‘Stick to truth and we shall succeed. Fifty centuries are looking on you; the future of India depends on you. Work on...’ These are words spoken by the revered Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda and on the 12th January each year, India commemorates his birth with ‘National Youth Day’. India’s Youth Day is marked by processions, speeches, music, competitions and celebrations across schools and colleges to remind young people of the moral, cultural and spiritual teachings of this nineteenth century philosopher.
Reminders about the importance of honesty and working for the benefit of others could not come at a more appropriate time for India’s youth. The country has recently been rocked by a series of corruption scandals involving state officials and public servants accused of defrauding the state of billions of dollars. As the government considers signing up to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which would require a range of new laws and institutions to combat graft, the health and growth of India could rely on the next generation seeing these anti-corruption measures are successfully implemented.
India’s youthful population is seen as a great hope and blessing for the country’s future. Around 30 per cent of the population, approximately 350 million Indians are now aged between 10 and 24 years old, providing a huge new workforce for the country. (In comparison, China will have an extra 10 million workers, Brazil another 18 million over the next two decades).
However, the world’s economic crisis currently means higher levels of youth unemployment, with 13 per cent of people aged between 15-24 years estimated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to be out of work worldwide. The huge bulge of India’s youth could therefore represent a severe challenge for the government unless newcomers have the right skills to compete for jobs. In 2006, nearly 20 per cent of 15-24 year old Indians were illiterate, but this number is expected to drop below 5 per cent over the coming years. However, India’s state-run Institutes are inadequate to meet the vocational training needs of the burgeoning workforce. The government has therefore begun drafting in leading companies to set up training institutes in a joint venture with the newly established National Skills Development Corporation. After a recent trip to India, the UK minister for universities and science, David Willets also announced that British companies in India will help to train the teachers for the new learning schemes. Mr Willets said “it is crucial that the young generation have an opportunity to build skills, get education and drive economic activity.”
Certainly, India’s youth have some key advantages when competing in the global job market, such as their English-speaking knowledge, mobility, interest in technology and dedication to learning when given the opportunity. However, many young Indians are forced to leave education before they would wish to, driven by poverty and the need to support their families. According to a recent report published by the ILO, over 40 per cent of employed 15-24 year-old Indians live in households with a per-capita income of below 1.25 US dollars a day. In his writings and teachings over a century ago, Swami Vivekananda was right to suggest his country would only succeed if each generation “stick[s] to truth”. This means that as well as working hard, India’s youth needs to demand their rights and take on responsibilities which ensure a just and fair society for all.