In response to the crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic across the world and its growing impact on the youth population in India, PRIA Youth hosted a webinar on 2nd May 2020. The webinar addressed the following questions:
- How are young people across India being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How are young people’s issues and concerns being addressed by the government, policy implementers, education institutions, and civil society organizations?
- What role can young people play in the current situation? How can young people take up leadership roles to play a part in decision making processes, in particular those that impact them?
The webinar was organised in the form of a panel discussion. The discussions were entirely youth-led and driven, with five panelists, and two moderators representing different experiences, communities, educational backgrounds, and professions. The webinar received active participation from across the world spanning major cities of Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, London, Vancouver, Dhaka, Jaffna, Montreal and Riyadh, among others.
- Sweta Pal, Communication Coodinator, It’s Okay To Talk, Sangath
- Sourya Reddy, Founder & CEO, Bastion Media LLP
- Nasreen Ansari, Youth Civic Action Group, Apnalaya, Student of B. Com, Mumbai
- Akash Banjare, Program Coordinator, Peoples Organization, Student of B.Sc. Computer Science, St. Thomas College, Durg University
- Gargi, YnD Fellow, Student of B.A. Journalism, Kalindi College, Delhi University
- Bhavishya Sharma, YnD Fellow, Student of B.A. Hindi, Jamia Milia Islamia
- Nikita Rakhyani, Program Officer, PRIA Youth
- Suheil F. Tandon, Mentor, PRIA Youth
The PRIA Youth team created a short report of the webinar to share these discussions with relevant stakeholders. This report gives a perspective on how the impact of the pandemic has been magnified on the lives of young people coming from diverse backgrounds of India, specifically concerning their mental health, education, employment, and political participation. It serves as an intermediary report for civil society organizations (CSOs), academic institutions, government, and policy implementers, to understand not only the impact of the pandemic on the lives of young people but also how are they can tackle these issues. It acts as a guide for CSO’s to effectively plan their future course of action, a suggestive document for academic/education institutions to plan their academic calendars, a note for government institutions and policy implementers to address the concerns of young people and involve them in the decision processes impacting their lives.
Project Report was prepared by Shubhangi Singh, Research Intern, PRIA Youth.
The global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is having a severe impact around the world, leaving no one behind. Interestingly, unlike other countries, in India the majority of the population (41%) infected by COVID-19 is in the age group of 21-40 years (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/83-of-covid-19-patients-in-india-are-aged-below-60-yrs/articleshow/74988310.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst). Moreover, recent literature from around the world sheds light on the economic, political, and psychological impact of COVID-19 on young people. This becomes extremely significant for India, as it has the largest youth population in the world today, with half of its population below 25 years of age. With an inescapable lockdown in the country, the youth in India is trying to adjust to various socio-economic challenges and concerns. An extremely crucial aspect that needs immediate consideration is the impact of the lockdown and social distancing on young people’s mental health and well-being (https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/15/18569/The-Emerging-Mental-Health-Impact-of-the-Covid-19-Pandemic).
Moreover, while there is an emphasis on advancing educational activities online, there is a large chunk of young people being left out due to limited or no access to the internet and digital resources (https://theprint.in/india/education/no-gadgets-no-studies-what-online-classes-mean-for-16-lakh-poor-students-in-delhi-schools/406837/). In India over 320 million students have been affected due the various restrictions and nationwide lockdown (https://theprint.in/india/education/in-india-over-32-crore-students-hit-by-covid-19-as-schools-and-colleges-are-shut-unesco/402889/). Besides, there is confusion and stress emerging among young people regarding the future state of the economy, including employment opportunities.
The recent report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy estimates a rise in unemployment from 8.4% in mid-March to 23% in early April and the urban unemployment rate to 30.9% (https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/education/covid-19-pandemic-impact-and-strategies-for-education-sector-in-india/75173099). Indian society, in general, does not give adequate recognition and space for self-expression by youth, to voice their opinions and participate in decision-making – in families, in educational institutions, in governance institutions, and public spaces. PRIA Youth through this webinar wanted to recognize, address, and acknowledge these voices in this time of huge crisis.
Project Impact, Interventions, and Solutions
PRIA Youth’s webinar was based on secondary research and direct conversations with young people, in an effort to gauge the ‘Impact’ of COVID-19 on young people from different regions and sections of society, and the possible ‘Solutions’ that are being used by them to overcome issues arising from the pandemic. The webinar also focused on discovering the nature and type of interventions that the government, civil society organizations, NGOs and individuals are undertaking in relation to young people during the COVID-19 crisis.
