Are we taking the youth seriously?
Young people the world over are standing up for what they believe in. Why aren't more of us paying attention?
A 16-year old girl affected me more this year than many older heads of state or established role models ever have. I'm not sure if Greta Thunberg knew what she would end up accomplishing when she went on strike in August 2018, sitting alone outside the Swedish parliament with a sign calling for stronger action on climate change. I'm not sure she had a plan or an inkling of what that symbolic act would trigger. The photograph went viral for all the right reasons, eliciting protests in Sweden that slowly overflowed before taking over the world. By September this year, she had pulled off what some refer to as the biggest climate strike in our history.
Thunberg also reminded me of Emma González, a 19-year-old survivor of a shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, who co-founded a gun-control advocacy group called Never Again MSD. They initiated protests too, across the United States, arguing for changes in gun laws.
A number of people wrote them off after a period of time, citing America's sustained indifference paid for by a powerful gun lobby. And yet, it is important to note that the group helped pass a bill in their home state that raised the minimum age for buying firearms to 21, established waiting periods and background checks, and barred the mentally unhealthy or people arrested under certain laws from possessing weapons. They did what their parents couldn't.
In Hong Kong, anger against a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China prompted students to initiate and sustain an uprising that has lasted months, with demonstrations launched across their city in protest. They have abandoned classes at secondary schools and universities and taken to the streets, using acts of civil disobedience to force their government to listen.
Closer home, social media platforms have been inundated with photographs of young people protesting against the government's use of Aarey land for a Metro project. Some of them, armed with banners and placards, staged protests outside the homes of a famous film star who had chosen to buy into the government's narrative. Apparently, 22 of those students were detained by the police. Their bravery didn't make many headlines, but I couldn't get the image of them out of my head. They dared stand up to authority in ways I couldn't imagine myself doing at that age.
More and more students are beginning to engage with issues that older folk simply failed to acknowledge while growing up. The environment, for instance, was something my friends and I simply took for granted while in school or college. There was no one discussing it, and no way of disseminating a message to millions with the click of a button, but it didn't occur to any of us to question the status quo. We watched as mangroves disappeared and green patches gave way to poorly constructed townships, ignorant of the impact of these developments on our quality of life.
School children now talk about pollution, abstain from setting off fireworks, put up signs about using eco-friendly idols, and do what we ought to have done decades ago. The World Health Organization's 2018 study on the most polluted places on the planet listed nine Indian cities in the top 10. If that is not an indictment of our inability to hold our governments accountable, what is?
I find, as I get older, that I am set in some of my ways. There are some things I refuse to do, not because they are less sensible, but because I am used to doing other things instead. I recognise, however, that this is a symptom of a larger malaise that affects everyone my age and older. We continue to do things not because they are right, or good, or appropriate, but because they have always been done in a particular manner. Young people don't take on the world with our prejudices or habits. They bring new perspectives that can be dismissed using that cliché of a generation gap or embraced as a gift with the potential to save us. I have no faith in adults like myself saving the world.
We should have left this planet a better place for our children than the way we found it. Unfortunately, we did the opposite, and it is now they who must save us.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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