Civic Engagement Of Youth

Dev Raj Dahal


Youth is neither a monolith identity nor an unvarying concept. It only stands for certain time span of life and a change from childhood to adulthood. Democratic sensibility requires socialisation of this group into a civic culture by shifting the defining feature of Nepali politics enclosed in adversarial poses to their civic engagement in local government and commitment to make a difference in the community’s life by building knowledge, skills, morals and drives. It is a school to practice democratic citizenship and acquire alchemy of courage and maturity in life.
This acerbic framing of politics kills human feeling turning youths’ sacrifice partisan and depriving them of the benefits of the “political” which means the inclusive public entitled with the Constitutional rights to common good and a life of dignity. Political arena is inherently public. Now this arena has become a contested site for rude interest groups who do not engage in the community and effect collective action for the useful outcome to all citizens. Ironically, they consume Nepali public sphere of policy making. It has skewed the gains of democracy to the people stoking a crisis of value for youths.
The functioning of the rationalistic conception of politics based on self-interest maximisation in Nepal has turned Nepali youths weak in asserting their right to pursue their own goals approximating the quality of life, freedom, justice and peace they desire and deserve, rediscover their vital roles in nation-building and confront the societal vices. Bulk of them, deficits of cognitive lens, is instrumentalised by the direction set by others. Rural youths facing the scarcity of jobs are pushed away from the condition of modernity, change and innovation. They lack a flash for local conversation, associational thought and feeling and voluntary engagement with the voiceless people, which is the spring of youth politics. Many of today’s youths are stressful, surly, envious and emotionally unstable and, at times, insufficiently positive to the nation’s geography, history, culture and social system required undertaking patriotic duty. As they seek to invent their own karma (chosen path) they find a widening chasm between the lofty ideals they are educated in and the bitter reality their predecessors have left them to live.
Mainstream media daily detonate a murky trajectory of the nation’s future with the mass of data of rights abuses, unnatural death, gender violence, corruption, spoils and livid competition for power, resource and identity. They have socialised them into a crisis condition infecting their emotional stability and civic engagement. The ceaseless stirs of prejudiced groupthink of many scales have cut Nepali society’s authority to guide youths, feed modern imagination and shape their vital choices. Nepali youths are, therefore, feeling insecure and looking for a way out of perils expecting to open promise to translate Constitutional vision of an egalitarian society and expand economic pie even for the unlucky.
Today’s Nepali youths are the product of dislocated society fanned by globalisation fads and fashions, melting local distinctiveness and driving change in the social norms - scarcity, few jobs, family breakdown, increased divorced rate, migration, urbanisation and pollution where many of them do not find any reason to stay at homeland. Politically conscious ones are struggling to achieve individuality and intergenerational justice in the middle path of this restless nation. The apolitical ones, devoid of national concerns, are looking for an escape whether it means apathy, social withdrawal, unsafe adventure abroad or feeding a rage against the social contract. Good education and right kind of socialisation are available to only better off section of youths who are casting off the fetters of tradition.
In unequal societies cultural industries cannot become a medium of achieving a measure of social cohesion through patriotism. Civil society have, therefore, to help rectify the structural injustice of society with multiple roles: emancipate youths from phony awareness, disseminate the right to information, provide incentives for character building and offer them multiple choices for public action so that their apostasy from gerontocracy can mark a refusal of paternalism, thought-control and utility maximisation. These traits clog their ability to exercise self-will to navigate the web of life.
Value-driven youths are struggling to know the root causes of present ills of the nation and demanding change in the nature of public life, a change so vital to break the cult of vicious power game caked in by their predecessors and build the virtuous cycle of progress. Their eternal fight can set them on an equal footing to their predecessors. Their act can provide a basis for valid criticism against the fusion of ideology and religion aiming to distort the fact of science so as to confuse truth from faith. They need to strike a balance between aspiration-fuelled politics and the real chance for voice and visibility in the public life. This balance is central to prevent a condition of doubt and enable Nepali youths to act as history’s locomotive, not determined by the fate or any isolated empirical indicators. Three factors shape the life of Nepali youths: instrumentalisation, indoctrination and civic education.
Multidimensional civic engagement of Nepali youths in the key agencies of political socialisation and governance can enthuse in them civic duties and absolve from scheme to flag their loyalty to the state by de-culturation. Most of private learning centres are designed to meet consumers’ demands rather than social needs while youths of public educational institutions have been trained to indulge in shouting match of party politics unreflective of conscience. The motive behind the split of education into public and private underlies the lure of elites to continue their class position and bar the mobility of the poor that secular education offers.
Education based on economic model converts the citizens into consumers and undermines their national affinity and humanity. While private education has provided Nepali youths quality education, aspiration for social mobility, brain drain and freedom from national duties, their counterparts from public education are toiling for bare existence under foreign rule abroad. But they bear the burden of rural society and economy and engage, reflect and represent the community so vital to sustain unifying effect of national life. Fulfilment of Constitutional rights of youths is vital to muster the loyalty to the state considering it a public good which cannot be personalised, privatised and denationalised.
In the dearth of autonomous public school for democracy learning in Nepal, youths are under the penumbra of artificial awareness and passive recipients of ideas. It is adapting them to imbibe ideology and institutions that have turned them others’ tutelage. Bulk of party schools does the same thing to bring them under a culture of conformity rather than critical self-reflection. For rural youths, there is hardly any learning centre left to know the value of enlightenment thus limiting their choices for public deliberation and leadership growth. It has left them unprepared for social and professional tasks. It is feasible to liberate them if the cultural industries remain neutral from ideology, power and interests of interest groups and cheer Nepali youths to expand social, economic and political engagements in the life of community.
Civic education can empower youths into dynamic citizens. It whets their restless desires for freedom, integrity, justice and peace. When both political society and markets in Nepal usually shun the project of civic praxis, which alone empowers youths to engage in worthy initiatives, the state’s vision, if honestly executed, can spur their poise to judge condition of life and inspire their civic engagement offered by the deficits of local bodies in many areas of people’s concerns.
Nepali youths’ collective action is possible if they stand above tiny fragments of belief, articulate through culture and evolve a class mixing public sphere. A project of detribalisation can enable youth to know the nation’s issues, gain an ability to resolve them in a peaceful way and set a just order. It entails setting a nexus of education to job and decent wage, skills and praxis for production, commerce, communication, social learning for good life. Civic engagement means role occupancy and removal of bottlenecks via opportunities and active participants in the life of community, civil society, economy and governance. It can blossom if inner vigilance among Nepali youths remains tall enabling them to become aware of things likely to influence their concerns. 

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