Why is India no longer silent?

Looking back not only at the horrific gangrape in Delhi, but the aftermath – protests by concerned citizens across the various cities of India, protests by the youth, and the outpouring of shock and support for the survivor, the lack of respect that we Indians now have for the politicians, it’s interesting to think about the sociological implications of the changes overtaking India. It’s also important to remember the kind of protests that took place against corruption over the past year or so, with again an outpouring of support from the white-collared workers of India, software engineers, corporate types etc taking to the streets. Similar to this, in Gurgaon there have been several protests by the citizens – CEOs and other corporate types, against the lack of roads, garbage management and other poor civic services provided to us.

What’s happening to this country? Have we all become armchair activists? What does it mean for the future? Let’s start by looking at some of the demographic changes impacting India. 1. We are becoming more and more urban – 33% of the country at last count, growing by 2-3% every decade. 2. We are an overwhelmingly young country, with over 75% being under 35 years of age – that means a huge chunk born just before or after the first wave of liberalization. 3. A growing middle class – 50% of urban India is middle class or above; and about 10-15% of rural India

With a growing urban population, people are less moored to traditional affiliations of caste and community. Added to that, mobilization of people is much easier in the cities, through social media and mass media penetration. The youth of India have grown up in a liberalized country. They are used to a certain sense of control over their own lives, which comes from the confidence of knowing they will never be destitute. Used to demanding and expecting a certain level of service and comfort from private institutions, they see no reason why they should not expect this from public institutions.

And, the growing middle class – the rich have always had easy access to power and don’t need the institutions of the country. The poor do not expect the institutions of the country to care for them; sadly they have grown accustomed to being ignored and overlooked; they continue to look up to a mai-baap sarkar, hoping that someday their ship will come. It is the middle class which finds it necessary to have functioning institutions and expects the law of the land to be followed; it is the middle class which expects a certain predictability to daily routine, because neither do they have access to the extra-constitutional powers of the rich, nor are they comfortable being resigned to fate.

It is from this urbanized, young, middle class that the protests are stemming. It is this class of citizens who have lost respect for the institutions of the country, for the politicians of the country, because those institutions continue to ignore this class.

Most of the politicians of the country are pretty old – many stemming from Indira Gandhi’s era. In those times, a mai-baap patronizing attitude towards the citizens of the country worked just fine, because the citizens did not expect any better. They did not have the confidence to raise their voices. The politicians have yet to wake up to the fact that the electorate has evolved while they were twiddling their thumbs locked away in their ivory towers. They have not yet realized that today’s citizens require a responsive government and will no longer stand for being treated like recalcitrant children who can be told to shut up and sit quietly in a corner. The younger lot of politicians is no better – we have yet to see even one of them step up to the challenge and make a single sensible pronouncement about any issue.

The protests about the Delhi gangrape may die down in a few days. But there will be another issue and yet another in the days to come which will inflame the passions of a public no longer willing to be ignored. Attitudes like the Home Minister Shinde’s, harking back to the 70s, will only rub an increasing number of the electorate the wrong way!


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