Date: 1/14/2005




IS India changing? The answer is Yes and No. No, because there are hundreds of villages in India which still do not have drinking water and people especially women have to walk long distances to get what little water they can from pumps for their daily needs. Millions one estimate is that some 35 per cent of the population are not only living below the poverty line but are also illiterate. The percentage hardly gives a correct figure. It is reportedly higher but to think that some 350 million are living below the poverty line is a frightening thought. It is more than the entire population of the United States or, for that matter, of the European Union. Besides, there is a vast difference between living conditions in urban ad rural areas.

If millions living in rural areas go starving, it is a sight to see people in the cities swarming in supermarkets and thinking nothing of buying a shirt worth Rs. 1,600. Lifestyles, too, are changing rapidly in the urban areas. According to NIFT Director N. V. R. Nathan ``the sari is fast turning into a costume dress, more appropriate for weddings and other formal occasion than for daily wear.``

According to him women under 40 seldom wear a sari these days and those under 35, never. That may be a slight exaggeration but behind it there is a great truth: the popularity of alternate clothing like western trouser-tops and salwar-kameezes, once considered the normal dress of Punjabi women. The argument usually put forth by young women is that a sari, in the first place, is getting to be expensive, secondly it is cumbersome to wear and difficult to maintain, and that wearing a sari makers it difficult whether to get into a bus, train or taxi or to ride on the pillion of a motor-bike.

According to a well-known textile historian Rita Chisti ``the switch from sari to salwar- suits is not one of aesthetic choice but one of mobility and function``. Just about a year ago it was reported that the Andhra Pradesh Handloom Weavers` Cooperative Society or APCO was finding it hard to sell saris and an estimated Rs 200 million worth of sari stocks were remaining unsold.

Handloom weavers are beginning to feel the pinch. As one sociologist noted, ``the regularity at which Pochampalli weavers are committing suicide in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh has become a frightening reality all because there are no takers for their ikat saris``. But why are there no takers? The truth is that vast demographic changes have taken place in India that have generally gone unnoticed, except, perhaps by a section of the media.

Thus, 47 per cent of India`s one billion plus population is under the age of 20. That makes some 472 million people in India who are still in their teens. By the year 2015, according to one account, when the new millennium`s first generation of leaders will have taken over, people under twenty will make up 55 per cent of the total population or roughly 580 million. It is a frightening thought. It is this youthful population that one has to cater to. Does anyone understand the psyche of this population? What is it that it wants? What are its value systems?

On February 2, 2003, the Delhi-based Hindustan Times published a report based on a survey made on Indian youth by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS), a leading market research agency. The survey was conducted amongst people between the ages of 16 and 24 in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Chandigarh. TNS Mode also interviewed people in rural areas to examine if there were gaps in attitudes and aspirations. The survey resulted in some surprising and unexpected conclusions. Thus it showed that:

Young people in India think highly of their parents. Cutting across gender, cities and the urban-rural divide, young people bond well with their parents and don`t feel alienated or antagonist towards them.

For most young people, parents are not just figures of authority but role models to be emulated. Thirty per cent of respondents voted for their own parents (dads more than moms) when asked about their role models. Other names that scored were Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchab and Swami Vivekananda.

An overwhelming majority 84 per cent, believes whole-heartedly that their family is the most important part of their lives.

A majority would rather have arranged marriages. While 72 per cent of women say they would rather have their parents pick their husbands for them, 52 percent of men more than half said they are happy to leave the decision to their parents.

Almost all the single women interviewed said they had never had any sex. Amongst men, one in ten said they had sex but of this lot only half said they continue to be sexually active.

Most young urban people said the ideal number of children they would like is two, although two out of five women said they want to have only one child.

In cities 73 per cent respondents said emphatically they had no interest whatsoever in politics. In rural India 55 per cent said they had no such interest.

39 per cent believed fervently that the prospects for India`s future are bright and another 31 per cent believed `somewhat` bright future.

Generation now believed deeply in religion and practices it in various ways by praying at home and at places of worship. Even in tech-driven Bangalore, a significant number 26 per cent of young Indians said they are more religious than their family. Can we trust these findings? Now consider what the same paper, Hindustan Times published right at the beginning of this year from a survey recently commissioned by the Ladies` Wing of the Federation of Indian chambers of Commerce and Industry. The survey reportedly was carried out in July 2004 among 2,000 girl students between the ages of 18 and 21, picked randomly from 31 educational institutions in Delhi (4 GGS Indraprastha University colleges, 6 Jamia departments and three polytechnics). A majority of the girl students came from middle and upper-middle class homes, had educated working parents and had studied in co-educational private schools. And what were the findings?

78 per cent wanted to work after completing their education: 42 per cent were sure they`d continue working after marriage. Only two in ten girls said they`d marry the man of their choice. The rest said they`d accept their parents` recommendations.

It would seem from these and similar findings that things haven`t really changed much over the years and that India even middle middle to upper class really is conservative to the core. From this it would appear that the case of the student who had sex with his girl friend reported in the media is an exception and an aberration and should not be taken too seriously.

The heart of middle class India is still sound. But compare these findings with what was said at a symposium arranged by the Financial Express, a report on which was published in The Indian Express just a year ago on December 31, 2003. Attending the symposium were Yogi Deveshwar, representing corporate India, Jaipal Reddy, Information Minister, UTI chairman M. Damodaran, artist Anjolie Ela Menon, Commodore Jasjit Singh, social scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, journalist Simran Bhargava and Lok Satta editor Kumar Ketkar.

According to Simran Bhargava, the young people of today are the most proactive generation, pretty much doing its own, wanting to go broad, and make money. However, she added: ``I actually see a lot of people wanting to come back to this country because there are a lot of things that are beginning to go right in the country. We don`t acknowledge it enough...I think what is happening is that the government is losing centre stage in the country and people power is coming on to take its own right....There`s a huge cultural renaissance...`` Finance Minister Vijay Kelkar felt that India is now a rising trading power and by the end of the decade India will be the third largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity.

Also, the 500-years of western dominance would come to an end. India, China and Japan would see the rise of Asia and India will be one of the major players a point made by former British Prime Minister John Major at another seminar in Delhi. Y.C. Debeshwar noted that India has now become the world`s Number one producer of milk. B.C.Khanduri, a former Janata Party Minister, pointed out how Indians were getting to be more and more self-confident. He gave the instance of road making. He said: ``Three years back, we said we can`t make good roads.

All the people must come from abroad. People may not know it but out of about 125 contracts that are going on, there are only eleven people from outside. The rest are all Indians and they are doing a good job. It is not that overnight they have done something. They are the same people, there is the same equipment, but a feeling of selfconfidence is being generated``. And M. Damodaran made a vital suggestion: He said: ``You will never find a Chinese talking down his own country. We tend to make a virtue of that....One of the best things about our youth is that it`s impatient. This long, tortuous process that we have of ushering in change in this country is something that the youth is quite clearly unwilling to live with...``

What all this suggests is an India on the move and moving fast, but with a youth that seems to know what it wants, which is culture-bent, steady on its legs and dependable. Yes, in some ways India is changing. But, one realises, it is moving in the right direction with faith in the future. The cynics may laugh at India Shining, but the country as a whole seems not only capable but determined to make it possible.

Undoubtedly, there is hope for the future. What we are witnessing now is not a decadent India but a resurgent India, an India which knows what it wants and an India out to get it. After one thousand years of servitude, emerging is a strong and powerful India that will at last find its place in the sun.

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