Empowering young people to become agents of change

There is a need to create more platforms where the youth can engage with various levels of the government and voice their opinions to become valued members in the decision-making process.

Ishita Bagchi

Surabhi Malhotra

Empowering young people to become agents of change

Sunday August 27, 2023,

4 min Read

India is a young country—not just in terms of its age, but also due to the number of young people who inhabit it. Nearly 34% of the nation’s total population is in the age group of 15-29, presenting an opportunity of immense value.

Young people hold the potential to become architects of transformation by reshaping behaviours and driving positive change within our society. Already, we have seen powerful campaigns emerge from young people, where they have been pivotal contributors working on issues ranging from breaking stereotypes around menstruation to enhancing disability rights to advocating for more clean, sustainable cities.

Harnessing their passion and energy is critical towards ensuring they have a voice in issues that affect them. However, at present, there is a limited involvement of the youth in the decision-making process. In fact, in the book “India: A Portrait” by Patrick French, he talks about how there are very few young people in the Indian Parliament, and even those who are part of it have a political background or are a part of dynastic politics.

Seemingly illustrating this view, data suggests that only 12% of the elected Members of Parliament (MP) in the 17th Lok Sabha (2019-2024) are under the age of 40, compared to 26% of MPs in the first parliament post-Independence.

Even the National Youth Policy 2014 highlights there is very little coordinated action to encourage youth engagement in politics and governance, despite an increasing emphasis on youth participation in lower levels of government and a clear political drive to assist more young people in making the transition from student and youth politics to national politics.

Similarly, the 2021 version of the policy also highlights the need to create avenue for greater exposure and opportunities for young people to engage with politics and governance issues.

While there are multiple policies being formulated and bills being passed in the Indian Parliament that have implications for the youth and our future generations, most often, there are limited spaces for the youth to actively engage with policymakers and share their opinions and concerns. Outside of Parliament where the youth are under-represented, there is also a lack of space for pre-legislative consultations where the youth can participate. Even though the Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy was introduced in 2014, 227 bills out of the 301 bills introduced in the Parliament between 2014 and 2021 were tabled without any public consultations.

A promising start has been made by a few governments and allied civil society organisations by creating opportunities where the youth get to work with legislators, ministers, and bureaucrats closely such as the LAMP fellowship, Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates, etc. However, there is a need for creating more platforms where the youth can engage with various levels of the government and voice their opinions to become valued members in the decision-making process.

Inspiration may be taken from some interesting initiatives such as the one undertaken by the Rajasthan State Assembly in 2021, where 200 young people were given the opportunity to run the Vidhan Sabha for a day on the occasion of Children’s Day. In fact, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs also runs the Youth Parliament program to give young people a taste of how Parliamentary procedures work. Such initiatives can be galvanised for action across the country to encourage participation from many more young people.

Given educational institutions’ impact on young lives, they can also play a significant role in establishing a culture that values participation, empathy, and critical thinking. Introducing dedicated programmes for engaging children in discourses about political and social issues can serve as a good stepping-stone for them to become active citizens. Schools and educational institutions should look at facilitating spaces which promote open dialogue and engage reflection on essential questions to make children more aware about existing structural inequalities. Here, the role of youth-related programmes and initiatives, which provide a platform to young people to express and register their opinions and harness their power to bring about change becomes paramount. 

As torchbearers of innovation, compassion, and resilience, young people have the potential to drive societal progress. As the government and organisations create spaces for young voices, the youth need to proactively take the stage to not only participate, but also immerse, understand, and influence. The country's rich tapestry of challenges–from education disparities to environmental concerns–presents a mosaic for young people to address. By immersing themselves in these complexities, understanding local contexts, and channelling their energy and passion, Indian youth have the potential to contribute to writing their nation's narrative and set in motion a ripple effect that resonates far beyond their immediate surroundings.

(The authors are with Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC), an organisation that works to increase the engagement of young people in India’s democracy.)