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Report: What’s it like being a young man in urban India today?

Laayak | Gender Empowerment | Dec 5, 2022

Beneath the apparent privileges that boys enjoy, there is immense pressure to perform. The societal expectations are set for them, irrespective of economic background.

Men are an equal half of the societal dynamic. For behaviour to shift, we need to acknowledge the anxieties and motivations that propel actions. This understanding is relevant not just for the sake of our girls, but also for the development of boys.

The world of boys in urban India.

Life is defined by responsibilities. Investment in boys – education and wellbeing – is seen as an insurance for old age. Expectations are high and rising around securing stability, success, and status.

Ambition is important. But not at the cost of the family harmony. The world is theirs to explore. But it comes with the expectation of adhering to family values and loyalty.

There are all sorts of checks and balances to rein in the wildness of childhood. Young men are driven towards a few chosen professions, with proven results. Boys face intense competition, constant peer comparison, and physical punishment. All this is intended to make sure they don’t waver from the path of responsibility.

The scrutiny of society is designed to tame the transgression. It sets them on a path towards achievement–to make the man laayak, or worthy.

Men and their relationships.

Mothers are the nurturing life force for boys – the person they feel closest to in the family. She is the one who balances both – protecting him from the anger of the father and reinforcing patriarchal norms.

The father is the silent role model. He is a shadowy presence in the boy’s life, often out at work. The father’s absence reinforces the importance of duty-first. The interaction is limited. But the boy sees the lack of expression of emotion and internalizes it. Norms around masculinity are handed down to one more generation.

The most defining relationship is probably the one they share with their friends. As a part of the gang of boys they discover their identity. It shapes and reinforces their ‘masculinity’. Teasing, roughhousing and even bullying is the norm.

While these relationships imitate a pattern seen over decades, the relationship that is evolving is the one with the opposite sex. Boys are confused – some welcome the shift, while others are fearful of the modern, empowered woman. They are more educated, earn for themselves and have opinions. This is a new dynamic. They are still figuring out their role in the relationship with this new woman.

This study attempts to understand the world of boys – expectations, anxieties, and their role in relationships. Young men and women from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru participated in this study. The research involved eight online focus groups with participants from across the socio-economic spectrum.

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