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Panel 6. Youthful modernities: negotiating with the past, the present and the future


Four sessions:

1. Tuesday 20 Sept, 14.30–16.30
2. Wednesday 21 Sept, 10.00–12.00
3. Wednesday 21 Sept, 15.30–17.30
4. Thursday 22 Sept, 09.00-11.00

VENUE: Konsertsalen, Akademiska Föreningen (AF), Sandgatan 2, Lund

Chairs: Ravinder Kaur, Rajni Palriwala & Sonalde Desai


Day 1   20 September (Session 1)   Time: 14.30 – 16.30 pm

Chair – Rajni Palriwala (University of Delhi)


– Akanksha Awal (University of Oxford)

Enjoying redundancy: Educated youth, gender and value in western UP

– Maria Tonini (Lund University)

Circumscribed recognition: creating a space for young queer people in Delhi. 

– Swati Mantri
 (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

Contested meanings of modernity: narratives around inter-generational conflict in the Marwari community of Kolkata

DAY 2: 21 September (Session  2) Time 10.00 am - 12.00 pm

Chair: Sasanka Perera (South Asia University, Delhi)


Anna Juhos (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hungary)

              Between Modernity and Nationalism - Idea(l)s from Within and Outside

Kotta Saidalavi Hakim (University of Delhi)

The Youth and the Left Movement in Kerala: Shifting Paradigms?

Nisha Dhawan (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

             Driving Change:  Female chauffeurs in India; breaking moulds, transforming selves

Day 2: 21 September (Session 3) Time: 15.30–17.30 pm

Chair: TBA 


Sonalde Desai (University of Maryland)

Extending Childhood or Entry into Adulthood? Contours of Adolescent Experiences in Contemporary India (by skype)

Arjun Shankar (University of Pennsylvania)

Urban-Rural Linkage / Divide: Constructing Bangalore from the Village

DAY 3:22 September (Session  4) Time: 9.00-11.00 am

Round table discussion (Moderator – Ravinder Kaur)


– Akanksha Awal (University of Oxford)

Enjoying redundancy: Educated youth, gender and value in western UP

Women’s enrolment in tertiary educationin India has been rising.This is most starkly the case in western Uttar Pradesh, where an expansion in higher education has raised female enrolment rates to over 70%in government colleges, even in rural areas. Yet, this has coincided with male un/underemployment that is spent doing ‘timepass’ in and around education institutions as men wait to secure stable employment in the public sector or start businesses (Jeffrey, 2010).Sociologists have long argued that women’s education in this part of India was largely undertaken with a view to achieve upward social mobility through marriage, butwhat are young women’s own expectations from education?Are they able to take advantage of their education as they had expected? If not, are they able to do ‘timepass’? In doing so, do they conform or confound societal expectations from educated young women? How do they ‘navigate’filial and social pressures as they attain higher education? Based on a 10-month ethnography with educated young women from lower middle class backgrounds in western Uttar Pradesh, I address these questions by focussing on young women’s intimate relations to shed light on the ways in which young women are questioning and contesting the gendered basis of citizenship in contemporary India.

Maria Tonini (Lund University)

Circumscribed recognition: creating a space for young queer people in Delhi.

In recent years, the status of sexual minorities in India has been the focus of significant contestations: same-sex sexuality has been decriminalised in 2009, only to be re-criminalised in 2013. These changes have generated intense debates on the importance and meaning of recognition in connection to sexual minorities. Focusing on the daily lives of young queer people (between 18 and 25 years of age) living in Delhi, I explore the ways in which they try to create spaces of recognition in everyday life. In particular, I focus on a grassroots queer collective called Niral Club, founded by queer college students in an attempt to create a safe space that would enable young queers to ‘be themselves’.  As a collective, Niral Club does not engage in queer activist politics, nor does it invite its members to demand to be recognised in other arenas of social life (such as the family, the workplace, or college); I argue that, in doing this, Niral Club provides what I call circumscribed recognition, which responds to the ambivalent desires of many young Indian queers, who want their sexuality to be recognised and accepted, but also want to be ‘normal’. My ethnographic data offer a situated view where recognition is understood and experienced as an ambiguous object that needs to be constantly negotiated against the many attachments, desires, and constraints that young queer people navigate as they try to live a liveable life in a social context marked by persistent stigmatisation.

