Being out of sync

Being out of sync

Urban youth are beginning to realise the power they can wield because of their common concerns and quick communication.

The Justice Verma Committee report has in a record time, studying the incident of the gang rape and murder of a young woman in Delhi and related actions, pinpointed the political, administrative, police, systemic and civil failures in our governance.

The administrative and police failures were many. The public support by the home secretary to the arrogant Delhi police commissioner was one. We have heard nothing more about the cause of death of police constable Tomar who was said to have suffered injuries at the hands of the protesters. We have not heard about any charges against the ‘goondas’ who were arrested after being lathi charged, water cannoned and tear gassed during the protests.

We have no explanation from the commissioner as to why so many vehicles (including DTC buses) were allowed to ply on Delhi roads so many months after curtains and tinted glasses were banned. We do not know who gave the order and why, for using force against peaceful protesters. We do not know who decided to fly the victim to Singapore when she was getting the best treatment in India.

The police commissioner of Delhi has no political oversight. He reports, not to the state government, but to the sinecure Lieutenant Governor who reports to the home secretary who reports to the home minister. The commissioner is a dictator since his bosses pay little attention to his work.

 The whole political class failed us. Baba Ramdev and the former army chief Gen V K  Singh tried to take leadership of a leaderless young crowd of protestors, obviously expecting political gain. No political leader made the effort to meet the protestors.
The home minister dismissed any talk of meeting them as beyond his job description.

The silent Congress dynasty met a few students but did not think it fit to walk the few yards to meet the crowd en masse. The BJP leadership was silent and invisible.
In contrast to the confused early expressions of sympathy and even an agreement with Anna Hazare, followed by severe police action, with the young protestors the government response was violence. With Anna Hazare there was a strategy (however thoughtless), of pretending sympathy, while working to discredit the agitation.

With the youthful protestors shouting ‘Justice to Women’ the response for the first few days was silence followed by unleashing of lathis, teargas, water cannons, attacking all irrespective of sex, age, or activism, and exiling busloads to the periphery of Delhi. There was no attempt to reach out to the demonstrators, hold dialogue with them, show some action to redress grievances. An authoritarian home secretary, an arrogant police commissioner, and a less than competent home minister showed the unresponsiveness of government.

Civil society must be faulted for not coming to aid the naked and bleeding victims on a busy roadside. Perhaps it was the fear of getting involved with a police that punishes witnesses by making excessive calls on their time. But civilians must help in such situations.

Wildcat protests

Our governments must recognise the major demographic changes in India. These changes are likely to result in more frequent, spontaneous and wildcat protests in urban India. Our population is getting younger. From 31.16 per cent  below age 25 in the 2001 census, a survey by UN State of the World Population report in 2007, says that by 2030, India will have  more than 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25. And by the same year 40.76 per cent of the country's population is expected to reside in urban areas.

Politicians and governments will deal with young populations, with growing literacy, increasingly in urban areas. Urban areas are concentrated and common grievances are known to all. There are many with higher education, and new skills. Urban populations are very different from earlier political constituencies. Caste and community differences get eroded. Economic class is what counts.

The matchstick to this tinder box is the penetration in urban India of the use of social media and the internet. Social media users in India grew from 38 million in November 2011 to 60.5 million at present. Internet users are growing rapidly and they are now at 137 million. Around 75 per cent of these ‘netizens’ are below the age of 35. The numbers are growing. The number of mobile users at over 934 million nationally is even larger. Mobile use by the young is far more of SMS messages than in most other countries. The young urban literate population thus communicates quickly. They share their concerns and grievances even before the mass media are aware.

Politicians and administrators have no clue of this silent mass communication. The concerns of these youth may not always feature in the mass media of press and television. But Anna Hazare or a gang rape in their city easily collects them in one place very quickly.

Our politicians and administrators have little connection with this well connected young population. Urban youth are beginning to realise the power they can wield because of their common concerns and quick communication. We will see many more such ‘spontaneous’ risings over common causes in coming years.

What they lacked in Delhi was leadership to channel their protests and keep them going till change happens. It is a matter of time before we get our own ‘Obama’ who will use these social media to focus concerns and protests to change the system.

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