A new Pepsi ad has coined the phrase ‘Youngistan’ by combining Young & Hindustan. The actor in the ad claims to be an alien from the planet Youngistan. However is Youngistan really a planet in outer space or is India and Youngistan one and the same? I say this as I can’t help but note that India is being totally customized for the young, rich and the healthy. I certainly don’t have anything against the Youngistanization of society. The young definitely should enjoy the prosperity and the growing disposable incomes of new India, but not by steadily ignoring other segments of society.
At the risk of sounding grumpy, I will quote some examples that I feel highlight the point. Public transport systems are so designed that anybody who can’t jump more than three feet and can’t clock speeds above 10kmph cannot possibly board the bus or train. The disabled using public transport is pretty much unthinkable.
Few public places have adequate elevators and ramps and so those incapable of climbing 10s of stairs often have to undergo the humiliation and discomfort of being carried by another person. I can’t see how a disabled person can ever become a confident citizen of India if he is never independent and has to be carried by another human anywhere he goes. In most developed nations a wheel chair can take you to almost every place that any able bodied human can go. Even hotels have special rooms for the disabled. Cars driven by a handicapped person even get special license plates for preferential parking and other benefits. All public places have special toilets for the disabled.
Businesses in the US do not do all this as a favour but they have to do it as the law says so. These facilities that the disabled enjoy ensure that most of them are active and productive citizens. So you see people in wheel chairs in the US very often. And that’s not because there are more disabled people in the US than in India, but because those in the US have the confidence and the infrastructure to venture out. Those in India have to stay cooped up in their houses and at the mercy of their able-bodied family.
There are never proper footpaths and even whatever is there is encroached by vehicles or stalls. Crossing roads is pretty much impossible for anybody who cannot sprint to save his life. An old lady in my apartment complex prefers to do the rounds of the building rather than risk crossing the road to get to the park.
Most new business establishments are also completely tailored to the needs of the young. It’s indeed surprising to note that even many of the new super stores do not have a ramp for wheelchair entry or a convenient elevator. I recently noted that to access the elevator in a popular multiplex, you first have to walk down to the basement area and from there you take the elevator. There’s no ramp or elevator at the entrance.
Public festivals and celebrations are primarily a youth affair, so they are left unregulated even if they are a nuisance to every other segment of society. Though the Court intervened and set time deadlines, the government did it’s best to revoke the time limits on the merry making. This has ensured that the youth make merry in the loudest form possible while the old and the sick suffer.
Healthcare isn’t the most important thing on the minds of the youth and so naturally affordable and easily available healthcare is not a priority for the government when in reality it should be a major election issue.
Worse is in store for someone who seems to fail on all criteria for new India and is old, poor and sick. There’s no such thing as retirement security and these people often have to toil hard till their last day, until Yama finally relieves them of their suffering.
I am aware that most of the things I have stated above are obvious if one thinks about them. The problem is that not many in India seem to be thinking on these issues. Some might argue that India is a poor country so we can’t have all these things I am asking for. I cannot buy this argument. If we have money to build giant malls and complexes, spend crores on houses, cars and cricket leagues, there definitely is enough money around to provide basic facilities for human beings. It isn’t a money issue. It’s about not having the vision or will to provide amenities and infrastructure that the old and the young, the sick and the healthy can all enjoy together.
The youth are driving the new India and certainly should enjoy the fruits of a vibrant, powerful and more confident India than ever before. But unfortunately humans can’t stay young for life. So unless the young act now, in a few years time they would be struggling over the same dug up and encroached footpaths that their parents and grandparents are today.
(Published as A Flashy Welcome To Youngistan on 8th March 08 in my fortnightly column for the Maharashtra Herald)