Young people are agents of change in a country. Youth can be termed as a “transition period while the individuals prepare themselves to become responsible and productive citizens of the country”. Different organizations define the youth age group differently. As per 2011 census, in Bihar the youth population was 19,421,689. As an India Fellow, I got to work with i-Saksham, and develop local youth as change agents. They, being our community, I spent the year closely interacting with them, visiting their homes, meeting their parents, listening to their stories, and understanding their aspirations.
We all may have different aspirations. The moment we are born, our family, at least for most of us, decides what they want us to be. But as we grow, our aspirations change with the kind of exposure we get. In the context of Bihar, many young people desire to secure a government job. I worked in the remote areas of Jamui and Munger, where I learnt how the majority of people, while they are in school and college, dream to crack competitive exams.
Fun fact: Bihar accounts for nearly 450 out of total 5,500 IAS officers in the country.
In my interactions with local boys and girls, women and men, it was clear that they all wanted to land themselves a job in a government department. The locality where I stayed, in Jamui, is full of book shops selling current affairs magazines and notes. Ironically, the district doesn’t have functional government schools but is flooded with coaching centres. The ones who could be school teachers or in-charge of libraries are running batches after batches to prepare youth for higher education and competitive exams.
It reminded me of the year 2017-18 when I too was preparing for judicial exams inspite of not being driven towards it. However, my parents had suggested how, as a women, becoming a judge will give me an independent life; astrologers had predicted my horoscope saying that I was destined to be an IAS; and a couple of my friends motivated me by emphasizing on the power and perks that come along, as government employee. I was fortunate to realize that it wasn’t meant for me.
Here, among the youth I work with, there are reasons behind their drive to secure a government job. Being from a privileged background, I did not have to acquire the land my family owns. Neither did I struggle to access quality education. My parents took care of the expenses as well as made efforts to do everything in my best interest. I could choose to do the fellowship as I did not have to provide for my family.
On the other hand, the young ones here come from families dependent on agriculture, having to work on others’ lands. All their earnings go into everyday expenditure. In this scenario, a government job provides all that one longs for – financial security, recognition, time-off and other perks.
I was strongly opinionated before joining the fellowship that the drive for power, money and security is what motivates people to prepare for competitive exams. However, my journey made me realize that there are other reasons behind such aspirations, and I’m certainly no one to decide the rights and wrongs for anyone else. I was highly relying on a pre-conceived notion that everyone in Bihar aspires to be a government official until I began to dive deeper into the journey of local youth.
I was amazed to meet Pinky and Nehal. They are young girls, currently pursuing their BA (Bachelor in Arts) and aspire to build their career in fashion designing. I asked Nehal, “while everyone dreams to appear for a government job, don’t you want to try it too?”, to which she replied “everyone is preparing and hence, there is so much chaos and crowd that I don’t wish to. I have been fond of arts and crafts since my childhood, and I enjoy drawing”.
Nehal is from Jamui and like many other underserved children, she too did not have access to quality education. Till class 8th, she managed to pass her exams with her brother’s guidance. From class 9th onwards, she started going to a coaching centre for her learning as there were no teachers teaching in her school. “Can you think of a teacher who influenced your life? Who may have been one of your favourite teachers, perhaps?” I asked to understand her educational challenges better, to which she had absolutely no response as there was school but not learning.
At present her biggest struggle is to learn English language – reading, writing, and speaking skills. She is not alone. About 30-40 youth I have met, shared their pain point of not being proficient in English. The language acts as a hurdle to pass higher education level exams, interviews, and to access other opportunities. People here strongly see English as a confidence building tool as well. Is it not a major setback for us, as a society?
I did not know that being comfortable with English was a privilege until I learned how not knowing a language can be a roadblock in one’s career path. There are many who are crossing the barriers everyday and taking steps towards their dreams.
While for many, the English language, lack of guidance, and family constraints come in the way, among them is a girl making her dream come alive through hard work and perseverance. Pinky is a 19-year old education leader in her community, currently in the second year of graduation. At i-Saksham, she has been facilitating sessions at Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), Jamui. She also runs her learning centre in her village, Bithalpur.
Pinky’s interest lies in doing art and craft work. It motivated her to look up YouTube videos and learn a few techniques. One may find her making the best use of waste materials. She once made a pen stand using old newspaper. It is now helping her earn money as well. An online representative of VMate app connected with her and asked if she is interested in making craft videos. Pinky grabbed the opportunity. She now spends almost one and a half hour every day to make videos, for which she receives Rs. 4000 a week Rs.16000 a month.
