Mahatma Gandhi had said that what India needed was committed and educated youth from the towns and villages for the uplift of every village in India. The huge class, caste and gender oppression that exists in rural Indian society makes it difficult for youth to bring about radical socio-economic transformation in favour of the historically disadvantaged sections. The main reason why this kind of community service on the part of the youth has not materialized in sufficient quantity is that Gandhi had stressed on the Hindu virtue of “aparigraha” or non-accumulation of wealth without having considered the tendency of modern development to promote exactly the opposite, the accumulation of wealth. Consequently, the dominating obsession of the human race today, after over two centuries of industrial development, is the earning of money. A mindset that considers a whole host of things to be indispensable like camera cell phones, motorcycles and cars, refrigerators and washing machines, to name just a few, makes the youth of today more worried about earning money to own these than about the consequences for society and the environment of such ownership and use. Those who are most talented with numbers join the top management institutes and want to become money managers in investment banks and play around with the immense wealth that has been monetised and concentrated in them.
Even more so than in his time, Gandhi’s advice to the urban youth to go to the villages remains relevant even today. Most villages and especially those villages that are mostly populated by tribal and dalit people are still in need of activists to catalyse development. It does not matter, whether the youth go to these villages through service oriented NGOs or through activist mass organisations working on various rights issues. This is not the time to fight over ideological issues even though that too is important for framing an overall national or global programme of action. As long as educated young people ignore their careers for the time being and decide to do their mite to change the sorry state of affairs prevailing in rural areas or even in the slums in the cities it is a contribution to society. It’s not as if one has to spend a whole life in social service, though that would be excellent. Even a year spent in working among the under privileged makes a visible impact on the quality of their lives and the overall direction of society which is at the moment a highly selfish one.
Thus, now as never before is the time for the youth to take stock and turn away from earning money and enjoying luxuries towards serving the poor and nature. Both young women and men must take part in social rejuvenation and reorientation as the condition of women in this country is even worse than that of the men. In fact it is the deep rooted patriarchy in Indian society that is to blame for most of its ills including the problem of population explosion which has resulted from women being forced to bear more children to ensure male progeny. Youth in short must turn away from the chimera of material prosperity and vote with their hearts and minds for the truth of a new and just society.
In the early 1980s, fresh out-of-IIT Rahul Banerjee answered an inner calling to work among the less-privileged and went to work in the interiors among the Bhil adivasis. Over the years, he has helped grow empowering initiatives among the Bhil tribals and helped preserve a society’s rights amidst several challenges.
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