Excerpts from a speech by journalist and activist Vijay Simha at Personality India Conference in New Delhi on 30 December, 2012.
I cannot imagine a more tragic backdrop to this event; we meet as the young woman who so became a part of us has been laid to rest one last time. We humans did everything inhuman that we could to her. She is now one with her maker. We, those who are still around, have the arduous task of understanding how we have come to this and how we may choose the path ahead.
Six beasts who wore clothes pounced on two people and told us how depraved at least some of us have been allowed to become.
The United Nations defines youth as the age between 15 and 24. The young woman who was so abominably put to death was 23. Four of her tormentors were between the ages of 16 and 24.
The perpetrators were youth. The victim was youth. This has brought us to rock bottom as a nation.
In any country, the younger people are the hope. In them we trust. For, we have to live out our future with them. When youth depraves youth, there is nothing worse.
It matters not if a few greedy businessmen steal money that they should not. We shall, eventually, get the money back. It matters not if our governments seem to breathe inefficiency and live selfish. We shall, eventually, punish them by voting them out.
But what do we do when some of our youth are monsters in disguise? What do we do when some of our mothers and fathers breed these monsters? This is a fate far worse than corruption or sloth. This is the very negation of everything human. This is a nightmare that our Founding Fathers made no allowance for. They did not envision a nation where youth ate youth. Neither did us.
This, therefore, is just the time to examine the attitude of Indian youth.
Youth is the time between childhood and adulthood. It is given largely to help us move out of the honeymoon of childhood and prepare for the tests of adulthood. At least that is how it is meant to be.
This is what shaped people like Indira Gandhi and Sachin Tendulkar. They were able to move from childhood into adulthood greatness with magnificence in their youth. They also had great mentors in their parents, especially the fathers. Not all Indians, however, are that normal.
To qualify as youth in 2013, a person needs to have been born between, say, 1988 and 1998. That would meet the global norms of the youth age group. We shall not concern ourselves with peculiar Indian concepts like political youth, which can extend till the age of 45. We shall only try to understand who we refer to as Indian youth in the most rational terms, which means birth between 1988 and 1998.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Darsheel Safary, two young stars, were born in this period, as would have many in this gathering.
Imagine the events and the environment they would have been raised in.
- The rise of militancy in Jammu & Kashmir
- VP Singh’s Mandal politics
- A monstrous cyclone in Andhra Pradesh – which killed more than 2,000 people in one go in 1996
- Food poisoning in Uttar Pradesh which killed 450 guests one day [possibly the worst such case in modern Indian history]
- The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi
- The demolition of Babri Masjid
- The birth of SEBI
- Liberalisation of the economy [probably the most important development]
- The Mumbai blasts of 1993
- The Latur earthquake [in which 10,000 people died]
- The first of the world beauty titles [Sushmita Sen, Aishwarya Rai]
- The formation of the Delhi Metro Corporation
- The release of the longest-running Hindi movie of all time
- The Narasimha Rao and the Atal Behari Vajpayee governments
- The world’s deadliest midair collision of planes [at Charkhi Dadri]
- Thaw in ties with China
- The rise of Sonia Gandhi as Congress president
- And the Pokhran II nuclear tests
Such youngsters are the ones to carry India forward. In them, our poor shall find help; our parents and grandparents shall find comfort; and our sisters shall find character. In them shall rest the hopes of an ever-evolving India.
But then, youngsters are not made by themselves. They need fine schools. They need capable teachers. They need appropriate role models. They need parents who are fit to be so. They need space to grow. The absence of any or all of these produces flaws – sometimes so deep that we wonder what went wrong.
A million things need to be right for our youth to be better than what we are. They will not be judged by the number of gadgets they own. They will not be respected by the number of physical assets they own. They shall be judged by attitude alone.
While I am broadly aware of attitude – in my role as sobriety campaigner and journalist – I began to think again on attitude when I was asked to speak at this conference. What, in the end, is attitude? Why does it so define us, especially our youth? What have great people said in the past about attitude?
The Dalai Lama said: “It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and long term for both yourself and others will come.”
Winston Churchill said: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
Albert Einstein said: “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.”
Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and father of humanist psychology, said: “The last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.”
Mahatma Gandhi said: “In the attitude of silence, the soul finds the path in a clearer light.”
All of these insights made me think. I understood what these great people were saying and I learned from them. But I still didn’t get an instant understanding of attitude.
What exactly is attitude? After a few days, the apple fell on my head.
Attitude is simply how you respond.
How I respond to anything in life defines my attitude. The dictionary explains it thus: “The way a person views something or tends to behave toward it.”
Attitude = response.
The response of Indian youth is the attitude of Indian youth. How they respond to girls, boys, women, teachers, money, elders, and the concept of India itself, tells us about their attitude.
Today, as India has come a long way from her tryst with destiny, the attitude of her young ones reminds us often that we are still in the infancy of nationhood.
We are reminded that mere freedom from rulers who we didn’t like is no sign of maturity. We are informed that our youngsters are, after 65 years of Independence, still works in the making. We are forced to confront the reality that India may be far away from real freedom.
This is how the attitude of Indian youth affects us. When they respond well, we glow in the comfort. When they do not respond well, we mourn the horror.
The abominable Delhi gangrape offers us insights into attitude. We had four youth who thought nothing of lies, deceit, assault and rape. They left their victims, who trusted them, to die. They had no remorse.
They had parents. They interacted with other humans everyday like you and I do. And yet their response, which means their attitude, plunged us into gloom. What future does such an India have?
And then there was the young woman and her male friend. They never gave up. In the face of unimaginable horror, they didn’t flee. They fought. They showed character. They died a thousand deaths in the process. But they gave us hope. Their response fills us with pride. This is the fearless India we look to.
This is what attitude means. The young woman who was murdered did not own fancy gadgets. She did not come from a family that counts physical assets. But she had character. She was an Indian youngster who wanted to be a physiotherapist and help other Indians.
She is the Young India we rely on.
Her male friend technically does not fall in the age group of youth – he is 28. But he is a young adult. He stood his ground in the face of unrelenting battery by a bunch of monsters. He was ready to die so he could protect his female friend. I think he might have done the same even if his friend was male.
He is the Young India we trust in.
This gallant duo had nothing but character. They had nothing but attitude. And that was enough to awaken an entire nation.
Attitude, however, does not fall from the trees. Attitudes, like many other things, tend to be passed down in families. If the attitude of youngsters has to be positive, brave and eager, the attitude of the people raising them has to be so. The attitude of the teachers mentoring them has to be so. The attitude of seniors at the workplace has to be so. Most importantly, the attitude of the country in which they live has to be so.
In India, we tend to form responses, and therefore attitudes, by what governments do. The State has an inordinate influence on our minds. When governments don’t live up to the standards we expect them to, we too fall in the levels of our behavior.
The truth is that governments do not mentor. They merely serve. A government that comes from truth serves well. A government that comes from greed does not. The State does not make character. Families do.
This brings us to the core issue. How do we develop good attitude? How can we have perspective? How can we respond positively even in the face of negativity?
There are three ways to develop good attitude. Fortunately, it is possible to do so even in an India of 2013.
All we have to do is read, respect and right.
The first of the requirements of positive attitude is to have an interest in reading. This is different from the ability to read the letters, which is a definition of literacy. Merely being literate does not inculcate good attitude. But a habit of reading – books, literature, classics, moderns, in-depth journalism, and newspapers – forms a healthy mental diet.
Naturally, voracious reading is no guarantee of good behaviour or of sharp talent. I mean, you could be well-read and still be inadequate as a human being.
But if you don’t read, you almost always will be negative and regressive. That is a shame for youth, especially Indian youth who anyway face a host of other challenges. Many come from weak economic backgrounds, while many others have money but are not trained in how to deal with it.
The result is a toxic mix of resentment, arrogance, ignorance and terrible behaviour. We saw this happen on that Delhi bus.
Everyone must have a reading plan. This involves suggested reading for each year of your life as a student. Have a reading list. Make sure that you share your reading experiences. This can be thrilling.
