India’s young population is growing dramatically, writes Indian-American journalist Sengupta—and it’s growing impatient with the roadblocks its elders have erected.
“Strictly by the numbers,” writes the author, who covers the U.N. for the New York Times, “inequality in India doesn’t look as bad as the imbalance between the rich and poor in the United States”—and though the numbers don’t tell everything, the economic reforms that India has been putting into place since 1991 seem to have helped some. Even so, as her sketches of young Indians reveal, there are numerous social and economic constraints to a growth that will satisfy this cohort, which aspires to mobility and opportunity along with wealth. One appalling hindrance is India’s useless caste system, which works to put the lie to Sengupta’s note that “ordinary citizens up and down the social ladder believed they did not have to be bound by their past, that they could escape what had been predestined.” Not so if you are born a Manganiyar, traditional court musicians to the rulers of Rajasthan somehow classified as untouchable, so low that you are “technically outside the Hindu caste system” and therefore legally, socially, and economically invisible. One case study involves a budding, brilliant entrepreneur who, in the end, settled for the safety of a government job—not the worst thing that can happen but a terrible loss of possibility. Another depicts a rural Maoist guerrilla, for India is one of the few countries in the world where Maoism still gets an airing—thanks, Sengupta writes, to its having been able to “tap into the well of anger” that young Indians feel for having so few avenues out of poverty and predefined roles short of dropping out of society altogether, emigrating, or being swallowed up by Facebook.
A compelling portrait of what will soon be the world’s most populous nation, one on the verge of great change—for better or worse.