By Bikash Sarmah
Not much thought is spared for the unfortute rural youth languishing hopelessly in Assam’s countryside. He is not the subject of concern and deliberation for the politician except when the election commission sounds the poll bugle. As for the bureaucrat, this is not his subject at all; this highly educated gentleman has other pressing things to do on earth in his air-conditioned chamber. And for a whole gamut of urbanites buoyant with new things that a free-market economy has showered them with, the rural youth we are talking of is a subject that might well be dubbed outmoded.
This being the case, we have a huge population of youth in Assam’s rural areas – most of whom have yet to taste the flavour of globalization and free-market economy except perhaps for that ubiquitous, cheap mobile phone handset – who are at the mercy of none but their own precarious destinies perhaps. They sense no purpose in their lives except for the promises they hear when politicians visit their areas in their swanky cars with zealous supporters and give assurances of all sorts as to how rural life would soon jell with the best of urban life and how then life would take a drastic turn beyond belief. These youth are also not a noisy people, unlike their urban counterparts who are far more empowered despite they being unemployed if they are at all. Such rural youth are mostly a silent people, having accepted life as it is and only taking resort in a hope of a better tomorrow later if not sooner – their wait is remarkable.
This writer, having been brought up in the best urban centres and having spent his college, university and professiol life as a jourlist in Guwahati since 1994, has had occasion to travel to rural areas in different parts of Assam, especially eastern Assam (generally considered more forward than the western part), over the last one year, and what has emerged is a story of aspirations gone directionless in the vacuum of avenues that are easily available to the urban youth, no matter what his educatiol qualifications are. This writer’s first-hand experience with a jourlistic urge would inform one that the rural youth has aspirations not much different from that of his urban counterpart, but these remain mere aspirations in a paralysing situation of infrastructure vacuum – we are talking of mere basics in rural infrastructure such as a good primary school or a health centre, not any hi-fi infrastructure.
Come to primary education then. Many rural areas in the State are eminent for primary schools that are schools only in terms of a dilapidated structure of worn-out concrete (if one is lucky) or a hut-like structure whose roof can give you quite a good glimpse of stars at night. When it rains, the floor is quite a pond! And yet we talk of education! Teachers in these schools are notorious for absenteeism and dereliction of their holy duties to teach little poor children the right lessons they deserve to make them empowered citizens of the future. There is no sense of duty at all. Children are simply sent to these so-called schools just because they have to be sent at least to know some alphabet, some basic calculation, some basic sciences and arts, some basic education so to say. There is, as a consequence, no education in the real sense – and this is extremely unsettling, given the importance of education that must play its role in shaping their destinies, in taking them out of the quagmire of poverty, backwardness and powerlessness that their parents have had to negotiate all their lives. As a result, then, what happens is a ‘workforce’ that does not, in reality, know how to do what work, and when. As a result, therefore, we have unemployability, not just unemployment. This is debilitating with far-reaching consequences.
The lack of quality primary education, which turally results in sharp deterioration in the output when it comes to secondary and higher secondary education, coupled with the lack of employment opportunities has been in the knowledge of the political leadership for long, but nothing tangible has been done because it is not a vote-catching enterprise. So why any political worry at all? More importantly, vocatiol training centres are still a far cry in most of the State’s rural areas. Seldom does it dawn upon the powers-that-be that such centres would have been radically instrumental in providing the rural youth with the necessary work skills so crucial to the making of the employability quotient. How many ITIs, for instance, are located in rural areas? These institutes cannot be the privilege of the urban youth alone. Some food for solid thought, this.
True, of late, there has been a growing trend of the urban shift. Many rural youth, with hardly any skills to add to a skilled workforce, have migrated to towns and cities in search of greener pastures. It is quite tural that in the absence of skills they find themselves in a cruel alien world in which they do not fit in, not because they suffer from any talent or potential deficit, but because they have no skills at all. No surprise, then, that many of these youth just roam around knocking at door after door, and when the doors are shut there is always this happening world of crime. After all, money matters, and it is for money that they are here. Urban magement experts, therefore, point to a correlation between growing urbanization – caused by the rampant and frenetic flow of the poorly educated, skill-less rural youth – and the northward move of the crime graph in urban areas. This should be a matter of grave concern. But how much does it hit the elite, armchair policymaker? This apart, there is growing pressure on land and other resources in urban areas due to such unbridled, but tural, urbanization stemming from causes whose genuineness one cannot dispute.
Last but not the least, the rural youth in Assam is also a victim of intellectual apathy. High-sounding, pompous intellectualism does not vigate its way towards the rural youth. How many debates and deliberations do we witness in acoustically designed auditoriums and local TV news channels (eminent mostly for atrocious political noise) on issues relating to the life and destiny of the semi-literate, poverty-struck, skill-deficient or skill-less rural youth in a State that is otherwise not really short of resources, including the eco-resources? Hardly any. But there is no scarcity of debates on such TV channels when it comes to even issues like the private life of a public servant!
The rrative that this opinion piece has harped on, is not just Assam-specific, to draw a broader picture. It applies to the rest of the Northeast too, where there is no shortage of youth in rural areas who, only because they have to sustain their livelihood, are ever ready to join the magnificent industry of terrorism and loot.
The crux of the matter is that there is a great need for debates and deliberations, both political-bureaucratic and intellectual (in the latter, discerning civil society activists can play a major role), as to how the chasm between the rural youth and the urban youth (considering both are unemployed) can be abridged, and its high imperative cannot be overemphasized. The more you debate and deliberate constructively and creatively, the more ideas you engender – ideas for a better future for a huge chunk of our human resource that has yet to graduate to human capital. New Assam needs human capital, a capital on which new hopes, a new economy, a new socio-political paradigm can be easily capitalized for the making of a vibrant greater Assamese society. Imposssible? Not at all.
(Bikash Sarmah is a freelancer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)