ITíS well known that India is the worldís youngest nation.
Half of Indiaís population is under the age of 25. In 2020 the average Indian will be only 29 years old, compared with 48 in Japan, 45 in Western Europe, and 37 in China and the United States.
Itís also understood that Indiaís army of young workers has been one of the major drivers of economic growth. But human beings are more than mere statistics. A changing economy has also had an impact on the way people eat, drink, love and pray. As the lifestyles of the young have changed, attempts have been made to regulate the morality of the young, especially in cities like Bangalore and Bombay and even Delhi. Often morality has been equated with drinking and nightlife, and the authorities in both cities have made extraordinary efforts to dismantle the infrastructure of leisure.
An Unwanted Change
Bangalore, well known for its pub culture, in fact, for a long time, the only city in India to have a civilized drinking ethos, has been severely crippled by new regulations which range from banning live music and dancing, to making sure that even eateries shut down early. Nowadays, itís impossible to order a Big Mac after eleven pm, and this in a city that works in so many different time zones.
And this month, in Bombay and Delhi, in a move that has confounded everyone, legislators raised the legal drinking age to twenty five.
The move follows an unprecedented hike in liquor prices, which had anyway put drinking out of reach of most middle class kids. The authorities have justified these measures with arguments about drinking being a social and health issue, with the underlying suggestion that the morality of the young was going down the drain because of the bottle.
Indian society has changed at a tremendous pace since 1991 when economic reforms were introduced for the first time. For the most part this change has gone unchallenged. This has come as a pleasant surprise. Having grown up in the eighties, when everything was regulated, controlled and censored, one never expected that cultural liberalization would be so smooth. Television has changed, with reality shows becoming bolder. Young men and women openly trade obscenities on shows like Emotional Atyachar , while Bollywood films and their dialogues have become grittier.
The Internet is not policed either. Apart from stray voices, no one has protested that Indian culture or values are being destroyed. Censorship has, on the whole, taken a backseat. This is not the case in countries like China that have also seen their society transform in similar dramatic fashion. The censors in China took a reality show off the air because they feared it was promoting too much materialism. The show featured a woman who had to choose a suitor for herself, a kind of Chinese Rakhi Ka Swayamvar . She dumps a guy who doesnít have a car saying, Iíd rather cry in a BMW than on a bicycle.
In India, we havenít seen similar efforts to clamp down on what might be considered undesirable or foreign values. From materialism to morality, we have been remarkably tolerant as a nation. There have been a few exceptions. Shows like Sach Ka Samna that blew the top off Indian hypocrisy with candid confessions about corruption and adultery, were considered too strong for Indian audiences and taken off air. But these remain exceptions, few and far between. For the most part, we have been allowed to constantly push boundaries, see how far we can go.
Along the way, we have figured out our own boundaries. Itís the market, rather than the state that has fixed the limits of morality.
Move away from cinema and TV, and step into the real worldó things have gotten better here too. The resistance to occasions like Valentineís Day has fizzled out, all in the space of a decade. In 2000, the police would harass unsuspecting lovers. In 2011, the police issues reassurances: donít worry, lovebirds, we are with you. Attempts by right wing groups to create artificial tensions about the clash of civilizationsó Western values versus Indian onesó havenít found much purchase amongst the middle class.
Legally too, changes have been pushed through without them becoming major talking points or election issues. Homosexuality was decriminalized and live- in relationships legalized, without much opposition.
Seen in this light, the attempt to regulate alcohol consumption among the young has come as a bit of a surprise, a regressive step based on an unfounded fear. Of course, some of this has nothing to do with morality. In some cases, there seems to be a hidden agenda that benefits those in power. For example, in Bombay, no age restrictions have been placed on drinking wine. Many grape farmers and vineyards are based around Nashik and Pune, where the ruling parties in the Maharashtra government are strong.
Forcing people to drink wine only serves to make these politicians richer.
But there is no denying that there is also a moral angle to all this. And this moral fear, that the youth is destroying itself drinking, smacks of a strange paranoia which seems to go against the liberalism that the rest of the society seems to be espousing. Apart from a bunch of loony legislators, no one else seems to be convinced that Indian youth are on the path to self- destruction.
There is little to fear for Indian youth are a tame lot. Despite the changes that have swept across this country in the last two decades, Indian kids have really kept their nose to the ground. Most kids still have conservative haircuts, their first priority is to get a job, marry by twenty- five, marry within caste and ethnicity, have kids by thirty. Most young Indians also stay with their parents until they get married. Itís a remarkably staid, if not boring, generation, despite the much hyped society- in- flux argument. Promiscuity and drugs are still limited to small urban pockets. In the West, hyper capitalism led to nihilism and boredom amongst teenagers. Thatís not the way it has panned out here. This generation is deeply committed to the rat race. If anything, prosperity has driven out drugs and the desire to self- destruct. In the eighties, when the economy was stagnant and opportunities few, smack became a scourge that affected the middle class and the poor alike. Not so any more.
Itís a nerdy conservative generation this. It polices itself so well it hardly needs any policing. Maybe the only thing itís done differently from its parents is learn to have a civilised drink in bars and cafes. Many still cannot drink at home.
By raising the legal age for drinking, as theyíve done in Bombay, you are only going to drive the whole thing underground.
This will have dangerous consequences.
Like this friend of mine who drives around drinking, his wife sitting next to him, the kids in the back of the car. He says he does this because he cannot drink at home, nor can he drink in bars for fear of being seen by his orthodox family. So he drinks and drives, with his kids in tow, something that would simply be considered outrageous in the West.
Western style capitalism has been at work on Indian society for the last two decades. Many things have changed and for the better. There is a refreshing openness in society, especially amongst the youth. We need to guard against stupid out- of- sync politicians who are doing their best to smuggle in socialist era hypocrisy through the back door.
Article Credits: Mail Today