I started with Enid Blyton adventures, Amar Chitra Katha comics and Agatha Christie mysteries. Now I find myself drawn to ancient classics. But each time, I loved talking about what I read. This creates a fellowship of sorts.
You will be among readers and it will take some of your time and activity. It might help you relate better with older people, notably teachers, parents and bosses. It certainly will help you make better choices.
India cannot depend on youngsters who don’t read. Ignorance is scary. As people move from childhood into youth, you would expect them to be smart and knowledgeable.
To read is simple and sensible. This is the private aspect of good attitude.
The second requirement of good attitude is an attitude of respect. It simply means acknowledging that people who came before you did their best. It might be great or it might not be good enough, but more often than not parents do their best. As do teachers.
By the time a person enters the teens, everything about home and family becomes uncool. You begin to feel embarrassed about being seen with parents.
While this may be a natural process of associating more with peers than adults, you must be careful that it doesn’t slip into disrespect. Because if you don’t think well of people who raised you, the chances are that you might not think well of people you meet later in life.
In innocent ways, youth might show lack of respect by skipping classes in school and college. But the perfection of innocence is madness. When you practice disrespect, it can end in an urge to smash the other person, rob them of dignity, humiliate them and even eradicate them. We saw this happen in that Delhi bus.
Respect is made largely of instinct. The many little things that you do when not prompted to.
What you do when you are seated in a bus and see an older person; what you do when you see someone young and attractive – especially a girl; what you do when the teacher is saying something in class; what you do when your boss tells you to do something at work; what you think of all these people in private; what you do when you are in a group in public spaces; and what you do when you don’t like something or someone.
You see, no matter what, there is always someone younger around you. Therefore, what you do is what the younger person will do. Youth is not permanent. If you tend to disrespect, the chances are that you will be disrespected when you become an older person.
It does not mean that if you come from respect, you will be respected. Others might still be negative even though you are positive. This is a possibility.
But if you are negative, then the others will most likely respond in similar fashion. This is a certainty.
Therefore, it makes sense to show respect. It is simple and smart. It makes a nation feel good. This is the private and public aspect of good attitude.
The third basic requirement of good attitude is the instinct to right a wrong. The ability to stand up and initiate correction where required.
When youngsters read and respect, they also tend to right. There is awareness of what’s happening around them. There is a sense of perspective about the state of a nation. There is balance in their approach.
Youth is largely about energy and therefore there is usually a call to action. This might at times make youngsters act first and think later. This is any day preferable to youth who come from inaction. A nation is better served by outraged youth than by delighted youth.
When there is anger, as there often is when you spot a wrong, youngsters can promulgate conscience onto a nation. Youth can force governments into better laws. They can intervene when all else fails and virtually command that we introspect.
We saw this happen after that Delhi bus ride.
A nice way to right the wrongs is by beginning at home and among friends. What are the conversations like at home or among friends? Is there much talk of what you dislike and who you hold guilty? Are there subtle attempts to put people down? Do you discuss what happened at school, college or work? Is your street clean? Are you able to influence people into staying away from drugs and alcohol? Do the lights work in your street? Do you have access to the corporator or MLA in your area? How does the local policeman behave? Do you know an NGO you like? Are you free to choose your life partner?
In due course, all this makes for a potent force. When thus armed, youth can almost never go wrong. They set a decent template for society. All of us benefit when this happens. We bask in the knowledge that although we may not be perfect, we have done something right.
Righting a wrong is not simple. It is sensible. It is the public aspect of good attitude.
Youth are neither children nor adults. They are a barometer of how a nation raises its children and they are a prophecy of what is in store for a nation.
That Delhi bus ride took us to an emotional, mental and spiritual rock bottom. If the four youth who were among the perpetrators had read, respected and righted, they might have stopped the two adult perpetrators.
You can’t go wrong when you read, respect and right.
Also by the author:
Don't believe the cops: The way forward in the Delhi rape case
Vijay Simha is an independent journalist and sobriety campaigner based out of New Delhi. His most recent journalism assignment was as executive editor with The Financial World, New Delhi, and tehelka.com.
He was a guest on Season 1 of the popular Indian TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by Aamir Khan.
Vijay blogs here and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.