Bhutanese youth are having a significant impact on various aspect of our society, media, culture, politics, economy and etc but still are a misunderstood lot.
The media as an example is one institution where the average age of most journalists is under 25 with even senior editors in their early 30’s or late 20’s. The institution of media itself is young.
The advantage here is that young journalists more often than not are not entrenched in camps, have less to loose, are bolder, more exposed to the outside world, less tolerant of injustices, more honest and all of this show in their work.
Politicians and bureaucrats, who are of the older generation, feel they have done their bit and know better. They are unable to comprehend this ‘rebellious’ nature of young journalists. Many among the older generation may feel that the young reporters are being fool-hardy especially in a small society.
This scenario is played out at varying degrees in various aspects of Bhutanese family life, society and the state. It is also especially important to focus on this issue as 56% of our population is below the age of 25 and more than 30% of the electorate for the 2013 elections will be in the age bracket of 18 to 25.
Youth in the Bhutan are a misunderstood and defamed lot. Any reference to youth in Bhutan is always almost made in reference to social problems like unemployment, drug abuse and gang fights.
While it is true that a significant minority of the youth are engaged in the above activities the vast majority are bright, optimistic, energetic and fresh souls engaged in building a more complex but stronger nation especially in the context of the challenges of globalization.
The best example of the potential of youth is His Majesty the Fourth King who at the tender age of 17 took charge of a backward nation in 1972 and transformed it into the modern state of today.
There is also the example of many of today’s minister and senior bureaucrats who back then with their long hair, baggy pants and new ideas would have been looked at disapprovingly as young upstarts and young Turks by the likes of Lyonpo Tamshing Jagar or Lyonpo Chogyel.
These ‘young upstarts’ of then, have given a good account of themselves today coming at the forefront of governance and leadership.
What the older generation has to understand is that Bhutan’s youth like them in their younger days cannot be expected to squeeze into molds that do not fit them. The youth of today like the youth of yesterday is here not just to play by the old rules but also change and amend some of them. Restricting this or not accepting it will be unnatural and regressive.
A healthy Bhutanese society will have to give the youth it’s due. The hall mark of an unhealthy society is where the youth are controlled or repressed and their voices are not heard.
Youth in any society plays a creative role, a role of renewal and a role of positive change.
The cycle in a sense is being repeated all over again. Bhutan today has a young King, a king who means well and is able to traverse the length and breadth of this country with youthful vigor and sincerity. He can play bear feet football with school children in remote villages, cook for them and also kiss his new bride in public. This is one of the reasons why His Majesty the King is enormously popular with the youth of Bhutan.
In dealing with youth fear, intimidation and reproach may have been the norm in the past but in today’s context it is bound to backfire. The youth of today instead will be far more responsive given love, respect, understanding, acknowledgement and demonstration of sincerity not only through words but also action.
A problem today is that Bhutanese education system and society is geared to making our youth like confident tigers and lions in their own right, but when they enter the real world they are asked to behave like common sheep.
One popular allegation against the youth is the aping of modern or western culture. While this is true, these same youth will be more sensitive about gender rights, are less likely to attack junior female staff and also less likely to leave single mothers in remote villages.
Another familiar complaint is that youth are bringing in foreign influences be it in the media, business, governance etc. This is like a parent complaining thathis child can speak French and play the piano after sending the child for language and piano lessons.
While youth in other countries are at the forefront of strikes, street protests and radical movements Bhutanese youth are a lot more sober and responsible.
Even with the rupee crisis the long term solution is mobilizing this youth resource. If Bhutanese youth are given the right training, education and orientation Bhutan in the long run may not even need hydro projects to be a self reliant country.