Identity Crisis in Pakistani Youth

American Born Confused Desi (ABCD) and British Born Confused Desi (BBCD) have gained popularity since 1980s and 1990s. Diaspora of Pakistani origin settled in Europe and the States was facing a challenge of unprecedented level of ‘identity crisis of their children born in foreign adopted homes’. There was a sense of alienation and non-belonging both to the lands they were born in, or, the homelands left behind. Religious and cultural pulls of adopted land dictated terms of integration and assimilation, in contrast to religious and cultural norms in the homes of these generations. It was even more conspicuous where eastern values were in direct contact with western values. Hence, in the absence of educational advantage and economic prosperity, surrendering to foreign culture became the norm. It is in this cultural mesh that Mohammad became Mo, Easa became Ess, Ayesha became Ash and Ghazanfar Ali Khan became GAK. The mesh did not stop here; looking similar to prevalent culture was the next task. Attire took a new look and differentiating bunny from a rabbit became difficult. This bunny was now eating canned beans and fish and chips. The result was a new generation lost in the wilderness of identity desert, having no roots of their own on foreign soils. “Diaspora literature of this period is reflective of a predicament of a lost home, a blurred identity, and a confused sense of direction and they need to negotiate a better connect with their past, present and future,” Philip Larkin writes in Pakistan Today. This disenchantment of ABCD and BBCD generations raises the spectre of ‘identity crisis’ among the Pakistani-origin youth. 
However, identity crisis in the world of today is not limited to those who go to foreign lands. As the world has become more connected and globalization has taken over, youth sitting in the comfort of their homes in their native land are succumbing to a new kind of identity crisis.
For Pakistani Born Confused Desi (PBCD), identity crisis dilemmas are multifaceted and multilayered. They stem from economic and politico-ideological failure of a coherent state policy on a few fundamental subjects like uniformity of education system, health benefits, adopting of national language as means and medium of instruction at all educational levels, nepotism and favoritism in acquiring state jobs, killing of merit across the board for youth with less favourable backgrounds or belonging to less developed provinces and areas, ever-increasing inequality of resources between urban and rural areas and distribution of state resources, economic disparity along the ethnic and provincial lines and preference to western influences in literature, media, English press instead of vernacular press, indigenous and homogenous local ideals and folklores, spiritual-historical common ground, scholarship of local scholars as well as disparity in even sports facilities across urban/rural divide. Class divide is also a well-documented factor in burgeoning identity crisis among the Pakistani youth.
Pakistan, unfortunately right after its nascent birth, was pushed into western circle of influence by political compulsions, disregarding other eastern influencers present in the neighborhood. The result was materialism of capitalism, which has taken over the imagination of our youth. This has weakened our core values as a nation with each pillar of the state working on its segmented interests instead of collective interest of the nation. Religious, family and moral values have taken a brow beat from an onslaught of liberalism of a capitalist economy. Hence, today, Atheism is a living and present reality in the youth of the country. Increasingly, youth are disengaging themselves from their religious identity and gravitating towards liberal values of irreligion and Agnosticism. Freethinkers and freewill has misguided them and political/religious debate among global citizens has become a tool of disenchantment, used not only on social media but also in educational institutions navigating the intricacies of these subtle ‘high ideals’.
Technological advances of modern times coupled with an individual disenchantment with social justice and elitist privileges in a society like ours has confused the young minds with religious rigidity and conformity. This sometimes compels the youth to take extreme measure of disowning religious identity and ally themselves with liberal anti-state ideals. The irony is that the government recognizes the impact of ‘religious radicalization’ as its proponents are western powers but is unaware of the harm ‘liberal radicalization’ inflicts to its interests. Except for banning of social media accounts of atheists and agnostics, no state policy or legal framework exists on how to tackle the growing trend of Atheism in youth. The need of the hour is to start monitoring the hotbeds of such alien concepts at grassroots level instead of cosmetic lip service.
Sixty-four percent of the approximately 220 million population of Pakistan is below the age of 30, while 29% of that is between the ages of 15 and 29 years. It is one of the youngest countries in the world right now and this trend is estimated to grow until 2050. This youth bulge is a determining factor for the future of Pakistan.
Mobile phone subscribers as of May 2019, stands at 161.8 million, of which 73 million are broadband subscribers according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). 58% of the population that is aged 18-29 owns a cell phone according to a daily DAWN report on April 10, 2015. It is no wonder that mobile addiction is rampant. It is playing havoc with focus, concentration and willpower of its users. According to a limited research carried out by Pakistani anthropologists, most of the users have emotionally unstable relationship with their mobile phone causing stress, distress, impulsiveness, restlessness, insomnia, anger, sense of losing touch with reality because of living in a cyber bubble, decision making skills, especially while driving, distraction caused by higher levels of GABA — a neurotransmitter in the cortex of brain that inhibits neurons and higher levels of frustration and isolation. Many of them cannot hold public conversation because of long solitude and fewer social interactions within homes and outside. Competition to excel in academics is replaced by an overriding desire to have the latest mobile phone, so they stand out from the rest. Mobile phones are increasingly seen as a status symbol instead of just a gadget and are an addiction closely intertwined with social media addiction the world over with Pakistani youth being no exception. Drug experimentation because of being exposed to places and mafias through social networking sites is also a side effect of identity crisis in the youth, which feels the pressure to fit in their social circles.
According to Dr. Najam Adil, author of UNDP report, Unleashing the Potential of a Young Pakistan, the least Pakistani government can do for its youth bulge is to invest in them. The report’s primary focus is to identify drivers of youth empowerment, known as 3Es — quality education, gainful employment and meaningful engagement. Unless this issue is addressed and necessary steps taken, instead of making use of its youth bulge, Pakistan will be dealing with disenfranchised youth looking to find its place in the world. HH

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