The times they are a-changin'

In 1964 legendary songwriter and Nobel laureate Bob Dylan was just 22 when he wrote a protest song ‘the times they are a-changin’ that became an anthem for thousands of frustrated, jobless and socially excluded youths worldwide. Over decades, youths have learnt the art to organise themselves in groups and have shown courage, creativity and thoughtfulness to lodge their protest in public.

Manthan (meaning churning in Hindi) Youth Group has a deeper relevance for the youths of Bageshwar, a small town of odd 10,000 people in the upper reaches of Himalayan state Uttarakhand. It was for this group that Himanshu (17) could experiment to become a playwright – for the first time. It was also the first for his friend Mayank Puna to choreograph a dance on freedom to practice any profession. In fact, this group became the reason for the 16-year-olds Monica Khulbe and Simran to pen beautiful lyrics of a protest song on gender discrimination.

The times they are a-changin'Seventeen-year-old Himanshu Pandey (boy without glasses) does not know who Bob Dylan is, but he explains the functioning of his youth group activism, as a teenager would explain in his terms. “We want to change the public perception of young people from being “the problem” to making life prosperous in the community. The adults will never listen to us until we seek their attention through street plays, protest songs and dances. We want to tell them that we too have a voice. By being creative, we the youth, get our message through and influence our society,” he says.

Youth groups provide young people a forum to fully, effectively deal with burning issues that are especially important to them and their future. It becomes a safe space where they seek to have dialogue with the adults and build upon their leadership skills.

Set-up in September 2019, the youth group Manthan initiated by IM’s partner The Himalaya Trust (THT) has already performed across many villages advocating against gender discrimination, child marriage, migration, unemployment, drug addiction and lack of development opportunities.

“The youth in our area do not have equal opportunities. A large number of youth, mostly men, out migrate from the state. There is no one to guide us. The ones left behind are doing drugs. Girls here face a lot of discrimination at home and outside. They are forced to marry at an early stage and they are not allowed to speak her opinion on it. This needs to change. Us coming together, the group represents change,” says a well-aware Himanshu.

With little support from parents, the girls have to bear a much harder time. Monica (16) is working on a song for her next performance that explicitly speaks about parents and society discriminating girls over boys. She murmurs within herself: “Hhmmm….what rhymes with equal opportunity or no opportunity at all.”

“My parents disapprove that I should pursue singing and want me to settle for government jobs. They even rejected the idea of me joining the Manthan group. I convinced them that I will come home before dusk and that I will not do anything to break their trust. I wouldn’t have had problem if I were a boy. It is even a problem for girls to interact with boys. As girls, we feel discriminated. But it is only us who can change their perception,” says a timid but vocal Monica.

With each passing day, lobbying for a better future but not just in a “plain boring way” – By the youth to empower more youth.