Gen Z - the generation that breaks a nervous sweat at the thought of ordering food on the phone but gallantly floods the streets amidst armed officers to protest social injustices. This is the paradoxical nature of the youth, worldwide.
Despite their revolutionary tendencies, older generations often criticize young adults by picking on their long screen time or obsession with social media trends but this is merely a side-effect of growing up in the digital age. I’m not denying the fact that young Indians spend their time doing TikTok challenges and playing PubG to distract themselves but they also take part in and lead social media campaigns for societal change. In fact, being "woke" and fighting against injustices has somewhat become a cultural trademark of Gen Z adults.
We strive for an ideal world despite its chaotic reality. Participating in political conversations on Twitter or encouraging gender equality at home and university isn't a hobby, it's a necessity because their future depends on it.
As Shreya Prasanna Kumar, a student of Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, tells Bingedaily, "We're supposed to be having the time of their lives but instead, we're faced with a pandemic, an economy with no jobs, and an impending climate crisis that world leaders are blind to."
Fueled with anger over ongoing crises like the Hathras rape case and the devasting state of our economy, the youth is brimming with overzealous grit to persuade our leaders’ to address these problems. Kumar does this by bringing change to her home first - she openly calls out her parents for problematic behaviour and engages in conversations with them about gender, religion, and caste. For example, she has often pointed out the religious bias portrayed against Muslims in the news to her parents and persuaded them to see through the propaganda.
However, many older adults tend to label vocal young adults as "overthinkers", "idealistic" or "too politically correct" and brush their concerns off as trivial matters. One would assume that constant apathy from authority figures would eventually demoralize the youth and make them succumb to passivity. However, the community that Gen Z has built among themselves online has kept them dedicated on the path for advocating change and a more just world.
How Indian students were at the forefront of the CAA protests
In 2019, we witnessed a collective political fervour from university students when they protested against the BJP government's controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens plan. Students across campuses in India, who thought the two laws were rooted in religious intolerance, protested against it for weeks and in doing so, upheld the values of public participation and dissent in a democracy.
As inspiring as that may sound, activism can be a perilous path due to the risks of being arrested or becoming the subject of police brutality. The violent retaliation by the police to the protests at Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University on December 16 (JMIU) illustrated how dissent is countered with brute force in our nation.
However, this didn’t deter the students’ urge to protest against authorities - youth from JNU and DU decided to boycott exams and hundreds stood in the numbing cold, outside the Delhi Police Headquarters to express their solidarity with JMIU students.
This isn’t a lone phenomenon happening in popular universities, it includes students from less politically active universities as well who are feeling compelled to be involved in politics due to personal dissatisfaction with current governments and policies.
Moreover, being apolitical now is viewed as synonymous with ignorance - a result of protective privileges. Current data confirms this - consider this study by LiveMint and YouGov that showed Gen Z individuals in India are more conscious of socio-political issues than Pre-Millennials and Millennials.
Study finds that the younger generation is more aware of social and political issues
An online survey by YouGov-Mint-CPR conducted between 12 March and 2 April suggests that Gen Z members are more aware and concerned about the social aspects of existence such as caste, religious, and gender differences than older generations.
The survey also discovered that a higher proportion of Millenials and post-Millenials (Gen Z adults) said they had faced discrimination in their lives, compared to the Baby Boomer generation - the generation most of our parents belong to.
One reason why Gen Z respondents reported more discrimination could be because they recognize prejudice and discrimination more easily than older adults as they're more aware of social biases. Older generations may have been primed or preconditioned to certain norms and so aren't quick to realize that they're being discriminated against - in other words, you can’t call out what you can’t see.
Gen Z and its love for social media campaigns
Whether it was the justice for Sushant or Free Umar Khalid campaign, Gen Z, with the power of their phones, have raised their voice on social media to create movements and revolutions. The survey confirmed that younger adults were, in fact, more active in campaigning for a political or social cause compared to pre-millennials. However, gen z’s fieldwork was a bit lacking as older generations had voted more times than Gen Z respondents.
