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Youth: liberated or enthralled?

- Aashriti Shrestha

All throughout my teenage years I was told “youth is the best phase of your life so treasure it.” Being young, older people will tell you you’re filled with potential and able to accomplish anything. But they never tell you about the ugly sides of being young. I am not even talking about the anxiety and depression that plague so many more young people than is reported or openly talked about. What I am referring to instead is the struggle of being young with nothing to fall back to and yet trying to eke out a life and a future in a city far from home. The malaise that affects the city at large, the rampant corruption, endemic nepotism, and a decaying public sector is especially felt by the poor and by the young. I am a Kathmandu youth, a transplant who came here seeking better opportunities, and I have grown disillusioned and frustrated by my search. I am tired of the political morass that prevents anything worthwhile from happening and I want to dredge this country out of it. But to do so we must first diagnose the cause and quit puzzling over the symptoms. Life in a city like Kathmandu can be exhausting-- physically, emotionally and morally. I am a 20-year-old girl pursuing civil engineering, I feel the grievances of the youth first hand and I hope some of these thoughts born from these grievances will resonate with yours.


The first place to start maybe is to talk about the problems in the education system. Those who are in their late teens or early twenties and beyond will know what I am talking about instantly. It is no secret that the education system, particularly in the capital, is driven by profit-oriented institutions whose purpose is not to improve the beleaguered system of learning but instead to turn a profit from their students. Perhaps it is possible to do both—to make a profit and to contribute positively to the upliftment of education—but this at the moment is nothing more than a distant pipedream. Instead, the cost of education has become so inflated that to acquire a “good degree” here is beyond the means of most. There are scholarships on offer but these are only a scant few, hardly sufficient to meet the demands of aspiring, capable students who are not able to afford the sheer cost of the degree.


 If intelligent and able people are denied opportunities on the basis of finances it will only help further the continuation of an entitled and complacent class of technocrats unable to relate to the larger society they are, at least in theory, supposed to serve. Consequently, the country will suffer. This you might argue is just how the free-market works but in truth, no market is free and strong governments are always able to negotiate favorable tariffs and conditions for trade and all flourishing economic systems have exhibited a balance of public and private enterprise. For a country to prosper a strong and accessible health and education sector is paramount regardless of whether this is achieved through private or public means-- though a conflation of both might ensure a certain stability to it.  


Anyway, these problems are further compounded on the personal level by the weight of expectation. In a typical Nepali family like mine, there is an inordinate amount of pressure on kids to succeed. Only that the parents and the society at large define this success in terms of becoming either a doctor or an engineer—funny thing is, you don’t even need to be a good doctor or engineer, as long as you are one, in their eyes you’ve made it. While it is true that families are becoming more liberal in allowing students to pursue a wider range of subjects today than say a decade ago, the doctor-engineer benchmark is alive and thriving. As a result, young adults continue to be pushed into lines of work that they have little passion for; while also ensuring that the medical and engineering educational profiteers continue to charge exorbitant fees based on a demand created not by the sincere aspirations of students but by the sheer weight of expectation from their families.  


Even this naked extortion could be justified if the investment would reap tangible rewards in the end. But sadly, this is not how life works in Kathmandu. Each year, thousands of new, energetic graduates enter the job market and each year, thousands either settle for jobs they are technically too qualified for or go unemployed. This much is for sure, your lakhs upon lakhs of investment on an expensive degree is hardly a secure one. The harsh realities of unemployment besets so many youth that it is quite difficult to enjoy and treasure this period of our lives. For so many of us, youth is spent in silent drudgery.


We may complete our studies with flying colour but the grades won’t buy us any foods or clothes. We are then compelled to work underpaid jobs. The overall structural problems of our society, felt so severely by the young and the poor is what breeds frustration, anxiety, depression and resentment. This is why mental illness is rife among us. All my life I have watched kings, politicians, and all manners of institutions headed by the powerful and wealthy, profiteer by compromising the conditions for a stable future.  The only option left for many of us is going abroad. Few actually want to leave, most want to serve the nation where they grew up and yet they are forced to embark on an uncertain course with the hope of making some money to send back home. Almost 1500 youths fly overseas every day as our national economy depends on the remittance sent by the hundreds of thousands of Nepalis working abroad.


To make matters worse, the polluted atmosphere of Kathmandu only exacerbates the hardships of life here. Now, this isn’t a problem for just the youth but a problem for all. Kathmandu has returned to being a lake but this time a swirling pond of dust and smog. Unplanned constructions and severely narrow roads means constant stops and traffic jams. Worse even is the poor drainage system and the condition of our rivers, some of which have become open sewers that flood during the monsoons, covering the city in sludge and shit. The Kathmandu metropolitan alone produces 457 metric tons of solid waste per day and as yet has no reliable means of managing this.


At least the electricity is back but water is still scarce which is kind of ironic considering how often we bring up our considerable water resources. This place, littered with slums, decrepit infrastructures, rollercoaster roads, and a real scarcity of drinking water is also the third most expensive city in South Asia.  In sum, Kathmandu offers a large assortment of miseries but also holds great potential for change. As the young grow old, it is easy to see them get frustrated by the iniquities of this city and so the desire to move far away is totally understandable. However, only we can change the story of Kathmandu- those of us who have lived through these times of instability and inequality must remember its lessons and someday seize the chance to apply them. We must be patient, we must be resilient and indignant but we must also be hopeful.


Shrestha is a student at the National College of Engineering

Published: 2018-08-01 08:10:52