Swati Mantri
 (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

Contested meanings of modernity: narratives around inter-generational conflict in the Marwari community of Kolkata

“Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it”-quoting one of his favourite authors, a young graduate student recounts how he is seen as the different one, the ‘radical’ in his conservative family, for not following the hardbound norms of his  largely traditional community.The ethnographic narratives which this paper builds upon, problematize this very idea of ‘being different’as played out and understood inter-generationally in a given familial setup. The discussion in the paper is drawn from an ethnographic study of the Marwari community of Kolkata, West Bengal (eastern India), that migrated from various parts of Rajasthan (North-western India).  As a migrant community, a constant fear of losing one’s culture and tradition to the infiltrating tentacles of modernity, in the host city, has been an echoing concern for many elder stalwarts of the community. Identifying and commenting on various socio-cultural realms– declining usage of the native language by the new generations, prevalence of self-choice and inter-community marriages, moving from vegetarian to non-vegetarian food choices, from traditional occupational categories to the more conventional ones etc. – the paper discusses the visible tension around the understandings and varied meanings attached to the concept of modernity. Further, while explaining how the youth from the community can be seen appropriating tradition and culture in ways best suited to them to recreate a new way of life which they think is more in sync with modern times, the paper  deciphers the conscious attempts at cultural revivalism by several community associations to appeal to  the young who have forgotten and are drifting away from ‘apnon-sanskaarauritihaas’ (our culture, values and history) as definite acts of resistance.

Anna Juhos (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Hungary)

Between Modernity and Nationalism - Idea(l)s from Within and Outside

According to Max Weber, Anthony Smith and Nancy Birdsall among others, the middle classes should be regarded not only as the reformers of society, but also as the guarantees of good governance. Based on their considerable lobbying power, political stance, economic position and extensive networks, it should be examined what kind of modernity they propose, additionally, what kind of social and political establishment they have became the propagators of. 
While the previous elections have proven that the middle classes can be considered the support base of the BharatiyaJanata Party, it is more precisely the youth whose claims and demands have to be taken into account. The 2014 general elections also being a milestone in this regard, it should be highlighted that according to estimates, by 2020 India will become the youngest nation with an average age of 29 years, and by 2026 approximately 64 per cent of its population will be of working age (between 15-59 years). 
As a result, young India and the growing middle classes’ political, ideological and economic stance will undoubtedly have a great impact on the way India will embark in the coming decades. However, in spite of their considerable impact and the rosy estimates, which speak about 50-300 million people capitalising on the benefits of liberalisation (Fernandes 2009), taking an average 10$ per day the middle classes of India do not exceed a maximum of 100 million people (Foreign Affairs 2016). 
Providing an interesting contradiction with their lobbying power significantly exceeding their actual representation in the population, the middle classes’ impact on political issues, citizenship and “modern Hinduness” is beyond question, moreover, it nicely fits the right-wing ruling party’s agenda. Overall, this analysis aims at providing an account of the interconnectedness between modernity, religion, culture and politics. 

Kotta Saidalavi Hakim (University of Delhi)

The Youth and the Left Movement in Kerala: Shifting Paradigms?

‘How youth think’ is an important side of any socio-political movement. The left movement in the south Indian state of Kerala has always attracted and gained the support of vast sections if not of the majority of the youth in this region. This is not only true for the present but has been the case since the socio-political struggles initiated by the left in the 1930s and 1940s. In this paper, I will attempt to analyse the changing expectations of the youth in modern Kerala in relation to the left movement through a historical lens. I will focus on two periods – before the 1990s and after the 2000s.
During my field work in what are known as Party Villages in Northern Kerala, I was told that youth groups were the driving force in forming and running the cultural activities of the left movement, such as theatre groups, parallel films associations, art collectivities, libraries, reading rooms, etc. These played a crucial role in spreading the ideas and ideology of the left movement in Modern Kerala. Between the mid 1990s to the late 2000s, however, there appeared to be a vacuum and a sudden withdrawal of youth from these cultural activities. Neo-liberal policies and growing domestic unemployment may have led them to gulf countries and other places to support their family.
Globalisation and factors like technological changes and new knowledge sharing techniques has led to the emergence of a new youth, not just in Kerala but all over the world - a highly technologically connected ‘global youth,’ whose expectations have also changed. Contrary to the past, youth in Kerala, especially highly educated women, have started to talk about and publicly discuss topics like gender, sex, sexuality, etc. Initially, the older generation of leaders of the left parties in Kerala kept silent on such new political issues. Now, and because of the skill, knowledge and influence of some new generation leaders, the left in Kerala is making a conscious effort to address these issues. This becomes evident if we analyse the new campaigns in contemporary Kerala like the movement against moral policing or their support to the Kiss of Love movement, which as an initiative first originated in Kerala and later spread to other Indian cities like Delhi and Bombay, etc. It is the left leaning student and youth organisations that demonstrated against what was seen as fascist cultural and political tendencies to organise events such as ‘beef festivals’ in universities and colleges.
The basic aim of the paper is to study how the youth in Kerala, with their changing expectations of emancipation, see the Left and how the Left imagines the category of youth as part of their larger vision of a better social system. The categories of the left, youth and the idea of emancipation are all historical categories, changing over time.

