Uttar Pradesh Speaks: Youth who moved out of the state have no incentive to return

Opportunities were limited but available to everybody in Uttar Pradesh; some cities like Lucknow were great to grow up in. But now it is so toxic that there is no incentive for youth to return

Anti-CAA protests in Lucknow
Anti-CAA protests in Lucknow

Asra Naaz Siddiqui

Steeped in culture, history and tradition, growing up in Uttar Pradesh was like a dream, the best of times. But things have changed over the past few years and the nature of politics has taken a turn for the worse. Did our parents face Islamophobia, rabid casteism or gender discrimination to the extent that we see now? Our generation and the next unfortunately are taking discrimination, religious bigotry, violence and lynching as part of life.

But not all changes have been dismal or depressing. Our generation is speaking up about things that were ignored for a long time. Who would have thought that a ‘Pride Parade’ could be organised in conservative Lucknow? People did take to the streets to fight against CAA and NRC; they did stand up against the government at the cost of being sent to jail. People were ready to embrace police brutalities and indignities heaped on them as a result of their actions against the government.

An increasing number of youngsters, you will find, are opting to report from the ground. They are embracing new technology, flooding social media with their concerns and footage of what they see. YouTube channels are mushrooming as youth are anxious to show you the mirror, the reality on the ground, utilise whatever resources they have and voice concerns of the people. This generation should be proud.

But when I graduated just seven years ago, there was a serious lack of opportunities in the social sector. As someone who always wanted to bring about change in society, not too many innovative ideas were being explored in the state, I realised. I tried looking for work and for people to guide me but was disappointed, and so I moved out of the state for post-graduation.

But it’s not just people who aspired to work in the social sector who decided to move out. Uttar Pradesh has focused and invested so much on its politics over a long period of time, that educational reforms got sidelined. Students who wanted to explore new areas, higher studies, enrich themselves left their hometowns for metropolitan cities. And frankly, I’m not even sure if I’d like to return to Lucknow now, especially for work.

Moving out of the state, I confess, opened up career, growth and learning experiences for me. I am sure many others also feel the similar way and would think twice before returning.

Uttar Pradesh still needs change but it’s not ready to acknowledge that. It needs more NGOs working for real issues, but the government doesn’t invite or even seek suggestions from any NGO or experts. The NGO sector like several other sectors has been stifled for politics. As a young Muslim woman too,I have little incentive to return and bear with daily abuses, insult and unfair criticism. For us, Uttar Pradesh is toxic.

But I confess I see a silver lining. People I went to college with and mentors when we were young, have begun to acknowledge these issues. They are more open to rational and reasoned discussion and are groping for solutions.

There is no escaping politics in UP; and today, more than ever, the youth need to choose their political representatives wisely. They need to stop carrying the baggage of caste and religious discrimination. Who needs to hear political speeches in the middle of the pandemic, joblessness, violence and hatred?

Today Uttar Pradesh needs a government which can prioritise healthcare facilities, a system in which the underprivileged sections too get proper and basic medical facilities, a system in which people don’t lose their lives because oxygen cylinders didn’t reach them on time.

We need much more educational resources, awareness, job opportunities. But what we see are jobs facilitated by political parties, jobs which ensure neither growth nor stability. On the other hand these jobs promote trolling, hatred, discrimination, violence and abuse, rape and even murder.

Politics in Uttar Pradesh has always been murky and controversial. But if politicians cannot change and bring people together, the state will languish and will keep wallowing in the sordid mess. Sadly, I don’t think politicians in Uttar Pradesh have ever learnt anything from its past. But while politicians keep having the last laugh, people are the ones who repent at their leisure.

(As told to Garima Sadhwani)

(Asra Naaz Siddiqui grew up in Lucknow and now works with a Delhi-based NGO) (Views are personal)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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