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India's Demographic Divide May Just Lead To Creating Its Very Own White Walker Army

Rising unemployment will have fall outs that threaten more than the economy.

07/10/2017 10:27 AM IST | Updated 07/10/2017 11:53 AM IST
Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

White Walkers are ice zombies in the series Game of Thrones, who relentlessly march on the orders of their Night King to destroy the human species. They don't seem to have much of a brain of their own, and their actions are dictated solely by order of the Night King. Since they primarily live in the frigid northern region, other kingdoms don't seem to believe in their existence and are busy fighting their own battles.

In popular culture, the threat from White Walkers is often compared to climate change, and how difficult it has been to convince all countries that the threat of climate change is real and humanity must unite to tackle this challenge.

In India though we may face a similar albeit a much eminent threat that might come from people around us. A lot has been written about India's demographic dividend. Demographic dividend implies that India will benefit from its large young population as she will have a lot of workers who contribute to the GDP and grow the economy in the process. It seemed to have been true so far, as after 1991 a lot of Indians got jobs with their IT education and lifted their families out of poverty. During this time India's GDP also grew six-fold.

However, we have recently seen a slowdown in our growth, especially in the informal sector. We already have about 12 million jobseekers every year, and demonetisation and the implementation of GST haven't helped the unemployment situation either. What makes the situation more worrying is machine learning and automation of jobs which might imply that the lucrative IT sector of yesteryears has limited jobs available in the years to come.

IT specialisations which offer jobs in the coming decades may require highly skilled engineers or programmers something that, except in a few premium institutes, education may lag in providing as educational institutions often follow what market develops. This could create a gulf between a few highly skilled employable youth, and their relatively low-skilled unemployed peers. This gulf will inadvertently translate into inequality between their earning potentials.

So what does this inequality lead to?

Experts touted inequality as one of the reasons why people voted in favour of seemingly adverse political decisions, for Trump in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, and the rise of Right-wing parties in France and Germany. People who did not seem to have benefited from the globalisation of the past three decades chose a more conservative, nationalist, and direct talking politician who appealed to the racial, ethnic or economic insecurities.

When socio-political and economic systems fail to deliver social security and opportunity to its citizens, people tend to opt for extremist ideologues.

Deficiency of either rational or logical inference in that politician did not seem to deter their choice. When socio-political and economic systems fail to deliver social security and opportunity to its citizens, people tend to opt for extremist ideologues in search for someone who imposes their identity or even seek acknowledgement of their existence.

In developing countries like India, public goods like affordable health care and quality education are expected from the government. Research shows that out of pocket expenditure on health is one of the biggest reasons why people cannot get out of poverty and lack of quality education is what prevents them from accessing opportunities to climb the socioeconomic ladder. In our politics, these issues seldom become election issues.

Except for caste and religious consolidation, nothing much really mobilises the masses, especially in state elections. While our politicians keep reminding us of our caste and religious identities, we are on the verge of facing a large number of poor, unemployed youth turning our dividend into a demographic nightmare. A scenario where we have more employment seeking youth than we can manage.

Unemployment is fodder for 'Godmen' to thrive on

If unemployment remains high in future and individuals are stressed, they could seek 'safe havens' under the tutelage of 'godmen'. When people find themselves entrapped in health and/or financial burden arising from information asymmetry about those issues or their inability to pay, they turn to godmen in search of 'miracles'. Low education and a vastly unscientific attitude in our country offer a large audience to these 'godmen'. In return, they offer followers a new-found sense of belonging to a community in times of personal stress. Compounded with a recall and confirmation biases, the 'godmen' instil a blind faith in themselves. When these godmen are questioned, the followers march to protect their safe havens against critical thinking of the outside world.

What we saw during the trial of Gurmeet Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda was a manifestation of a similar scenario with a unique scale and urgency. It did not seem to matter to his followers that their leader was found guilty of rape. They marched against the judiciary's decision as if blind faith in a personality had dazed them away from critical thinking. They were not very different from the White Walkers in Game of Thrones who march on the orders of their king and cannot figure out for themselves either the reason or purpose of their incessant killings.

India has thousands of 'Gurmeets', big and small. Each time a godman is questioned, his followers may march against our institutions. While politicians focus on reminding us of our identities, a large section of our population may march against our institutions like those ice zombies controlled by their Night King. The only difference is that there are many Night Kings in India, their followers may not be white, but they sure can walk.

The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of HuffPost India. Any omissions or errors are the author's and HuffPost India does not assume any liability or responsibility for them.

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