India – Young people from South Asia speak out: “VOICES” highlights the challenges of migration, unemployment, digital and substance addictions

by Fr. Sebastian Fernando

Young people from South Asia came together at the “VOICES” event, a platform that amplifies their voices on urgent social and personal issues. During the event, participants shared personal stories and insights, shedding light on the challenges affecting young people in the region, from migration to unemployment, from digital to substance addictions.

The event “VOICES: Giving voice to the voiceless” is an innovative project of the Social Communication Sector, based in Rome, which was inaugurated at the regional level of South Asia on Wednesday 12 July, at the Provincial House of New Delhi, as a concrete response to the proposals of Pope Francis’ Global Educational Pact, to the Synodality and to the programmatic proposals of the Rector Major, which give priority to communication at the service of young people in their precarious situations.

During the VOICES event several young people spoke about their experiences with substance addiction , highlighting the pervasive presence of drugs in various regions. Their stories highlighted the need for effective measures to address addiction and promote rehabilitation programs.

John Melwin, a music teacher from Hyderabad, recalled the sad story of his relative who became a drug addict, and pointed out that young people often use drugs as an outlet. For his part, Anoopraj, coordinator of the Salesian project “DREAM” ( Drug Rehabilitation Education And Mentoring ) in the State of Kerala, calculated that in India there are 60 million drug addicts in the age group between 10 and 15 years. And citing case studies, he said that the reasons for drug use are depression, behavioral personality disorders, physical problems, antisocial behavior and different types of physical abuse, and that a vast and multifaceted commitment is required to overcome these traumas.

A video presentation by Dilip Nandhanan, from Trichy, then deeply affected the participants, as he shared his experience as a drug addict, his efforts to get out of this tunnel, his relapses and finally his detoxification. Anmol Kajur, student of Political Sciences, and Aman Yakka, both from Jharkhand, illustrated various aspects related to drug use, coordinated by Fr Dickson Eugene, Delegate for Social Communication of the Bangalore Province, who moderated the debate . Citing research by the United Nations, it was highlighted that substance addiction has grown by 70% and the age group is under 25 years. Therefore, in response to this problem, participants suggested a comprehensive approach involving education, awareness campaigns and accessible treatment options.

Unemployment also emerged as a major youth concern, and was therefore discussed on “VOICES”. The young people who spoke shared their difficulties in finding suitable job opportunities, expressing their frustration and anxiety about the scarcity of employment prospects. The moderator of the session, Fr Arvind Khalko, Delegate for Social Communication of the Calcutta Province, on the occasion, announced that 15.39 million people are affected by the post-Covid-19 crisis.

Viman Fernando, from Sri Lanka, spoke about the unemployment scenario in his country, fueled by an inadequate education system, lack of skills and knowledge and slow economic growth. Kishan Kisku, from an agricultural background in the Indian state of Bengal, remarked that “poor education is the main cause of unemployment”. And Adani Chamikho, from Guwahati, listed even more reasons, such as: high population, geographical distances and digital connectivity challenges, skills shortages, and political instability, few business opportunities and migration of qualified young people.

Ronald Roy, an official of the Employment Services of the Calcutta Inspectorate, described the mentality of young people that leads to unemployment, who, seeing that they are not able to achieve the objectives required in the workplace, become discouraged and abandon the work. With a meager salary on offer, many migrate to “greener pastures” and, furthermore, technology is increasingly replacing humans in many environments. The young speakers called for government initiatives to boost job creation, improve skills development programs and bridge the gap between employers’ demands and the training on offer.

In an increasingly interconnected world, digital addictions have also emerged as a significant challenge faced by younger generations. Mr. Aleister D’Souza, SDB, Delegate for Social Communication of the Mumbai Province, introduced the topic, then leaving room for the boys and girls who talked about the endless flow of notifications, messages and entertainment by which they are bombarded and attracted. Sherwin Mark, from Chennai, has linked digital addiction to depression. Meanwhile, Vancouver Shullai, a young teacher from Shillong, observed: “We have fallen in love with ourselves,” adding that young people today are very afraid of loneliness and technology offers them a sense of freshness.

For them, free time is phone time and not outdoor play time, as it used to be. Rahul Bora, from Dimapur, highlighted the destructive nature of technology in relationships, which fosters superficial bonds and relationships. Leander Viegas from Mumbai also pointed out that ease of access and instant rewards often cause digital addiction. This leads to a constant need for confirmation, fear of being excluded ( FOMO – Fears Of Missing Out -), anxiety resulting from comparisons, decreased attention span, sleep disorders and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

The younger generation, who seeks a sense of fulfillment and validation through digital platforms, therefore needs positive recognition through art, games, culture… expressed Shullai.

Finally, “VOICES” was also all ears to the topic of migrants . The allure of new opportunities in other parts of the country and abroad often outweighs understanding of the potential downsides, Olibha Kerketta said from New Delhi. Several factors lead to migration: unemployment, low wages, corrupt system, poverty and lack of social security, she added. Sruthi Menon, project coordinator of KISMAT ( Kerala Interstate Migrants Alliance for Transformation ), an initiative of the Salesian Province of Bangalore, represented Kerala’s huge population of 3.15 million internal migrants. “Young migrants face the challenge of adapting to a new culture, language and social system. The financial constraints, discrimination, cheating and theft they often experience can be truly overwhelming,” she said. At the same time, emigration has become an attractive option for young people seeking better economic prospects or fleeing difficult sociopolitical conditions, she added.

Deepak Tirkey, a young emigrant to Chennai, described the bad living conditions he experienced, living in a small room with 8-10 other working roommates and with inadequate sanitation, working for an increased number of hours, noting the gender discrimination in wages, the absence of educational facilities for the children of migrant workers and the denial of maternity benefits. “Although there are some support systems to help young migrants in their integration process, such as the KISMAT project in Kerala, the problems are big,” said Fr Ashok Kujur, Delegate for Social Communication of the New Delhi Province, in conclusion of the session on migrants.

The event also provided participants with a platform to propose potential solutions and strategies to address these challenges. Don Harris Pakkam, director of the ANS in Rome and responsible for the Social Communications sector in the South Asia region, said: “The voices we heard struck us and in some way also ‘disturbed’ us. How do we respond to their cries?”. He classified the four themes into two levels: migrants and unemployment on a social level, and digital and substance addiction on a personal level. To develop the right strategies to accompany young people in their vulnerable situations, some lines of action were therefore expressed to be discussed and ratified during the meeting of the Delegates for Social Communication.

At the end of the event, Fr Davis Maniparamben, Superior of the Province of New Delhi, presented certificates to the participants; then, a final moment of thanks to God closed the day.

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The society of St. Francis de Sales or Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB), is a religious Congregation founded by St. John Bosco in 1859 in Turin, Italy for the purpose of helping, educating and training poor boys. To date, services of the Salesians have spread to 131 countries in the world. In Sri Lanka, the very first Don Bosco Centre was established in 1956 at Negombo. The Salesians of Don Bosco have, to date established 18 centres in different parts of the country. 


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