Editor's note: Tamil Nadu’s political parties are fighting each other mainly for one section of the electorate this year. This election is all about how the youth will vote. Over 60 lakh youngsters will ink their fingers in May and with little ideological baggage, an aspirational and determined youth is calling the politician’s bluff on a number of issues. In this series, Firstpost compiles what the Tamil youth want, if only the politicians would listen. This is part one of a four-part series on #TN2016: The Anger of the Youth.
V Senthil Kumar appears tired and bedraggled, as if he has been up all night, perhaps tending to his 3-month old daughter. Senthil is 31 years old, a Masters degree holder in Social Work, and his friends tease him with the nickname ‘Psycho Senthil’ – because he does not believe in the existence of God. And why should he, he asks challengingly. Originally hailing from the southern district of Ramanathapuram, Senthil’s father moved with family to Trichy in central Tamil Nadu, in search of better livelihood. Like most migrants within the state, Senthil’s father ended up living in a slum in urban Trichy, a squatters’ colony named MGR Nagar after a former Chief Minister of the state.
“I got a temporary job as a Project Manager in a government department TANSACS (Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society) when I graduated in 2008,” explained Senthil. “I worked in Chennai for two years with that department for a salary of Rs 11,000 a month. I could barely make ends meet. Chennai is an expensive place to live in,” he said. Senthil decided to quit the job and come back to Trichy because not only was he not earning enough to make ends meet, but was forced to ask his father for additional sums.
Since he quit in 2010, Senthil has been unemployed. He has been writing one exam after another, hoping to land a government job. He admits that he has attended a number of interviews with private firms too, but was rejected every time.
“When I was working in Chennai, I used to think since I was a Masters degree holder, I was entitled to a much better salary,” he told FirstPost. “Now I feel maybe I should have stuck on to that job,” he rued.
Senthil lives with his parents, wife and baby at their tiny rented home in MGR Nagar. His father is a vegetable vendor in the nearby market and manages to scrape together Rs 200 a day. Senthil does odd jobs at his brother-in-law’s poultry shop and gets Rs 100 or Rs 150 a day for his troubles, hardly enough to feed the family.
Senthil Kumar is one of close to 85 lakhs youngsters enrolled in the Tamil Nadu Employment Exchange, as of December 2014, the last date for which statistics are available. Of these, 9.3 lakhs are postgraduates and 19.8 lakhs have completed their undergraduate studies. Unemployment dole is given by the Tamil Nadu state government to those waiting on the registers of the Exchange for a minimum of three years, if they meet certain income criteria. As per government records, a total of 67,240 such people received this unemployment assistance from March to December 2015. The state spent a sum of Rs 12.8 crores during this period. Another Rs 9.7 crores was spent during the same period towards unemployment assistance for 22,514 differently abled persons.
“There is no point in trying for a government job anymore,” said Senthil, shaking his head. “I have tried for six years. I now want to start a money-lending business. But the banks are asking for collateral for a loan of Rs 1 lakh. Where do I go for that?” he asked.
Allegations of grassroots corruption
Senthil’s neighbour in MGR Nagar is another young man, Kamal Raj. 32 years of age and with a daughter almost 2 years old, Kamal is smartly turned out, wearing a shirt tucked neatly into trousers, a contrast to the carelessly clad Senthil. Kamal says he applied for a job with the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation soon after graduation. “I was asked for Rs 10 lakhs to get the appointment order by touts outside the Corporation,” he alleged. “I do not have that kind of money. My friend from Karur who applied along with me got the job because he took loans and paid Rs 14 lakhs,” he claimed.
Kamal decided instead to help his father run a modest eatery that prides itself on serving excellent ‘naattu kozhi’ (country chicken) in Trichy’s Kumaran Nagar. Although there was no way to verify this allegation independently, such claims are rife amongst most youngsters who have applied for government jobs in the state. Kamal also recently joined the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the main rival to the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the party which has raised as its key poll issue, the question of unemployment among the youth as well as alleged corruption.
The issue of grassroots corruption came to a head in February 2015, when an engineer in the state Agriculture Department committed suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train. Agriculture Minister ‘Agri’ Krishnamoorthy was arrested on charges of harassing the official demanding bribe of Rs 12.25 lakhs for the appointment of seven temporary drivers in the department, as per the chargesheet. The Madras High Court, on March 08, quashed the case against the former Minister, citing lack of direct evidence. This high profile suicide whipped up a political storm with the Opposition hurling allegations of corruption in all departments of the state government.
A common battle faced by all students heading into colleges from government schools and many private schools in the state, is the issue of language. Shifting from a Tamil medium of instruction to tertiary education in English is taking its toll on youngsters in the state, who struggle to cope and often fail to a number of subjects simply due to lack of comprehension of an unknown language.
“My parents had the money to send me to private tuitions for English and I managed to land a job at an IT company in Bangalore,” said C Manikandan, a 27 year old software professional hailing from Tamil Nadu, who passed out of a government school. “In school we never had the option of learning Hindi. At my workplace I am one of very few who is not very confident about speaking English. I don’t know a word of Hindi either. All other colleagues speak Hindi and joke around. I am unable to fit in and I feel quite terrible at times,” he said.
Manikandan feels English should be taught in a more focused manner in government schools and Hindi could be offered as an option for those who want to learn the language. While all of his classmates are employed, most are working for peanuts, he says. “Almost every one of my school mates is a graduate,” he said. “Most are working. But there is no correlation between their degree and their work.”
Tamil Nadu’s education system has come under severe criticism in recent times for encouraging rote learning and for delivering poor quality graduates. Tamil Nadu has been scraping the bottom of employability rankings consistently in studies conducted by a private research firm Aspiring Minds based in Gurgaon. The state’s engineering graduates, along with those from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, are in the bottom 25th percentile of employability rankings, according to the survey. “The education system is not conducive for all round development,” said Dr Lakshmi Vijaykumar, psychiatrist working with the World Health Organisation. “The focus is on rote learning and on a single point exam system. There are major flaws in our state education policy,” she said.
The young are restless in Tamil Nadu. This 60 lakh strong segment of the population is the prime target for politicians in elections 2016. The party which convinces this section of unemployed youngsters will likely have an edge in May 2016.
The author tweets @sandhyaravishan