“If India’s population of young people grows to huge numbers --as it will-- but meets up with large-scale joblessness and millions of dashed hopes, and that in turn leads to widespread civil unrest, crime and violence, would you call it a catastrophe?”
Today, 68,922 Indians will turn 25. Tomorrow, another 68,922 will turn that age. And the day after tomorrow, and so on until 2025. That’s a projection from the national census of 2011. Every month, 2.1 million Indians will turn 25: 1.48 million in rural India; the other 0.62 million in cities. Ten years from now, by 2025, 690 million Indians will be aged below 25. India’s population will number 1.43 billion: under-25s will make up 48%. So what’s the big deal about the 2025 population mark? Well, India’s population numbers rarely make their way into political discourse. No Indian political party talks about the population surge and the immense challenges it brings. India’s “demographic dividend” is a common phrase that seems to exorcise population demons. Marketers, economists and politicians extol the huge bulge of young people as an edge we will enjoy over other countries. India has now 1.25 billion people. It will outstrip China’s population by 2022, not 2028 as previously estimated. This is acknowledged with pride. But, if you think about it, it is totally misplaced. Having a big bulge of people 18-55 (working age group) can be a tremendous potential advantage. “Potential” because plenty of factors have to click in before it is realised. 70% of India’s young live in rural areas, barely eking a living off subsistence farming, with few skills and little education. Indian governments have tried to address the skill deficit of India’s workers, with not much success. Public programs to upgrade skills and education, such as Modi’s Skill India are slow: they take much longer than it does for the population to grow. Accuse me of Malthusian tendencies (after the 18th century economist who predicted catastrophe due to unchecked population growth). But think of this: India’s population growth has slowed: 3% in the 1980s; 1.8% in the 1990s; now only 1.2%. From a base as large as India’s, even 1.2% produces staggering absolute numbers. Malthus predicted that a catastrophic dynamic made of famines, diseases, epidemics and wars would ensue. Is that India’s fate?