Let This Flame NOT Flicker

It will not be wrong to call India a nation of bustling young people. If we look at the demographics, roughly half of Indian population is under the age of 25. That makes our country a formidable young energy. But is the youth putting this energy to its best use?

Ambiguous, subjective, tangled, intractable yet empathetic, conclusive, primed and adaptable; Indian youth is fickle in their disposition. Multiple, and often mingled, moods of youth create a fertile base for a media-market complex to sway them in desired direction. Their postmodern attitudinal landscape creates ‘whatever’ and ‘now’ culture that contests the training Indian youth typically receive in societal and educational establishments. They are hybrid in their ideology, relative in their behaviour and tangled in their spirituality. Reaching this fickle young generation is a challenge as well as an opportunity for the church and youth ministries in India.

THE ‘WHATEVER’ ATTITUDE

The anti-absolute campaign of postmodernism—vividly propagated by music, movies, ads, other digital media, and the peer group—has become a cultural landscape for today’s youth. The postmodern worldview has unveiled new trends among youth; like sex without rules, materialism, rise of substance abuse, risk-taking behaviour and violence, increase of depression and suicide, muddled spirituality, etc. Postmodern youth consider truth and morality are both personal and social construct. These notions have brought epistemological and behavioural change among the urban youth.

‘Whatever’ is not just a slang for the postmodernist, it has become a way of life. More than their behaviour, their wardrobes, relationships, social media updates, etc., define the youth.

The ‘just do it’ culture has created an impatient and ‘live now’ generation. This generation is entertainment-oriented and lives in the virtual world. Virtual reality has taught them that everything is attainable. Media and market also endorse instant personal gratification. Young people feel that knowledge is not something to be gained and stored for future, rather it must serve an immediate and practical purpose. Their choices of experiences, however, are contingent on media, market and peer groups. Their pursuit of experience sometimes make the youth vulnerable to substance abuse, violence, illicit acts and immoral lifestyle.

Our country needs dynamic young Indians whose lives are transformed by the liberating message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Church and youth ministries in India have a large and crucial role to play.

PITFALLS OF POSTMODERN HYBRIDITY

Indian youth have multiple choices. They want to keep themselves up with the latest trends but, at the same time, the concern to preserve their cultural heritage influences their choices. While they comfortably fit in the pub and party culture at night, they celebrate religious festivals and rituals with equal ease the next morning. Postmodern hybridity sanctions such compartmentalised lifestyle.

It is the presence of three different discourses—during their upbringing—that induce the youth to such living. First, a person is trained at home and in the religious institutes. This sphere inculcates traditions and socio-cultural expressions acceptable in the social setting of one’s own community. Second, a person is trained in liberal, scientific educational institutions which instill rational, secular socio-cultural expressions acceptable in the democratic set up of India. And third, a person is exposed to the traits of postmodernism through media and market. This develops mannerism and attitude that question the metanarratives and promote fragmented socio-cultural expressions acceptable in the social setting of global communities. Indian youth oscillate between these worldviews and survive by living a compartmentalised lifestyle.

For a common Indian youth, logos is limited to the educational institutes; while in the society, traditional Indian ethos direct her/his life and relationships, whereas s/he aspires kudos from peers on social platforms for their postmodern stance. It might look like a compartmentalised disposition to a modernist but postmodern urban youth consider it as ‘hybridity’. Their spirituality is also jumbled and segregated. Symbolic rituals are highlighted at the expense of faith convictions.

CULTURAL CRUSADE OF THE RIGHT WING

Current affairs in Indian society are creating another challenge for the youth. In India, the line between social, religious and political issues is rather thin, and, more often than not, issues which threaten the civil society are overlapping issues. Regionalism, caste-community divide, and Naxalite movement, for instance, are not merely social issues. Indian politics, too, for the last two or three decades, has been oscillating between ‘centrist’, ‘left’ and ‘right’ ideologies. It is the subaltern groups—with their regional political parties—that control the socio-political affairs in the coalition government formed at the Centre. Today’s youth, raised amidst these changes, find it difficult to draw a line between social, religious, political issues. They tangle the issue and twist the fight. Totalitarian ideologues seduce the youth and turn every battle into religio-cultural crusade. Public space of India had been dominated by mixed discourses of social solidarity and multiculturalism. Nevertheless, in the last couple of decades, the diversity and harmony of Indian society has been threatened due to the rise of Hindu nationalism in the disguise of Indian nationalism. Hindutva is not limited to a political or a religious project, but a cultural project. Meera Nanda carefully defines this project in her book The God Market: How Globalization is Making India More Hindu. In her words:

“The primary aim of Hindutva is to Hinduize the public culture, to embed a “modern” understanding of Hindutva… into the pores of the state and civil society, without directly overturning the secular democratic laws enshrined in the Constitution of India. It is cultural hegemony at home, and recognition of India as spiritual, economic, and military “superpower” abroad, that the Hindu nationalists seek: electoral victories, religio-political mobilizations (the many yatras or pilgrimages, fast-unto-deaths, yoga camps, and such) are merely means to that end.”

