By Arockiasamy Xavier, SJ
Can we see our youth anew? But that is what Fr General has called us to. In his letter to the whole Society dated 15 January 2021, Fr. Arturo Sosa has called us to see all things anew.
Before we can look at our youth it is important to understand the present Indian context in which our youth find themselves.
Way back in 1623 the Propaganda Fide wrote to the Portuguese missionaries in China, “Do not Portugaise the Chinese, rather Chinese yourselves.” Hence understanding our Indian context is crucially important for our mission. We need to understand mainly our political, economic, and social context that affects our youth in several ways.
With the support of the central government communal forces are trying to establish Manu dharma, the ideology of Sanathana Dharma that still holds up the caste hierarchy.
A discerning eye can see the ominous signs in the appointments of people who subscribe to this ideology to the state’s highest posts, provocative speeches that seek to destroy the secular fabric of the country, and the arrests of anyone who dares to criticize the government etc. These forces believe in exploiting the religious sentiment of the majority Hindus. Their aim is said to be to turn the whole country into a Hindu Rashtra. They engage in smart social coalitions or social engineering. Funds are poured in for elections. They follow the strategy of creating chaos even in rural areas, with the objective of polarizing the people on the basis of religion, where people of all religions have lived in peace for centuries. Their foot soldiers try in every possible way to disturb and divide through lies, myths, and meticulously-planned strategies.
Any assessment of the present context cannot ignore the manifold impact of the pandemic. An article titled “7 Lessons from the Pandemic” says, “Covid’s first lesson is to wield the hammer of state power cautiously, treading softly on people’s lives… At a stroke, millions lost their jobs. For a daily wage earner this meant poverty.” (Times of India, 02 April, 2022) While ordinary people lost their jobs and were pushed into poverty, the health industries, using the crisis, amassed wealth. They looted people’s hard-earned money with the knowledge of the government.
Therefore today’s rulers seem to have no patience for anyone who speaks up for the poor, and the marginalized. Many NGOs, which work for the poor, Dalits and other marginalized communities, are denied a renewal of their license to receive foreign funds. This is an indirect way to stop their work of empowering the people at the periphery.
Socialism has been replaced by crony capitalism, which is an economic system in which capitalist businesses thrive through collusion between the business class and the political class.
Socialism has been replaced by crony capitalism, which is an economic system in which capitalist businesses thrive through collusion between the business class and the political class. Business interests enjoy a close, mutually beneficial relationship with state power and therefore easily obtain permits, government grants, tax breaks, or other forms of state intervention. Where crony capitalism prevails, business interests exercise undue influence over the state’s deployment of public goods, for example, mining concessions for primary commodities or contracts for public works.
Exploiting religion to gain political power, the communal forces have been working hard in villages to create conflicts among the various communities by sowing seeds of suspicion and hatred.
What happened in a village called Michaelpatti in Tamil Nadu is a classical example of their strategy to polarize the people through false accusations. Anyone who wants to know what really happened can find the news in the internet. The functionaries of communal outfits alleged – with no evidence whatever – that the Sisters who ran a school for more than a century attempted to convert a Hindu student who stayed in their school hostel to Christianity. It proved that they can make a big issue out of nothing.
The majority of the Indian work force consists of Dalits and women who are still facing subjugation, and deprivation. Dalits continue to be the victims of caste atrocities in many places. Adivasis have to fight for their legitimate rights and equal place in the society. In some villages the communal forces are trying to recruit the Dalit youth.
The plight of the women of the marginalized communities, the worst-affected people during Covid’19, is very pathetic. Many women, especially widows who were doing menial works in various sectors, lost their jobs.
Seeing the Youth Anew:
This is our context. Let us now focus on youth – as one of our UAPs reminds us. They are our future, and this planet’s future.
Luckily, we engage the youth not merely in our schools and colleges, but also in our social action centres, parishes, youth movements like AICUF, counselling centres, de-addiction centres, and media centres.