The panel discussion began by understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the youth of India. In this light, Sourya highlighted that COVID-19 has impacted youth within the twin sectors of Education and Employment. Young students engaged in education have not been able to attend classes and those with plans of pursuing higher education abroad have had to defer their plans indefinitely. Similarly, young working professionals have been exposed to the vulnerabilities of lay-offs and salary cuts as their lack of experience makes them prone to being more of a liability than an asset. Elaborating on these issues, the Youth-n-Democracy (YnD) Fellows on the panel, who are also current university students, put forward some very pressing points in this regard.
Bhavishya mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives of students in a monumental way. Students are uncertain about the pending exams as well as future school and college schedules. Apart from this, students living away from home are facing food shortages, inability to travel home and an increase in stress due to which they are not able to focus on entrance exams and college studies. Those students pursuing education in regional languages have had to experience a divide in terms of e-learning material, as the focus has mainly been on generating resources in English.
Similarly Gargi, another YnD fellow, highlighted the impact on students from personal anecdotes. She commented that as a third year college student on the brink of entering the job market or a Masters course, the pandemic has brought a situation of uncertainty. She mentioned that despite the challenging times, education institutions, social media and peers are putting unreasonable pressure on students to be productive during the lockdown. Therefore, one needs to keep in mind the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of students.
Akash expressed the situation of COVID-19 on young people from Chhattisgarh. He noted that although there were only 41 cases of COVID-19 in Chhattisgarh (with more than 50% recovered), the resultant lockdown has impacted the lives of young people across the state in a massive way. The shut-down of schools and colleges all over the state have brought the system to a halt, and on top of that a lack of awareness and penetration of e-learning platforms makes it difficult for students to continue learning. Another major cause of worry in Chhattisgarh is the fear of losing jobs for the youth who are engaged in small scale industries and semi-skilled jobs.
Speaking on the behalf of youth from the urban slums of Mumbai, Nasreen highlighted the impact of COVID-19 on the youth in informal urban settlements. She commented that as the population in urban slums live and earn on a daily basis, with many youth engaged in education alongside being daily wage-labourers, the sudden unavailability of education spaces and livelihood has led to an upheaval in their lives. On top of that, the close proximity of houses, cramped living spaces and high density of the population not only exposes them to the danger of the COVID-19 but has also impacted their freedom to use open spaces in the city as a respite from their homes and suffocating living conditions, along with high instances of domestic abuse.
A major impact of COVID-19 that emerged from the discussion was of the mental health of the youth. In this regard, Sweta pointed out that a pandemic of this magnitude is going to affect the mental health[i] of young people all over the country massively. She stated that according to NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data from 2018[ii], more than 10,000 young people committed suicide in India, which is expected to magnify in this pandemic if not given due importance. She also highlighted that there are a disproportionate number of mental health professionals with respect to the massive size of India’s population and the pandemic has meant that reaching out to such professionals has become even harder for young people.
Apart from the above impacts, a pattern that has emerged due to the lockdown has been the increasing cases[iii] of abuse of young women, queer individuals and minors in households with abusive family members and perpetrators.
The panel discussion also explored the interventions that have been made with regards to the youth by the Government, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) and other relevant stakeholders. In this regard, Sourya pointed out that the situation in India right now is geared towards fighting the pandemic instead of its aftermath; the focus has been on enforcing the lockdown which has led to uncertainty with respect to policy decisions about the youth. However, despite these challenges, CSO’s and individuals have been at the forefront to combat the pandemic through food delivery, provision of rations and health services. Sourya expressed his concerns over the inadequate intervention by the government in the relief effort, and also expressed that even though there is availability of central and state funds they are not being allocated efficiently to meet the last person in need.
- One of the participants, Nirmala Kumari, raised the concern of shortage of funds for youth and NGOs in Rajouli, Bihar and asked for solutions to address the issue. Sourya expressed that shortage of funds is a problem being faced by smaller states and towns at the moment, however states have released funds to tackle the situation. Similarly, international organizations like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partner with small organizations across the country and provide them with funds; it is important to find such partner NGOs and collaborate with them for funding.
- Another participant, Shila of Rajouli, Bihar working as a youth leader in her area voiced concerns on the issue of the youth in Rajouli. She expressed that youth in Rajouli work part-time to generate additional income for their families, and the pandemic has taken away their jobs due to which their financial situation has dwindled. Sweta Pal responded by saying that there are CSOs working in this regard, and mentioned ‘Haqdarshak’ as one of the leading organizations that provides relief to migrant workers and farm workers through helplines in various regional languages. Local leaders and local community organizations should also be approached as they serve as a bridge between the provider and recipient.
Sourya also pointed out that in terms of education institutions, online learning efforts are being made but there is a digital divide with respect to connectivity and accessibility of e-learning resources. To meet this gap of last mile connectivity, the education institutions should collaborate with organizations and collectives working on the ground to deliver learning resources. Speaking of educational interventions, Bhavishya mentioned that the government has swiftly made available resources online for students through their portals like Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan(NYKS)[iv] and SWAYAM[v].
