Do Demography and Poor Economic Conditions Explain India’s Youth Uprising?

How India’s Demographic Dividend has become a Demographic Nightmare

For long, it was thought that India’s Demographic Dividend, a term used to describe how with a high percentage of youth in the total population, the country would be able to attract the much needed foreign investment as well as domestic capital to create jobs and engender economic prosperity for all.

The reasoning behind the Demographic Dividend was that with an Ageing West and a Slowing China, in addition to the latter’s population growth tapering off, India would be well placed to have the necessary number of young and able workers to fill an endless cornucopia of jobs.

Indeed, this was the thinking not only among Indian economists and central planners, most Western observers too joined in proclaiming the heralding of the Indian Growth Story.

Therefore, at this present juncture, it would be well worth asking whether this promise of jobs and prosperity to India’s youth has been fulfilled.

Of course, it is also worth asking whether Prime Minister Modi’s Acche Din for the Youth have materialised especially in context of the worst economic growth in a generation as well as net job losses instead of job creation and prosperity.

Lack of Jobs, No Hope of a Prosperous Future, and Political Suppression lead to Uprisings

While some of the questions above can be debated in the comfort of our living rooms and in TV Debates, an urgent and more pertinent question to ask is whether the Souring of the Indian Economic Story and the failed promises of jobs and prosperity are fuelling the present student and youth led uprising against a myriad of grievances, chief among them is a sense that they do not have a future worth pondering in the given environment of job losses and declining growth.

While ostensibly the uprising is being led against the perceived discriminatory laws such as those related to Citizenship and the attempts of the government to muzzle dissent and debate, the undercurrent of tension and the much talked about failure of the government on the economic front can be thought to the fuel that has found its fire in cries of Azadi.

In other words, students and the youth facing a bleak future and more so, with the government hardly caring about them leading to pent up frustrations, latched on to the current Winter of Discontent and this can be said to be the catalyst for a long litany of grievances that have been simmering all along.

India’s Youth Uprising Seen in the Larger Context of Similar Protests Worldwide

Having said that, one can also argue that economic growth has slowed down in other regions of the world, especially in many Asian, African, and Latin American countries and even in some Western countries and hence, India cannot be singled out to the only nation whose economy is tanking.

However, it is also the fact that protests and rebellions have erupted around the world and what more, just like the Arab Spring in 2011 when the lethal cocktail of poor economic growth and political suppression found their outlet in mass uprisings, India too seems to be having its own version of the Indian Winter and who knows what comes next, perhaps an extended Indian Spring as well.

Indeed, continuing the global comparisons, it is also the case that students have been at the forefront of the protests in Hong Kong and elsewhere the lack of good jobs and no future of shared prosperity are leading to rage and frustration at the Status Quo.

Hence, the calls for revolution and rebellion in India and elsewhere have to be seen in the larger context and a canvas of converging trends that have resulted in a Perfect Storm of Malcontents bubbling up to the surface.

India’s Lost Decade between 2008-2018 and How Successive Governments have Responded

Of course, these uprisings need not have been inevitable if more thought was paid to the worsening economic conditions over the last few years.

Before one concludes that the present government is alone to blame, we would like to refer to the recent book on India’s Jobless Growth between 2008-18 titled India’s Lost Decade, which is a succinct analysis of who benefited and who did not during the last ten years which also marked the onset of the Great Recession.

One can also argue that India’s employment rate has always been sclerotic even during the earlier two decades post Liberalisation.

However, it would be well worth noting that there was some momentum until the last few years or so that ensured that there were at least no Net Job Losses.

Moreover, this is where Demography also plays a role as the last few years have seen such a rush of fresh and aspiring job seekers (more than a Million entering the workforce every month) that the so-called Demographic Dividend has become a Demographic Nightmare.

In addition, the current Youth Uprising follows a path that has been laid in smaller scale and measure over the last decade or so where many states in India witnessed the Young and Restless taking to the streets over everything from price rise to reservations.


Therefore, while economic growth might not be the panacea to all the ills in a country, at least it would keep the youth occupied and with a future to look forward to rather than being stuck with Education Loans and Useless Degrees that result in Post Graduates and Doctorates applying for menial jobs.

The writing on the wall is clear for the Indian Policymaking Elite and hopefully, we see some concrete steps lest we risk chaos and uncontrolled anarchy.

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