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A study of the life and culture of the Indian teenager.This essay gives an overview of modern Indian teenagers and their relations to Religion, Education, Work, Sexuality, Sport, and others. The essay explores the changes that have occured in the cultural and social dynamics of India's teenagers, especially due to globalization and the liberalization of the Indian economy.
A study of the life and culture of the Indian teenager.This essay gives an overview of modern Indian teenagers and their relations to Religion, Education, Work, Sexuality, Sport, and others. The essay explores the changes that have occured in the cultural and social dynamics of India's teenagers, especially due to globalization and the liberalization of the Indian economy.

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Published by: Paul Babu Thundathil on Jun 16, 2009
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The Indian TeenagerThe lives of Indian teenagers reflect the ethnic, linguistic, religious, andcultural diversity of the country’s more than one billion people. Despite theliberalization of the Indian economy and society since the 1990s, traditionalvalues still exert their binding influence over the majority of its people,including teenagers. The proliferation of satellite television channels in all themajor languages of India, as well as in English, the widespread access to theInternet, and the increasing influence of Western culture – all these haveunleashed forces that have come into conflict with India’s 5,000-year-oldtradition, presenting peculiar and unique challenges to the Indian teenager.Attaining puberty (around the age of 13) marks the coming of age of Indianchildren and their entry into the teenage years. This event is celebrated invarious ways in different regions of the country. Puberty rites are conducted forgirls with elaborate rituals and feasts which may last up to 10 days. Upanayanam(the “sacred thread” ceremony) is conducted for boys who have come of age by thethree Hindu upper castes (Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Vysya). Celebrations are alsoheld for boys who attain puberty in some parts of the country, especially amonghigh caste and upper class Hindus.Teenagers in India generally finish high school at the age of 16. Teenagers frommiddle- and upper-class families usually pursue some kind of higher education.They rarely enter the job market before obtaining a degree or diploma. All theirfinancial needs, including pocket-money, are provided for by their parents, whosometimes support them even into adulthood. In lower-class families, however, manyteenagers, especially boys, work part-time along with their studies, earningaround 250 to 700 Indian rupees (US$ 6-16) per month. Teenagers from low-incomefamilies (many living in slums) most often drop out of school and work full timein menial jobs to support their families, generally earning around 1,200 to 2,500Indian rupees (US$30-60) per month.The institution of family holds supreme importance in Indian society. It isthrough the family that the age-old traditions and culture of India is transmittedto children. Many Indian teenagers still live in traditional Hindu joint familieswhere three generations live together and where teenagers constantly interact withparents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins. The joint family system hasbeen in decline during the last few decades and a large number of teenagers arenow members of nuclear families. Reverence for parents and other elders is thenorm among Indian teenagers. Most of the decisions regarding their education andlifestyle are taken by parents or other elders. This is more so in the case ofgirls who are constantly supervised and controlled, while teenage boys are givenrelatively more freedom.The influence of religion and spirituality is very profound in Indian society andculture. The teenagers of India belong to various religions, such as Hinduism(majority religion), Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism (all four originated in India);Islam (second largest Muslim population after Indonesia), Christianity,Zoroastrianism, and even Judaism as well as animism. Despite the existence of astrong secular movement, most teenagers of India are relatively devout and theyregularly flock to the various temples, mosques, churches, and many holy places,which can be found in every nook and corner of the country. Very few teenagerswould think of going to the opening of a school term or attending an examinationwithout offering their prayers and conducting some ritual at a place of religiousworship. The belief in astrology and auspicious times is very strong among Indianteenagers. Recent times have seen many Hindu gurus and sannyasins (religiousteachers and anchorites) catching the imagination of a large number of teenagerswho have become their willing followers. The various protestant denominations of
India as well as the Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church have been able towean many teenagers away from alcoholism, substance abuse, and unhealthy sexualactivity. An increasing number of Muslim teenage boys attend madrassas (Islamicschools) where they sometimes fall under the influence of radical Islamic ideas.The economic resurgence of India since 1990 (India has been classified as a“transforming” economy instead of a “developing” economy by the US StateDepartment) has wrought profound changes in the dynamics of teenage lifestyle. Theincreasing affluence of the middle- and upper-classes has provided Indianteenagers with various amenities including cell phones, satellite TV, access tothe Internet, as well as motorbikes and scooters. Going to the movies with parentsor friends is still the most important entertainment activity of teenagers inIndia, which is the largest film producer in the world. Indian movies, in variouslanguages, hold great sway over the imagination of teenagers, many of themimitating movie stars (who have an iconic status) in matters of fashion andbeauty. English movies have also become popular among teenagers, especially inurban areas. Watching satellite television, especially the plethora of musicchannels in various languages including English, has become a craze amongteenagers in recent times.The ubiquitous cell phone, found among a large number of Indian teenagers, hasredefined the leisure-time activity of boys and girls. ‘SMS-ing’ (instantmessaging) friends, boyfriends, or girlfriends is the latest fad among teenagers.Affluent teenagers frequently hang out at places like Pubs, discos, and rock barswhere they dance to Hindi film music or Western pop. Teenagers also hang out atshopping centers, multiplexes, pizza parlors, coffee pubs, Internet and video gameparlors, as well as beaches, parks, and temples. In the rural areas, aside fromthe occasional movie, attending the numerous festivals and participating in folkdances are the favorite leisure-time activity among teenagers.Indian teenagers participate in various kinds of sports as well as watch them ontelevision or at stadiums. Cricket is the most popular sport in India forteenagers as it is for adults. World-class cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar andRahul Dravid have iconic status among Indian teenagers, rivaling the popularity ofmovie stars. Field hockey, basketball, volleyball, and track and field are some ofthe other sports popular among teenagers. Teenagers often take part in inter-school and inter-collegiate sports competitions at the state and national levels.Indian society is still predominantly traditional and conservative, and dating andcourtship among teenagers is frowned upon and discouraged. However, dating isbecoming more common in metros and large cities. According to a survey, 35.5percent of teenage boys and 15 percent of teenage girls in the cities went ondates regularly. Most of the dating takes place without the knowledge of parentsor under the pretext of group socializing. Indian society strongly disapproves ofpre-marital sex, except in the Northeast, where people have a tolerant attitudetowards teenage sex. In most parts of the country, however, girls caught in sexualactivity particularly face heavy stigma from parents and society at large. Theadvent of satellite television and the Internet has been a liberating factor formany Indian teenagers, making them bold enough to engage in sexual activity. Theknowledge of teenagers regarding sex and its consequences is abysmally poor inIndia. Six of the 28 Indian states have initiated programs to impart sex educationto teenagers. This has, however, come under heavy fire from conservative elements,which regard such initiatives as degrading and opposed to Indian culture andvalues.Despite the great strides made by the Indian economy and society in recent times,about 300 million Indians still live below the poverty line. Teenagers from suchbackground sometimes face insuperable difficulties to their true fulfillment. Many

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