The wheel of democracy will turn, and a new government will take charge at India’s centre in 2019. But that will not be the biggest, nor the most tantalising change in the life of the nation in the new year. For that, look beyond who wins and who loses the power to rule from New Delhi. Pay heed, instead, to the irreversible forces that are transforming the rhythms of the fluid, unbounded entity called India from below. These changes, these forces, may or may not be reflected in the political domain — yet. But they cannot be denied, they are there. And politics and government will have to inevitably turn their face to them and acknowledge them, and be shaped by them, tomorrow if not today. They ignore them at their own peril.
Women hold up half the sky, and more. But they still bump against glass ceilings everywhere, in India as elsewhere. Yet there were special stirrings in the last year. The MeToo movement gathered critical force in India, a cabinet minister was left with no option but to resign after charges of sexually predatory behaviour at the workplace were made against him by a number of his former colleagues who were women. The ferment it set off may appear to have subsided. But misogyny-as-usual has been called out and put on notice in the workplace, things cannot go back to being the same. Five years ago, in 2014, the gender gap between male and female turnouts shrank to an all-time low in the national elections — in several states, female turnouts have been surpassing those of men. If turnouts are an indicator of a coming of age, 2014 was also the year when another tumult at the bottom announced itself: It is estimated that the youth turnout exceeded the general turnout for the first time in that year’s Lok Sabha election. About 133 million young adults will vote for the first time in 2019. To be sure, the women and the young are no monoliths, they are categories that are immensely diverse and layered within. But at the very least, the young carry less baggage of the past and women bring in new ways of seeing — certainly, both will need to be heard. Our two editorial pages on the first day of 2019 make an attempt to respond to the moment that is already with us — we feature only women writers today.
The inescapable force of technology is also altering all that it touches, and it is hastening the pace of change. But even as it emboldens and empowers voices that were earlier denied a hearing, a danger lurks, there is an underside: The new ways of communication may be becoming the message. In the new year and beyond, ways will have to be found to reassert control, to protect meaning and the narrative from being overtaken or led astray by the medium. Or, to find new ways of saying. And therefore, new ways of listening. That is the new challenge for a new year — for the people and for those they elect.