities,” said Dr. Osotimehin.
Also essential is “empowering women and girls, and ensuring their sexual and reproductive health and human rights,” he noted. “This would enable them to determine when and whom to marry and the number of their children.” When women and girls are able to make these decisions, they are better able to complete their educations and pursue jobs.
Countries must also increase employment opportunities for young people. Daniel Johnson, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture of the Bahamas, stressed this point. “Many young people will be forced to sit on margins of society, waiting on the train track for a train that may never come,” he said, referring to the lack of employment options available in many communities.
There is also a critical need to involve young people in decisions that will affect them. “We cannot talk about sustainable development without the active involvement of youth,” Mr. Ban said, adding: “When we give young people decent jobs, political weight, negotiating muscle, and real influence in our world, they will create a better future.”
“Let us take these ideas forward to harness the demographic dividend, holding human rights, gender equality, human capital, and dignity at the center of all our investments,” Dr. Osotimehin said at the close of the event. “Only by ensuring opportunities that open the future to all young people do we create a better future.”
Image: Students in Cotonou, Benin. © UNFPA Benin/Ollivier Girard