Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Will there be a youth uprising?

A friend of mine commenting on my post about youth participation on the BB blog, contests my view that economic liberalization in Sri Lanka has made youth uprisings unlikely. She writes,
Economic Liberalization still remains, sadly, the dominion of cities & certain strata of society within those cities.

So the state is PRETTY MUCH the only opportunity for most young people, especially on the road to becoming young people where most of the education depends on the government. (Think free education policies, no teachers for English & Math etc… ;)

While it may not be the exclusive domain of the state, the state is definitely majority stake holder, unless & until these economic liberalizations you are talking about trickle down to the majority living without it! (taking my earlier example of education, you have to give them an opportunity that doesn’t cost too much to opt for private education, if the country can’t find enough English teachers for state schools!)

Money is the motivator, but money needs to go to everybody, not be hoarded by a few!

So true, young people are the present, agreed! But where is the present going to get them without a state that can back the initiative? Stopping youth uprisings is going to be quite hard in this context! [link]
My reply to Nipuni can be read on the same comment thread, but I want to expand on it here.

I agree that fruits of economic liberalization, the resulting growth has been largely concentrated in the Western Province and other urban places. In fact, earlier I've suggested quoting Shanta Devrajan, (World Bank chief econ geek) that the reason for this has been thattrade liberalization and deregulation which started in 1970s has benefited the western province who have been able to adjust with greater reliance on services and manufacturing industries. There haven't been any significant reforms, for example, in agriculture, where majority of the rural population depends on. This means that rural population is more dependent on government than others in terms of price supports, subsidies, and owing restrictive land regulations, etc which makes them enslaved to that in agriculture-based livelihoods (a grave mistake in my book, but that's another post)

I agree with her that education reform too has not come about and this is a place again, where rural youth in particular are made to depend on governments. I've long been an advocate of abolishing this fallacy called free education.

So as I mention in my reply to her, If Nipuni were to say that the greatest threat of a youth uprising is from lack of economic liberalization (which is partially related to lack of decentralization of political power, but economics matter more) I'd agree.

In fact, I think that the primal causes for both the Marxist insurgency of the JVP, and the rise of Tamil militancy which signaled the beginning of the 'ethnic conflict' (both examples of youth uprisings, so to speak) are essentially the same.

Both movement looked at the mainstream and saw no opportunities for them. One, the JVP, saw it as a class conflict, the rich dirty elites denying opportunity the rural mases. Whereas the Tamil militancy (including the LTTE, which was among many small militant groups at the time) saw it as the Sinhalese majority denying the Tamils opportunity, and therefore the conflict manifested itself in ethnic terms. The latter conclusion had more currency due to the discriminatory language policies practiced by governments of the day.

Now, at the time when the momentum for these violent movements was being built, Sri Lanka was nothing like a market-economy. The State was involved in almost everything. It was in fact the dominant employer. So if I was a young person in the early 70s, I can only look to the state to bring me prosperity, increase my quality of life, which every human being strives for. When those opportunities are denied to a section of people who can identify some commonality with others who suffer the same fate (i.e. rural youth in the case of the JVP, Tamilness in the case of the LTTE-types) it's not a mystery to me why they resorted to violence against this state and the status quo which they believed wasn't structured to bring about prosperity and justice for them.

Lot of other dynamics were in play of course, but this to me was one of the prime motivating factors. My contention is, that this is no longer the case.

Thanks to liberalization we have seen, with varying disparity, poverty rates reduced, incomes rise and private sector rising to be the dominant employer while the state has become less and less important in all aspects of life including development in general.

There is an enormous amount of internal migration that's taking place, which in my opinion might partially explain the disparity one sees of poverty rate aggregates outside the western province, since migrants tend to be young and the most educated of those areas, and therefore the highest income earners had they remained there.

So yes, I think that youth uprising, especially violent ones like we saw in the past, would be extremely unlikely. Because young people today don't suffer from the same lack of opportunities, or is at the mercy of the state in trying to bring them prosperity. Not many may explicitly think in those terms, but that's what's largely being happening in the country and indeed, around the world.

In fact I honestly believe that If the LTTE were to disappear today, there wouldn't be another insurgency owing to the facts I outlined above despite there being ethnic biases in the system, especially if the south learns to moderate it's own nationalist nutjobs. Unfortunately I don't think a a complete annihilation of the LTTE is possible without a huge loss of life, and short of something close to a genocide.

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