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Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Young India politically conscious, more likely to take part in online and offline protests

Roughly half of India’s urban youth took part in a social media campaign and nearly a third took part in offline protests in the year preceding the latest YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey

A pandemic that hit the Black community harder and a police force that has gained notoriety for its anti-black prejudices brought the American youth out on the streets to protest against racism. But the 'BlackLivesMatter' movement in the US has been brewing for a while, with intolerance against discrimination growing among young Americans, especially Black Americans.

A similar intolerance against caste discrimination fueled the nation-wide student protests in India after a Dalit student, Rohith Vemula took his own life at the University of Hyderabad in early 2016. And it was perhaps a similar intolerance against religious discrimination that united students across campuses during the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests earlier this year.

Fresh data from the YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey suggests that the youth of the country are far more conscious of caste, religious, and gender biases than the older generations. Compared to pre-millennials (40 years and older), a higher proportion of millennials and post-millennials (or Gen Z adults) said they had experienced discrimination in their lives. About half of the younger lot surveyed said they had faced discrimination based on physical appearance, gender, language and economic class. The survey listed ten possible grounds on which respondents might have faced discrimination, and on all ten, a smaller section of pre-millennials reported facing discrimination.

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Poorer respondents reported being subject to unfair behaviour, even on grounds other than economic class, more than richer respondents. Over 50% of respondents belonging to households with incomes less than 25,000 per month said they had faced unfair treatment based on their gender, language, physical appearance and the state or region they hailed from. The share of respondents from richer households (income more than 60,000 per month) reporting discrimination on such grounds was much lower. But more than half of those belonging to affluent households said they had experienced unfair treatment based on gender. Young people in tier-I cities (with population above 5 million) reported facing lower discrimination compared to those in smaller towns. The survey suggests this trend to hold on all grounds other than gender.

The YouGov-Mint-CPR Millennial Survey was conducted online between 12 March and 2 April across 184 towns and cities. The survey covered a sample of 10,005 respondents of which 4,957 were millennials, 2,983 post-millennials and 2,065 pre-millennials. Overall, 80% of those surveyed admitted being treated unfairly on at least one of the ten grounds of discrimination.

Millennials refer to those who were born between 1981 and 1996—they are the ones who attained adulthood in the early 21st century, and growing up, saw the world become digitally connected. Those born after 1996 (aged 23 years or below) are referred to as the post-millennials or Gen Z. The rest (40 years and above) have been classified as pre-millennials. The survey was conducted jointly by Mint, the Indian arm of the global market research firm, YouGov, and the Delhi-based think tank, CPR (Centre for Policy Research) to gauge the aspirations and attitudes of India’s digital natives.

Apart from gathering in-person for protests, a higher share of post-millennials and millennials said they joined a social media campaign in the last one year. While over eight in ten pre-millennials said they voted in an election, it is the younger lot that was more active in campaigning for a political party.

Youth activism, however, extends beyond usual political party campaigns. In recent years, the young and digitally empowered have used social media platforms to speak up for climate justice (#FridaysForFuture), and against sexual harassment (#MeToo) and mob lynching (#NotInMyName) even when political parties have been reluctant to take up these issues. India’s long running #DalitLivesMatter campaign is a testament to how the youth has kept the spotlight on caste oppression by leveraging social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. Recent events such as the anti-CAA stir also witnessed the younger generation joining protests in large numbers. Across the three generations, disapproval of police action against protesting students in Delhi’s universities was highest among post-millennials.

Despite active online and offline participation, the young are less vocal about political issues at their homes, the survey suggests. About 50% of post-millennials said they “rarely" or “never" discuss politics and current affairs at home or with friends and colleagues. Only 28% of pre-millennials said the same, suggesting that the stereotype of ‘WhatsApp uncles’ dominating political discussions on family groups is not without basis.

The youth’s aversion to discussing politics fits in with trends in the West, where the young are apprehensive about discussing politics with family.

Compared to pre-millennials, the youth relate less to their religious, regional, and caste identities. But the survey suggests that they also relate less to modern political labels of ‘secularism’ and ‘liberalism’.

Across generations, a majority of respondents said they identified with both their religious identity, and as secular, suggesting that they see no contradiction between the two.

More millennials said they identified themselves as a feminist, compared to pre-millennials. But fewer post-millennials identified themselves as feminists, compared to either millennials or pre-millennials.

It is worth noting that not all who identify as feminist or secular are ready to practice what these political beliefs entail. For instance, roughly a tenth of those who identify as feminists also said they don’t find it acceptable if wives earn more than their husbands.

The discrepancy between stated beliefs and its practice is the highest among post-millennials, the survey suggests. Such discrepancies are less stark among pre-millennials. The data suggests that despite rooting for change and equality, the young may not be ready to accept all the consequences of a fairer world.

This is the fourth of a five-part data journalism series on the aspirations and attitudes of India’s digital natives. The first part examined the job aspirations of millennials, the second looked at their relationship preferences, and the third looked at how they have fared compared to their parents.

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