09 July 2005

The best of both worlds

Although my last few posts have described a socio-cultural shift in the urban woman in India, prototyping the young in particular, this change has grown into a national phenomenon – and includes the male urban population as well. The fact that today’s youth are having an enormous impact on our culture and our economy is now undisputed – and may become a force to reckon with in the years to come.

Unlike their previous generation (which includes oldies like me), who have been somewhat insular and obedient, these teenagers and young adults today are confident, ambitious and technology-oriented. They are transformed by what they see on cable television and the Internet. They are more concerned with their career than their caste. They applaud free enterprise and the concept of making money.

They are perfectly happy wearing salwar-kameezes or trousers and a shirt, drinking lassi, then switching to jeans and T-shirts, drinking Coke or Pepsi, and watching MTV. They feel being Indian is a badge of honour, proudly participating in world music, fashion, literary and political circles. They proudly mix Indian values with Western packaging.

No matter how much their parents deride this behaviour, criticising the manipulative powers of advertising and the media, the youth today feel this international exposure has given them the power to adapt to Western influences – which they feel is just the right input in turning them into global citizens, giving them equality and freedom.

How long has this been going on? Have we been caught unawares by our own children? Interestingly, in an article in BusinessWeek going back almost six years to October 1999, Manjeet Kripalani gives us a fascinating commentary on this particular socio-cultural shift. Below, I’ve included excerpts from that article, but you can read it in entirety here:

This generational shift in attitudes is all the more important because this group is growing so rapidly. Some 47% of India's current 1 billion population is under the age of 20, and teenagers among them number about 160 million. Already, they wield $2.8 billion worth of discretionary income, and their families spend an additional $3.7 billion on them every year. By 2015, Indians under 20 will make up 55% of the population – and wield proportionately higher spending power…

As this group, with its more materialist, more globally informed opinions, comes into its own, sociologists predict India will gradually abandon the austere ways and restricted markets that have kept it an economic backwater. These youth will demand a more cosmopolitan society that is a full-fledged member of the global economy. They will start their own businesses and contribute to a more vibrant economy. They also are likely to demand more accountability from their politicians…

What the new generation does like is money. According to a survey conducted by Coca-Cola the primary ambition of young Indians from the smallest villages to the largest cities is to “become rich.” Young people hope to achieve this goal through enterprise and education…

That’s a big change. For years, the most highly regarded careers were in civil service, engineering, and medicine. Now, high-paying jobs in high tech and the media are where it’s at. Liberalisation has created a “new social contract in which making money is respectable,” says author [Gurcharan] Das. Young Indians endorse it heartily…

Tradition still dictates much of daily life. But progressive influences are everywhere. Take the tradition of arranged marriages, where parents chose children’s spouses, often without their consent. Now young people want to marry for love – but also want parents’ approval.

And, that’s how it is. Our children seem to be enjoying the best of both worlds.

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