When you grow up in urban India like I have, it’s almost like growing up with two identities at the same time. The first is all about your own world. You’re a young person, trying to establish yourself in a society that traditionally, doesn’t really listen to young people.
And so you meet this second world. When you step out of your house every morning to go to work, you stand in a bus and look out at the street. It’s at that point, that you realize that you are one of more than 1.5 billion people who live in India. And that 22% of this population is young people between the ages of 10 and 19 years of age. This means that at a basic minimum – there are more than 225 million young people in India.
When I was growing up in New Delhi, I came to the conclusion seven years ago, that I was becoming part of a generation of young people who spent their time talking about how things needed to change, but who never often did anything about it.
I met my moment of realization when I was 17 years old. At a time when India had just witnessed one of the worst human rights violations in Indian history, the Communal Riots in Godhra, Gujarat. Where for the first time, I was asking myself why young people were so deeply inactive in addressing these fissures in their own society. Was it truly that we didn’t care about what was happening? Or was it that we didn’t understand it? Why is there in most countries, this huge gap between what’s happening in our lives and how empowered young people are, to be able to address these issues within their own societies?
The desire to want to see young people as their own change makers in their own societies is what made me set up The YP Foundation in India in 2002, informally known as The Youth Parliament Foundation. I deeply wanted young people from across the country to be recognized as stakeholders in society who were empowered, whose opinions mattered and who had the ability to create platforms for issues that were important for their communities. And to do that, we needed to make sure that young people were inspired, empowered and informed enough to take accountability and responsibility for themselves. I started this organization in high school seven years ago, with 3 friends, limited resources and a lot of community support.
Ishita Chaudry is the founder of the YP Foundation in India. This is part one of a series posting Ishita’s remarks made for a United States Congressional Briefing, Global Youth: A Strategic Investment on March 3, 2009. Download the full remarks here.