Event ReportsPublished on Sep 15, 2018
For Chennai’s millennial kids, 'knowledge is power, power knowledge'

“South and North Madras are culturally very far from each other, and it is important to bridge this gap,” remarked Dr V R Devika, culture commentator and author. As part of ORF-Chennai Chapter’s annual ‘Madras Day’ interactions, Dr Devika explored the theme, "Chennai for Gen 2K Millennium Kids", on 4 August 2018.

‘Gen 2K’ refers to that generation of young people who were born in and around the year 2000, the commencement of the new millennium. Having just turned 18 this year, they will become potential first-time voters in the Lok Sabha elections next year. In an attempt to understand the challenges, opportunities, dreams and aspirations of this lot of youngsters, Dr Devika studied them from close quarters for a time.

Segregation was found to be a big issue among millennials, the speaker said. Further, this segregation was not only based on gender but on class, caste, skin-colour and space. Dr Devika found that there was residential segregation in Chennai, “a North/South divide in the city” South Madras comprised mostly the middle, upper middle and higher classes of the city’s residential localities, and was also the ‘cultural hub’ of the city, she said.

In comparison, North Madras was considered backward in every which way, with the result even civic amenities, education and health-care, roads, water and power-supply all have suffered. Dr Devika also traced spatial segregation back to the legacy of British Raj, where the city was demarcated into ‘White Town’ and ‘Black Town’.

While segregation, studies have shown that compared to the other metropolitan cities in the country, Chennai had lower levels of residential segregation by caste. One study in particular, conducted in 2012, using ward-level data from Census 2001 attributed it to the “long history of successful lower caste social movements in Tamil Nadu, particularly under the Dravidian ‘nationalist’ movement, also known as the Self-Respect Movement, (which) originated in Tamil Nadu in 1925 and sought to end the oppression of lower castes by upper castes...”

Language fluency

Despite displaying a sense of ‘City Utopia’ of a kind, Dr Devika said the Chennai millennials faced many issues and insecurities. There was a definite class-divide, with the result, those from middle and upper middle-class families were motivated about the future but those from the lower strata, described as the “deep core of Madras”, had several concerns about the city. These ranged from issues relating to the safety of women, political governance, hygiene, water scarcity, air pollution and their own lack of fluency in the English language.

For parents of these millennial children, owning an apartment was the ultimate status symbol. This was not the case with the ‘Gen2K kids’ who seemed relatively uninterested in property. Instead, they were more focused on owning as many electronic gadgets as possible. Mobile-phones were seen as a status symbol among millennials. They equated having the latest, updated phones with a sense of development and as a sign of progress.

This Gen2K millennial youth was marked by an increased use of technology, and more specifically an increased ease with the use of social media and digital technologies. This familiarity with communication devices -- being connected to the internet and being tech-savvy -- definitely gave these children a sense of confidence and empowerment. They believed they could access information from anywhere in the world, at any given time, echoing the post-modernist Foucauldian idea that ‘knowledge is power, power is knowledge’.

Being online unremittingly was, however, not without its own problems. Cyber-bullying, stalking, trolling were all real vulnerabilities experienced by this generation and its trend towards excessive social media interactions. These millennials were now facing the backlash of living out all of their experiences on the social media. As a result, they were found to be equally afraid and extremely worried about voicing their opinions, the speaker said.

Political vacuum

The State of governance in Tamil Nadu was a serious concern for the Gen2K children, said Dr Devika. They felt the State was in a political vacuum and they wanted better leadership. “Will we have proper governance in the future?” was a concern voiced repeatedly. Many were unsure about whom to vote for in the next elections.

Some claimed they would vote NOTA, though experience over the past polls has shown that such claims were not reflected as much in the final results, thus reflecting a confusion bordering on confusion in their minds just now. Overall, Dr Devika said, cutting across socio-economic differences, Gen 2K millennias were opposed to freebies, and considered them demeaning and insulting.

On balance, Dr Devika felt that the prospects for the Gen 2K were positive. There was a sense of camaraderie among them and a genuine love for the city, as evidenced by the enormous participation by young people in helping out the affected people during ‘Chennai Floods-2015’ and later, in emotional terms, in the pro-Jallikattu protests in large numbers. “Though the city climate is very warm, it is made up for by the warmth of the people,” the millennials felt.

Dr Devika pointed to a trend among the parents of millennials. They wanted their children to be engaged in several activities. They suffered from what the speaker referred to as ‘FOMO’, or the ‘fear of missing out’. Hence college-going children were simultaneously learning classical music and dance, foreign languages and were also undergoing sports training. While this at one level was very confusing for the children,  they were found to have increased the children’s learning skills, resulted in better academic performance, and ability at multi-tasking, for which Chennai and the rest of Tamil Nadu, more than many other parts of the country, had been traditionally known for.

The report was prepared by Dr Vinitha Revi, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai

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