Youth is the pollen that blows through the sky And does not ask why. Stephen Vincent Benét, John Brown’s Body (1928)

Public symbols are changing with the insistence of the majoritarian culture as nation’s collective identity. This culture popularises signs and rituals by allowing the institutional space of the majority religion to take on the public functions of the state. It also infuses media and market with these signs and rituals. Signs, symbols and rituals then shape youth’s ideology of religion and culture. They fight to defend them on social platforms. Fundamentals or doctrines of religion are not important to them. The totalitarian ideologues and their cultural project in India, like Hindutva, approve of such superficiality. They check and control Indian youth on social platforms—both digital and physical. Further, neo-liberalism along with globalisation are changing ‘religion-state’ and ‘state-corporate’ relations and aligning three of them for business and cultural interests of the majority. In the semblance of democracy, planned and covert cultural agenda is disrupting the social tapestry. However, rational and critical training in universities and global exposure to postmodern drives raise student activism against these authoritarian voices.

COUNTER VOICES

Student activism is growing in a new avatar in Indian universities and society. It has shown a surge of up to 148 per cent between 2009 and 2014 according to the data from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Social media platforms have played a major role in mobilising masses and building public awareness. Recent top trends on social media, such as #Hokkolorob (make some noise) in West Bengal, #SupportFTII in Pune, #JusticeForRohith” in Hyderabad, #StandwithJNU and #StudentsAgainstABVP in Delhi, #SaveJallikattu in Tamilnadu, are instances of student activism. Although protest on social media is considered more of armchair activism, Indian youth are discussing a lot on social media, and hence, fuelling on-field activism. Student movements are seen as a threat to the authoritarian governments. They use state mercenaries to suppress agitation and charge the activists with sedition. After 2014 victory, right-wing ideologues have deployed their student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to counter student activism on campus. ABVP fights at both ends, their foot soldiers flex muscle on field and troll on social media.

ROLE OF CHURCH AND YOUTH MINISTRIES

Amidst such challenges, youth ministries in India have to cope with this fickly youth culture. Their job is three fold: first, to win the trust of the youth; second, to influence the youth culture with the timeless and life-saving truths of the Bible and third, to protect them from the manipulating effects of media, market and politics. For this task, church and youth ministries have to alter not just their outlook but also their attitude and approach.

Some of these changes can help youth ministries to impact the youth. The first and foremost thing is acceptance. Instead of criticising, church has to accept the Indian youth as they are. When their generation’s culture is honoured, more and more young people feel drawn into the church. Accepting them will open up ways to mingle with them, and help them shift from being gullible consumers of media-market complex to informed participants. The second thing is participation. Youth prefer participation to preaching. Involvement of their talents and gifts for good and practical causes draw them closer to the like-minded peers. They quickly get involved in social, environmental and talent activities. Church or youth ministry standing along with student activism on the ground for the noble cause will not only impact the youth culture but also raise prophetic voice of the church in India. Talent groups like poetry reading, craft making, music, dance, etc., can further serve the purpose of engaging the youth. Such initiatives can become bridge for many youths and bring them into the church. Youth ministry like Evangelical Union engages young university students in planning and implementation process. Their motto, “for the students, of the students and by the students” encourages student initiative. Students are best aware of existing trends and paradigms of youth culture and entrusting them with responsibility not just improves participation but also heightens the ministry growth and impact. Borderless church and youth ministries can also advance participation of youth. Postmodern youth are non-as well as anti-institutional. Working together with various traditions will surge their involvement. Instead of focusing on the form of the church, youth can be encouraged fulfilling the functioning of the church (evangelism, education, worship, fellowship, etc.). The third change that is required is fashioning a proper youth program. Youngsters are impatient and like to be independent, yet they look for relevance and meaning of their actions. An experience-based programme, utilising a postmodern approach, can help the church and youth ministry to reach the youth ‘where they are’. Changing the lives of young people of India who constitute half of the country’s population, with the message of the Gospel is missio dei for the church in today’s context. Well-prepared youth programme with latest and innovative methods will meet the needs of the young people.

Our country needs dynamic young Indians whose lives are transformed by the liberating message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Church and youth ministries in India have a large and crucial role to play. They have to join hands, forgetting the borders, to reach the youth ‘as they are’ and ‘where they are’, engaging them in larger causes for God’s Kingdom.

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