Nisha Dhawan (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)

Driving Change:  Female chauffeurs in India; breaking moulds, transforming selves

While globalization has created new income earning opportunities for women, these opportunities often follow patterns of the traditional sexual division of labour, limiting women to certain occupations – such as in the garment industry. Most women are accepted into the workforce in subordinate positions or at lower wages, with over 90% being in the informal sector.
This is changing, especially in urban areas, as new opportunities are becoming available for girls and young women; with some women breaking into jobs previously defined as "male" such as driving taxi cabs, staffing petrol pumps or driving metro trains and auto rickshaws. This entry into male avenues of work is challenging gender roles and expectations. Lower middle class girls are also working in ‘call centres’ - entailing night shifts which challenge rigid ideas of what, where and when women can work. While changes in the kind of occupations that young women can enter might be seen as an outcome of modern life in which gender barriers are constantly being broken, one needs to examine the negotiations involved.
In this paper I examine the experiences of young working-class women who work as chauffeurs in Delhi with taxi companies or with families or individual employers. I explore how these women chose to enter what is termed as "non-traditional” (or male-dominated) work and whether it poses a challenge to the dichotomy of masculine and feminine occupations.  Further, since Indian society sees women as belonging to the "private" and not the "public" sphere of social life, how does society and family react to women entering the “public” sphere and that too in male occupations? How do such young women's lives define them as being modern in their own eyes? What is the nature of their struggles in striving to live modern lives in the city?

Sonalde Desai (University of Maryland)

Extending Childhood or Entry into Adulthood? Contours of Adolescent Experiences in Contemporary India (by skype)

Adolescence in India is undergoing a massive transformation. Almost all children go to school and a large number of boys and girls continue their education at ages 15 to 19. Child marriage has declined sharply and for the first time, a majority of young Indians are learning to enjoy adolescence instead of being thrust into adult roles in their teen years. However, this expansion of adolescence has a unique Indian character in which adolescence appears to be extension of childhood rather than a period allowing for gradual transition to adulthood. Using data for over 12,000 young Indians ages 15-19, this presentation will examine the way in which young men and women from different walks of life interact with schools, families, society and global culture.

Arjun Shankar (University of Pennsylvania)

Urban-Rural Linkage / Divide: Constructing Bangalore from the Village

In this paper, I argue that scholarship on South Asia has yet to thoroughly engage with the ways in which change in globalizing India is predicated upon and produces linkages between the urban and the rural. As a corrective, I attend to some examples of the psychosocial changes that increased rural-urban connectivity might beget, specifically in relation to how youth who live in the village might imagine the city. These imaginings of the city, a constitutive aspect of the rural imagination in 21st Century India, affect how youth conceive of their occupational futures, what they desire, and how they hope to live their lives. I make my claims based on ethnographic data gathered over a two-year period beginning in March 2013 with a group of students living in Adavisandra, a village approximately 40 kilometers outside of Bangalore, Karnataka, one of India’s most rapidly urbanizing “world” cities. However, I focus on one specific event that occurred during my fieldwork, a trip to Bangalore with five of my male student participants, which revealed both their own rural-urban aspirations as well as, inadvertently, the anxieties that rural-urban connection produced in their families and community. For my student-participants, these types of everyday negotiations constituted their particular subjectivity as, what I term, “urban-rural natives”.