Similarly international organizations like the UN have introduced resources catering to the lockdown, namely ‘Lockdown Learners’ to raise awareness[vi] about rising domestic violence owing to the lockdown.Talking about interventions by their own organizations, Akash explained how People’s Organization is using their network of 3,500 students to disseminate information about education and also address their grievances through direct calling. This has helped students to have a trusted outlet for their issues, and also act as messengers for People’s Organization[vii] to reach more students in Chhattisgarh. Nasreen also noted the importance of NGOs in disbursal of ration and relief packages in urban slums of Mumbai. NGOs like Apnalaya[viii] have distributed rations to 12,000 families so far. She also expressed that on the government’s part there is timely provision of ‘Khichdi’ for the slum residents, however little has been done to provide dry rations or essential supplies.
On the mental health front, Sweta pointed out how community organizations and NGOs have reacted swiftly to address the issue of mental health in light of the pandemic. New helplines have sprung up, individuals have been trained to function from remote locations through web-based and tele-calling platforms in order to support youth with mental issues. Sangath[ix] has also started a web-based platform where young people can seek free psychological help and interact with mental health experts. Apart from organizations, youth collectives and individuals have been organizing weekly peer-support meetings and webinars to provide support to those dealing with mental health issues, all over the country. As an organization running a mental health campaign, Its Okay to Talk is also leveraging its networks and large volume of data to connect people with the right information and experts in the domain of mental health, through their website and Facebook group.
Sourya noted that despite the grim situation, it should be looked upon as an opportunity for the youth to learn new soft skills and employability skills to be geared for the future after COVID-19. Similarly, young people can also act as frontline members to kick-start a process of behavioural change with respect to sanitation, hygiene and information use by leveraging innovative and engaging platforms like Tik-Tok, Instagram etc. Speaking from his experience of being in the media industry, he commented that there is a plethora of false information on the internet and as the youth it is our responsibility[x] to lead this fight against false information and fake news online. Young people should use sources of fact checking and actively put forward real news to their peers and family. Bhavishya pointed out that in a time like this, it is important to be present as a friend for one’s colleagues and peers. The more fortunate youth must leverage their accessibility to technology and educational materials to help out those who are not able to access it; this should be done through mediums like phone calls and text messages available to their peers.
Akash and Nasreen opined that the youth should get active in their own capacities and help the local community organizations, even if that means helping through virtual networks. Nasreen pointed out that the unemployed youth of urban slums can channelize their energy to help NGOs to deliver relief services to the community.Speaking with regards to mental health, Sweta expressed that as youth, it is imperative to use a neutral perspective and break the stigma around mental health. Similarly as active internet users the youth should collate and disburse information related to mental health and services to those who need it. The youth should advocate for allocating more funds to set up more mental health outreach programmes and streamline treatments at the local and district levels, so that it reaches the grassroots. Similarly, the youth can build their capacities and become certified trainers of ‘Mental Health First Aid’ to address immediate challenges of those suffering from mental health issues.
Along similar lines, Gargi pointed out that ‘Social Distancing’ should not mean ‘Emotional Distancing’ and the youth should check up on their friends, family and peers regularly. Similarly, as active consumers of information, the youth should use their position to combat false information and fake-news; instead they should play an active role in disseminating correct and factual information. It is important for the youth to dispel communal and hateful rumours in such times and raise voices against injustice and unequal delivery of services to the disadvantaged groups.
- The impact of COVID-19 has been massive on students due to the shift in academic calendars, the uncertain future and shift in sources for learning. However, the impact has been disproportionate as students in the hinterland and from economically weak backgrounds are facing added challenges of accessibility.
- COVID-19 has impacted the lives of working professionals in cities, towns and rural areas. The pandemic has left many previously booming industries in a lull and those youth with part-time, low skilled jobs are the most vulnerable. This calls for a concrete strategy on the part of the government to revive the economy and especially MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises). Similarly, avenues should be made for those students joining the workforce in the coming time.
- The pandemic has had a universal impact on the mental health of young Indians. Along with this incidents of abuse are on rise for youngsters and women. There is an urgent need for setting up country-wide helplines and relief centres for mental health. The youth should play an active role in addressing mental health through technology for themselves, but also for people around them. Education and awareness to normalize mental health is of crucial importance at this time.
The relief work of COVID-19 is being championed by civil society organizations and individuals through the support of the general public. It is important for the youth to play a central role in helping these organizations through available resources.
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[v] To know more about SWAYAM online course: https://storage.googleapis.com/uniquecourses/online.html
To cite this work, please use the following reference:
PRIA Youth Team. (2020, May 24). COVID-19 and Young People: Impact and Solutions. Social Publishers Foundation. https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/covid-19-and-young-people-impact-and-solutions/