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Harnessing youth power for progress

One of the most endearing and enduring aspects of modern India is its demography. The world’s largest democracy is regarded as the ‘Reservoir of Human Talent’ and the emerging ‘Supplier of Human Resources to the World.’

Almost all of Europe, Australia and New Zealand are confronted with the challenge of ageing population, India is fortunate to account for an extremely youthful population, making it the most significant player in the ensuing future.

According to current estimates, India’s population is more than 1.17 billion, the second largest populated country in the world after China, whose population, according to the latest figures, stands at 1.34 billion. But while China’s ‘One-Child Policy’ has begun to show adverse effects of declining youth numbers, India can be proud of its human assets.

The sea of humanity in India is characterised by ‘the youth wave,’ as demonstrated by the following figures.

The total number of people in the 0 to 14 years age group currently stands at about 365 million (of which the male population is approximately 190 million), accounting for about 31% of the total population. There are 735 million people (about 63%) between the age of 15 and 64 years (about 52% males).

The Median Age is now 25.1 years.

Impressive growth

While such a huge (and growing) young population would indubitably be the most attractive human capital in the years to come, the Union and State Governments are faced with the unenviable task of creating the necessary infrastructure to cope with the demands of the rising population.

During his visit to New Zealand in April 2010, Human Resource Development and Communication & IT Minister Mr Kapil Sibal told us that India would need at least 5000 more colleges and 50 new universities over the next five years to cater to the growing demand.

Currently there are 220 million school-going children, 20 million undergraduates attending 20,000 colleges affiliated to 480 universities. There is a pronounced need to change the pace of education and the challenge is to reach higher education to villages and remote areas.

The economic reforms of the 1990s have unleashed the private sector to become the engine of change and growth, with manufacturing outpacing the global average. India is self-sufficient in almost all aspects, save for petroleum and related products and perhaps technology in some areas. This is a remarkable turnaround for a country that was importing wheat and baby food until the 1970s to meet its internal demand.

While the economy is set to grow at 9 % for the third straight year and Indian businesspersons are busy acquiring companies that were once part of jewels of the industrialised West.

This has in the process has spawned a new set of businessmen who regularly feature among the top 100 people in the business and money magazines published around the world.

The world has suddenly realised the huge human capital that India possesses to universal advantage.

Serious challenges

So far so good. But is the country prepared to provide gainful employment to all of its young population graduating from schools and colleges? While the growth in employment appears bright, are there enough jobs for all? Are there appropriate training facilities to enable our young men and women to fill vacancies in other countries?

In a recent article in the Harvard International Review, Pawan Agarwal, an Advisor to the Indian Planning Commission warned that India’s youth bulge and their galloping aspirations could be a recipe for disaster.

“Although the Indian economy has grown robustly in recent years, many Indians continue to be engaged in farming and the unorganised, low-wage services sector with poor working conditions. Higher education enrollment has grown more than 7% per year recently, but the problem of graduate unemployment has worsened. The relatively small number of decent jobs created by the expanding information technology (IT) services and business-processing sectors masks the grim realities of highly educated youth unemployment,” he said.

Mr Agarwal argued that although IT spinoffs and growth have created jobs in sectors like real estate, infrastructure, financial services, retail, and textiles, such sectors now require a different sort of skilled manpower: not necessarily college graduates, but mostly people with basic or intermediate skills. The country’s education and training system is ill equipped to cater to this demand.

The harsh realities

People like me living overseas can easily overlook the ‘Real India’ that perches beneath the ‘Shining India.’ Beyond all those multinationals setting up manufacturing units and offices, skyscrapers, impressive developments of airports, road network and other infrastructure that are beginning to rival the best in the world, there is lurking poverty, with almost a third of the population living below levels of human sustenance.

Not all of them share the vision of their compatriots that India will one day lead the world. Without proper education, health, employment opportunities and other essentials, they cannot hope to succeed and without them, India cannot be called a truly developed economy.

There is also an immediate need to rescue young children from the claws of anti-social elements, overlords who subject them to begging, child labour and other forms of harassment and cruelty (which are outlawed anyway). The need to protect them from exploitation and provide them with basic education, improve their nutrition and health standards and prepare them to undertake gainful employment in due course cannot be over-emphasised.

A comparison of the youth in rural and urban India will reveal the prevalence of a dichotomy that almost set them a world apart. While the former remains unsophisticated, largely uneducated and dependent on the earnings of their parents for livelihood, the latter portrays an entirely different picture.

(To be continued)

About the Author

Wenceslaus Anthony is a respected member of the New Zealand society. He is a member of the Roman Catholic Church and considers himself as a ‘Servant of Servants,’ in the true Christian spirit. He is the Chairperson of the Divine Retreat Centre Movement in New Zealand and Advisor to the Vailankanni Committee to celebrate the feast of the Birthday of Mother Mary on September 8) and Director of Conquest Club, which aims to shape the character and personality of young boys in the 8- 14 age group.

Mr Anthony has worked very closely with the late Mother Teresa and has had a personal audience with His Holiness the late Pope John Paul II. He is the Chairman of the Mother Teresa Committee established in Auckland in 2010.

Mr Anthony is the Managing Director of WAML Group Limited and Director Business Solutions Limited (New Zealand) and PACT Industries Pty Ltd (Australia). He is the Chair of the India New Zealand Business Council and Chairperson, Business Advisory Group of the International College of Auckland.

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