Miles to go before we get there…

Who better to talk about young people then Roop Rekha Verma, one of the most inspiring elders in the city. The former vice chancellor of Lucknow University has spent a lifetime surrounded by young people. She established the Institute of Women’s Studies in Lucknow University and remained its director since inception in 1997 till 2005. As founder secretary of Saajhi Duniya, Roop Rekhaji’s work includes communal harmony, gender issues and providing a platform to young creative writers, performers and artists.

In an exclusive interview with The Lucknow Observer Roop Rekhaji regrets that market forces have such a stranglehold on today’s youth who face tough competition and the norms of success before it are often harsh and dehumanising.

What are your thoughts this Independe- nce Day regarding the young population around you?

The youth of today is wise, informed and practical than we were in our youth. They are much more competent also. But they face challenges of unprecedented kind and this often creates blind alleys and confusion in their minds, obstructing the flowering of their capacities into such channels which would not only provide a good career for them but also develop a social philosophy and aspiration in them to mould society in accordance with constitutional values. Today’s youth faces much harder competition. The norms of “success” are harsh and to some extent dehumanizing. The market forces have a stranglehold on them and this compels them to judge themselves and others more in terms of digits of the salary and glamorous life-styles rather than in terms of self-perceived, rationally chosen goals and realisation of these goals plus connectivity with the larger mass of humanity. This connectivity is missing in today’s youth even though they seem to be in larger company of people today.

The new market forces have created such glare of glamour and increased the pace of life in such a way that today’s youth is robbed of what is the most important thing in life, namely, leisure. It is leisure during which the attitudes of seeing and appreciating larger realities of life, self- criticism and empathy used to develop. It gave some gravity to our existence. This is minimised today. And in this sense I find today’s youth proverbially lonely even in a crowd.

You spend so much time with young people, what is that most of them tell you about their dreams and aspirations?

The majority of them dream of a high profile career with most modern amenities. Many of them also mention a desire to serve society. But this desire is generally vague and easily swallowed up by the race for more salary and amenities. Hardly anybody wishes to touch social structures which are the foundation-stone of inequalities, violence and injustice. To put the matter in correct perspective let me hasten to add that this attitude towards social work is common not only in youth but in most of the proclaimed social workers too.

What is the role of the state in taking care of the youthful segment of the population?

The role of the state in taking care of the youth is great and crucial. Unfortunately, the state has played this role more as an agent of the market and accelerating the processes which benumb sensitivity and dent social responsibility. True that some of the market expansion is needed for providing jobs and opportunities. But this process has to be accompanied by an educational and cultural process which counters the dehumanising effect of the market forces, saving the youth from increasing arrogance, self-centredness, haste and superficiality. Formal education systems can do this job effectively. But the present education system totally lacks this perspective. Our work on education has shown that our education, both governmental and private, often works contrary to our constitutional values and reinforce unjust and violence-ridden structures like patriarchy, casteism and communalism. Combined with this is the appalling manner in which most of the public institutions are run. To say the least, these institutions do not seem to be representing a democratic and secular country where a public servant really serves public and, for that matter, serves all sections of public. Both the iconic and the actual work culture and environment alienate large sections of public and this has the effect of giving such messages to the youth which are not in accordance with democracy and our constitution.

What would be the first thing you would do for your students and other young people if you had all the power to make immediate change in society?

Having “all the power” sounds dictatorial and undesirable even if it comes to me. Yet, if it does come, several thing need to be done simultaneously. I would change the entire education system, giving maximum premium to primary and basic education. This will include changing books and pedagogy so as to make them effective in generating sensitivity, scientific temper, empathy for the deprived, respect and dignity to those who are different from oneself, sensitivity for gender equality and anger against injustice.

I would give prime importance to pedagogical methods and teachers training and will see to it that only those who enjoy teaching become teachers because only then the learning process can become joyful. Economic scenario and the distribution system of the benefits of development will also be changed, alongside redefining ‘development’ in terms of human indicators, so as to ensure work, dignity and self-dependence for every young person. Also, the choice of careers will be diversified and parity ensured to break the stereotyping of ‘preferred career’ to correct the present day situation where only one or two kinds of professions become yardsticks of success. Further, drastic and urgent steps would be taken to correct all the institutions which obstruent the youth in taking decisions regarding their own lives, like, right to marriage (or, the right to remain unmarried) so that autonomy of their lives increases and they become masters of their own destiny and consequently become responsible citizens of the country with self- respect and respect for others.

Counseling centers with socio- psychologically well-trained personnel and medical facilities will be established in every block to address the problems and queries of adolescence. Special cells for girls will also be setup.

The majority of the country’s population remains deprived but do you think women and particularly girls and young women are more deprived than other illiterate and poverty stricken people of society?

Yes, I do think that girls and young women face additional deprivations just because they are women. The concept of an empowered, rights-endowed and independent female citizen has not yet been actually accepted by the society. She is still seen mainly as a family-serving and family-rearing creature who has basically an instrumental existence only, mostly a necessary and useful evil.

Perception of a girl as a sexual tool rather than as a “normal” citizen of the country has been ingrained in our minds always but today the media and the market have made this image stronger by glamourizing it in many subtle ways. This results in depriving a girl her rights at every level from right to live, right to good health, education, dignity, decision making, security, economic independence. Name any right which our constitution provides us in principle and it will be found that even in the areas where we have made progress like in education, the comparative gender figures tell a sad tale. Lots of research shows how poverty, insecurity and violence have been feminized in our society.

Not that there has been no change for the better. My generation had more freedom than my mother or grandmother and today’s girls have much more freedom than I had. Yet the situation is bad enough not to allow us to rest.

We still to go crores of miles to see girls get their due, the rights which the constitution of our country gives them.

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