It is little known that Swami Vivekananda’s famous clarion call was a partial quote from a Sanskrit verse from the Katha Upanishad, one which he regarded dearly—
उत्तिष्ठत जाग्रत चाणय वरान्निबोधत।
क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति।।
which loosely translates to ‘arise, awake, and seek the guidance of an illumined teacher and realize your true self. The path of spirituality is difficult, like walking on a razor’s sharp edge (yet do not despair! Fill your minds with courage. And stop not till the goal is reached!’) He’d said these to rouse the youth almost 100 years ago when India was struggling to loosen the grips of colonial occupation and overcome years of subjugation at the hands of its own archaic systems of casteism and divide. Enlightenment, both intellectual and spiritual, through education, was yet to reach us.
The Indian population currently is a demographic dividend, it has the largest youth population in the world with almost 66 percent of the total population below the age of 35. The average age of an Indian is only 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan.
The implications of these statistics are— boundless potential for innovation, progress, and holistic growth of the nation.
The youth are not just the future, but partners of the present. Following through on the words of the saffron-robed Swamiji, we are standing and awake, now more than ever, to the needs of today. We have this flame of I-want-to-save-this-world burning bright inside, driving us towards bettering the world we live in. We are inspired and believe in ourselves.
In the middle of a nationwide lockdown when the world was battling a deadly plague only two years ago, I was an almost-post graduate in Clinical Psychology, anxious to help in whatever way I could. I recall speaking to my friends about what we could do. So, we set about hosting pro-bono counseling for all those who stood outside the ICUs waiting, for the Corona warriors and anybody and everybody who needed us. We set about listening and providing an empathetic ear, a safe space. Even at a 6-feet distance, from beyond our laptops and phones, we tried to reach in and hold a hand out for whoever needed it then. And we did it and did not let anybody fall. We, the youth, came through with resilience and determination. Young psychologists and therapists from all over the country bonded together as a community to do their bit, and I remember the impact that it had. Mental Health is being prioritized and talked about now more than ever before.
The seasoned elder, who’s been run down by the ways of the world, may not recognize how important this self-belief is for us today, as the country faces the risk of falling victim to a dystopian world if things aren’t intervened with. A country like India that’s stood the test of time and has come through with its traditions and cultures celebrated till date, with all its colors still vibrant; one that had a hundred reasons to have fallen apart owing to its diversity; needs minds like that of its youth today.
Our current Prime Minister himself has emphasized the talent of our youth on many occasions in his speeches, highlighting that their impact is evidenced in India's has gone up on its innovation index from the 81st position in 2015 to the 40th position in 2022.
As per the latest survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the innovation levels of youth entrepreneurs in India are the highest among Asia and the Pacific region at 55% while China second to us is at 29%. We also had the third lowest fear of failure at 31.9%, close behind Korea at 30.8% and Malaysia at 31.5%.
A team of four college students who founded GenRobotics built their first manhole-cleaning robot in 2020, called Bandicoot to replace manual labourers. It collects up to 20 liters of sewage in mere 20 seconds, saving thousands of workers from illness and diseases. Satyam Thakur was only 14 years old when he found a way to reduce carbon emissions by using filters made out of broken clay pots to fit over car exhausts and factory chimneys. Gitanjali Rao is 12 and has developed a device called Tethys that checks lead content in drinking water, potentially saving many from illness and even death. Haaziq Kazi, another 12-year-old, designed a ship ERVIS that’s hydrogen-powered and patrols the ocean to clean up plastic and other waste floating in it.
And these are only a few names from the many that we’ve probably read about, there’s still many who’re yet to reach the headlines and are doing commendably well on path-breaking ideas.
The commitment and dedication that many young people have shown in today’s times is only a teaser of the actual potential that we hold.
However, significant issues affecting the youth persist. Child labour, malnutrition, child marriage, sexual abuse, and child trafficking are some of the grave obstacles marring our capabilities. Although education alone has changed the fates of many, with as many as 229 million students enrolled in accredited rural and urban Indian schools, the dropout rates are still alarming, and at least 35 million are still not in school. Unemployment, marginalisation, and violence based on gender are other major problems. Young students committing suicide after falling victim to caste-based atrocities, even after 75 years of the nation coming into being, speaks volumes of the burden of a conservative past that the youth continue to be crushed under.
While the success stories of young people chasing their dreams that began with only a streetlight illuminating their notebooks is a prototypical tale we all love to hear and narrate, it is not okay to romanticise the struggle young people must go through in cutting through a mountain with a mere axe.
Now more than ever, Swami Vivekananda’s call to action becomes significant, not just to the
youth, but to everyone else who must nurture and guide us. We need more youth representation in politics and policymaking. We need more young voices and visionaries to be part of the system to renovate it from within. We need the youth to begin being responsible for important socioeconomic decisions, and not just be beneficiaries of it.
We are introspective, self-aware individuals who want to build a more beautiful tomorrow. What makes the youth of today unique is the care and compassion we are cultivating, that we’re ready to learn and unlearn, we’re ready to question and seek answers of our own. Aboard my morning commute, the Delhi Metro is a moving think-tank with plenty of conversations sparking novel ideas, youngsters working away at their laptops, and scribbling innovation into their notebooks, there is always a movement waiting to be put into motion.
The youth is listening, the youth is thinking, and the youth is doing. And, tracing the footsteps of teachers like Swami Vivekananda himself, we are ready to walk the razor-sharp edges of today with grit, until our goals are reached.