“It requires a lot of patience to make these videos. But I enjoy doing it and manage to make 10-20 of them every week. I feel empowered”says Pinky
Pinky has been using the app since August 2019, and recently gifted her father a bike by saving her hard earned money. She got teary eyed, yet hopeful when she said, “What do I tell you, the days me and my family have experienced. We used to be dependent on others to provide for our food. And today, I’m gifting my father a bike after years of shared struggle.” Pinky has set a great example for her peers. She now trains her friends on using the app and utilizing their talent in a way to hone their skill as well as helping them sustain.
In conversations with Komal, Nirmala and Vimla who are married women, I noticed a common desire of working and gaining a sense of independence. As women from low-income families and having little or no say in the decision making process, they were not asked, rather told to get married. In their teenage. It did not come as a shock to me, because by now I had heard many cases of women being pushed into early marriages.
However, what came as a surprise, were these words by Komal “Just like you, I also want to live my life in a city, get a job, watch movies, experience freedom and not be bound by family responsibilities. I want to dance and live my life to the fullest.”
I always thought that women usually normalize the stereotypical married life. The emotional bond with the husband and children becomes so central that they don’t think much about their own dreams and desires.
Komal was married at the age of 16, and is now a mother of 3 children. Growing up, she did not have the courage to tell her grandfather about her aspirations. She sees her two-year old son as a roadblock in achieving her dreams as she is the sole care-giver to him. She comes from a maginalized community of Jamui and Munger, currently working with i-Saksham. As a part of their work, women and girls are emerging as local leaders, supporting teachers in public schools, engaging with parents, and adopting different ways to teach.
From not stepping out from home to walking down the road with confidence, they have come a long way. However, despite their efforts, they have to struggle for recognition in their families. Komal’s usual day starts by getting up early in the morning, doing all the household chores, going to the school, and come back to finish the remaining chores. Amidst this, she manages to take out some time for self-learning. Her own school days did not provide her with quality education, although she managed to pass the exams but she lacks knowledge due to lack of support both in school and at home.
Most of the young men I interacted with, were passionate about improving the situation of their village by creating opportunities for people in the village itself, providing quality education and building awareness on social issues like early marriage, gender based discrimination and significance of quality education. Rundar is the only literate man in his village, who completed his education and went to Delhi for work. He has come back with the intention to transform his village for better, and currently teaches students of class 9th to 12th.
With the help of his peers, he has put up posters about NRC-CAA, saving water, and gender equity at public places including pandals where people go for worshiping idols. He is about 25-years old, perseverant to bring change.
“I know that these posters may not do much but people may just start talking about these prevailing issues. The situation has been improving. Earlier, only me and one of my friends were formally educated. With time, people are sending their kids to schools. I want my community to progress, I want to support the students. These posters are to attract attention of people before we go and have a dialogue with them.” says Rundar. He also shared his personal experience of getting married early and how it has become a barrier in pursuing his dreams. He wanted to move to a more developed city and pursue higher studies that would bring him closer to his vision, but it doesn’t look feasible now.
I used to think that it is only women who are affected by early marriages but my interaction with Rundar and a few other young men in rural Bihar who shared their plight of getting married early, made me understand that men too, in many communities, often do not have the agency to take decisions for themselves. While women may be usually more affected, men also don’t have any say in choosing their life partner.
Ranjeet, with the support of his elder brother, is also committed to improve the level of education in his village. He has opened a school where he nurtures students. He says, “If everyone leaves the village and goes to another city, who will change things here? I believe in creating opportunities by providing quality education.” Along with students, he has also created a platform for youth to teach and sustain themselves. Despite economic hardships and challenges, his commitment towards students and the society has been unshakable. He envisions opening a computer lab for children.
There also exist many young people who want to be dancers, singers, actors and scholars. These have the energy to achieve their dreams, provided they can access and avail the resources to develop the required skill set and follow their aspirations.
The aspirations of young women and men have their roots in their background and conditioning, like for all of us. But the strength lies in the fact that all of them are willing to go the extra mile, face their fears, have courage to do what it takes to achieve their dreams and fulfil their aspirations despite the everyday challenges like financial constraints, lack of quality education, family responsibilities. Organizations like i-Saksham and Jeevika are playing a big role to empower youth.
The first couple of behavioural changes that have been observed were a boost in self-confidence and mobilization of women. In a nutshell, many of these youth are self-driven and have the capabilities to reach their full potential, given enough support and encouragement. A holistic approach can play a vital role in making a difference in their lives and strengthening local community.