But there are plenty of questions we need to ask ourselves. Do we understand our youth? Do we understand their problems and struggles in the post-pandemic era? Do we understand the baits that attract them to divisive, communal forces?
Targetted by divisive forces: Having understood that the unemployed subaltern youth endure listless lives in a world of uncertainty, the divisive forces are brainwashing them, and trying through several ways to bring them into their fold. In their project to polarize the people on the basis of religion, their main target is youth. It is a serious concern that because of the strategies of these cunning groups that do not believe in secularism, democracy, unity and peace, sanctity of the Indian Constitutions, some youths have already become powerful agents in their hands to carry out their tasks.
Affected by the pandemic: Nothing else has shaken and confused our youth as Covid 19. We saw the agony of the youth in the unorganized sector after the abrupt announcement of a nation-wide lock down in March 2020. From places where they worked, they began walking for hundreds and hundreds of miles to reach home. Many lost their jobs. Quite a number of them lost their parents. Having lost the breadwinner of the family they have buried their dreams of further education and taken up jobs.
Do we understand our youth? Do we understand their problems and struggles in the post-pandemic era? Do we understand the baits that attract them to divisive, communal forces?
The Covid-19 pandemic has left the educational sector in a total chaos. Education was one of the worst affected fields in many aspects as all stakeholders such as teachers, students, parents, alumni, management, employees, were all affected badly. It shook the world of education and brought into sharp focus the academic vulnerabilities of the student community.
Digitalized: Since schools had to be closed, teaching-learning had to be switched to online mode overnight. Online services became online businesses. Education that was a service became partly a business. The profit-oriented industry grabbed the chance. The rapid shift to virtual classrooms was a saviour for the privileged children with uninterrupted internet access. But the poor children without smartphones or connectivity lost out.
Loss of interest in studies, absenteeism in online classes, addiction to electronic gadgets, reduced space for students’ creativity in the learning process and in critical thinking, malpractices in online examinations, loss of values, problems in following the students up by the teachers and the management, difficulties in developing their skills and engaging them, lack of space for integral formation of students, shrinking space for their meaningful involvement in the villages and slums through their outreach or extension programmes or community service initiatives, significant student dropouts in rural areas and among the socially marginalized and economically backward communities due to acute poverty are some of the serious drawbacks of the online education.
Our institutions have no other choice but to try out blended learning, networking of Catholic and other institutions at the national and the international levels, focusing on the joint, dual and twinning degrees and offering liberally the skill-embedded, hands-on-programmes and courses to enhance the employment and entrepreneurial prospects of the students.
Despite economic and family issues or precisely because of them, a sizable population of youth are addicted to alcohol, drugs and mobile phones. Though the youth are tech-savvy, their addiction to mobile phones and gaming poses a serious problem.
Now at this critical juncture, it is our duty to address their concerns seriously. Showing them their lives have a purpose, helping them gain the right perspective in their lives, guiding them to cherish their uniqueness, helping them explore and develop their talents and creative potential, accompanying them and helping them solve their problems, nurturing them to channelize their creative energies, identifying their leadership potentials, helping them blossom in their lives, and making their talents useful for society…our tasks are endless.
For a long time we ignored the task of teaching our youth the great value of our Constitutions. Recently some efforts have been made to help our youth become aware of the unique riches of our Constitutions. We need to make our youth understand that it is their duty to safeguard it and protect it from those who are determined to undermine it.
We need to ensure that values such as liberty, social justice, equality and fraternity are popularized, widely discussed, and see that the principles enshrined in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution are learnt and protected by our youth.
How are we, as responsible educationists, going to respond to this historical situation? Will we continue to see our youth as we saw them in the past or will we see them anew – as a sector targeted by divisive forces, going through enormous hardship – economically and emotionally – because of the pandemic, facing the challenges of a digital era? May Jesus and his Spirit give us eyes that would help us see our youth in India anew in today’s context!
Fr. M. Arockiasamy Xavier, SJ (MDU), is the Principal of St. Joseph’s College, Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India. A Professor of History at St. Joseph’s College, he has authored several books on history and social issues.