Even in previous years, youth activism had been the driving force for leaders and institutions to take notice of injustices and flaws in the system. For example, the youth has used social media to speak about climate change (#FridaysForFuture), against sexual harassment (#MeToo), and even against Mob lynching (#NotInMyName) when all the while political parties have shied away or dodged their way out from discussing these issues.
Strangely, they're mum about political issues at their homes. The survey found that about 50% of post-millennials said they "rarely" or "never" discuss politics and current affairs at home or with friends and colleagues. In comparison, only 28% of pre-millennials said the same - probably why uncles on WhatsApp don't refrain themselves from sending “news” to assert their political views. While Gen Z may not be vocal about their concerns at home, they are deeply bothered by it.
"It's difficult to not be affected by politics these days"
Twenty-somethings are worried about the volatile political climate across the world and many believe that it's almost impossible to be apolitical right now.
Riya, a 21-year-old college student at Symbiosis Institute of Design, tells Bingedaily why she can't stop worrying about the news lately. "It's difficult to not be affected by politics these days. It's not that the world is worse than it was a few years ago but the rate at which we get to know things is so much faster than before and while it's informative, it's overwhelming at the same time," she explains.
She mentions that the videos and pictures of current events are immensely evocative in comparison to reading about the event in the newspaper. "Reading words doesn't affect us to a great extent as it's very objective but videos strike with our emotions and compel us to be empathetic," she tells us.
"For example, when I saw the video of bombings in Lebanon - the pink cloud of smoke affected me to another level," she continues.
Samiksha, a 22-year-old client servicer agrees with the fact that we're overexposed to the news in the digital age. She tells us that she fears fascist regimes taking over the world and often wonders if we’re moving towards an end-of-the-world dystopian climate if issues continue to stay unresolved. "However, reading the news really motivates me to engage in political issues whether that is going to protests, signing petitions, or donating for causes," she elaborates.
While young adults find outlets to express their political frustration and concerns, very often, they experience helplessness or anxiety due to not having any control over the situation. "A lot of the injustice that is happening right now is systemic and requires major intervention, so, there is very little I can do to make a significant change," Charisma, a 22-year-old writer tells Bingedaily.
"If we don't speak up, who will?"
Social media platforms, where young people come to relax or connect with their friends, are often inundated with political conversations, which can increase their stress levels instead of lowering it. And Gen Z is starting to realize how their constant political engagement drains them out mentally and emotionally but some of them still find it hard to quit the conversation altogether.
"Some of my apolitical friends have suggested me to delete social media apps or disconnect with the news, but these aren't permanent solutions for me," Mayank, a 20-year-old, political science major tells us.
"I think it's necessary for our engagement to be present, especially with the climate change issue. The fact that most adults think it's a hoax and Indian leaders are busy locking horns over identity politics makes one wonder if we don't speak up, who will?" he asks.
How to reduce news anxiety?
Monitor your social media usage: If all you're doing is anxiously watching the news about the terrifying affairs in our country, you could find yourself with mental health problems in the long-term. Even if you've taken it upon yourself to be a more politically active citizen, learn to draw boundaries between the news and your personal life. Yes, I know personal is political but what I meant was to disconnect digitally for a while - take a break!
Avoid engaging in conversations with a dead-end: Discussing political issues with a person with opposing political views can be taxing, especially when it gets heated and personal. So, don’t get too involved in the conversations if you’re unable to handle the emotional repercussions of the other person’s words.
Get involved with like-minded groups: Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, tells HuffPost, "Channeling tension, feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty toward something that is meaningful and productive is a healthy approach to managing stress."
You could donate to fundraisers, get involved with neighbourhood NGOs, and learn about the leaders in your locality to gain control over the situation.
"Taking active steps to address your concerns can lessen feelings of stress," he added. "Voting is another active response to feeling overwhelmed about politics and things outside your control."
Be open to learning about other points of view: While stepping away from triggering conversations is a good way to protect your mental health but only conversing with like-minded individuals isn’t the answer. Exchanging similar opinions and constantly validating each other can create a stagnant echo-chamber decreasing your ability to welcome change or accept that you’re wrong.