While the world’s attention is focused in the far east on the rise of the Red Dragon, China, it is literally overlooking a nation whose population is soon to dwarf even that of China’s. It is as if ancient civilizations have been reborn, and will once again resume their place as world powers. India’s population will hit 1.6 billion people in less than 20 years, overtaking China as the world’s most populated country. And, over the next three to four decades, India will become remarkably young, with more than half of its population under twenty five years old. India’s politicians like to boast that the swelling youth population is a powerful rising tide that will propel the country into becoming a global economic power, while other Asian nations, such as Japan, grapple with graying majorities. They point to China, where a population spurt contributed to rising prosperity. But, as in China, a sudden turn of economic realities could cause the population growth to result in food and material problems on a monumental scale, leading to a very devastating consequence.
Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal, said recently, “The burgeoning youth population will be a dividend, if we empower our young. It will be a disaster if we fail.” And, like China, there is massive unemployment in India that is not being reported. There are 900 state-run job centers across the country, where millions vie for a very limited number of entry-level jobs offered by the government and private companies. The government states that only 6.6% of India’s workers are jobless, but, that figure hides the harsh reality of the labor market, where tens of millions barely survive by doing menial, unsafe and backbreaking jobs. The numbers are even worse for youth seeking work. Government statistics place their number of unemployed much higher, at 10.5%. In some areas, there is no hope of getting a job. They have the choice of migrating, or starving.
India’s economy, currently the 10th largest in the world, is growing quickly, even considering its recent slowdown. Businesses want workers, especially the young, but, unlike in the U.S. and Europe, where many highly skilled applicants are fighting over few jobs, only a small minority of the working-age population is qualified for skilled occupations. The poor quality, and lack of regulation of education in India is partly to blame. Tens of millions of job seekers have impressive sounding diplomas and certificates, but lack the skills that they are supposed to have, due to substandard colleges and technical institutes. As India’s growth rate exceeds its potential, private companies cannot absorb the tsunami of job seekers. And, even the promise of low wages doesn’t attract foreign companies to plug the gaps. Most are justifiably wary of unpredictable turns in government policy, frequent strikes, power outages and other negatives.
The reality is that today, India has the world’s largest illiterate population (can’t read or write), with over 250 million uneducated citizens. Employment analysts say that just 15% of the working age population has the skills needed to find a good job, something the government is trying to address through public-private partnerships, but, with millions more young people entering the job market every year, the sheer numbers overwhelm the government’s ability to meet the need. The result is a massively expanding population with little education and skill, that watches television and films showing them ‘the good life’ that they cannot achieve, that’s becoming enormously frustrated. There is a very real concern that, if the growing numbers of young people in India do not find decent employment, or find themselves in dead-end jobs, the risk of political violence will begin to escalate dramatically. Because of India’s economic and regional inequalities, along with age-old caste, religious and class tensions, there is certainly ample cause for India’s disgruntled young people to rally and resort to extremism.