At Dakshina Kannada, close to 38,000 first time voters are registered this time around. This group of millennials comprise 2% of the 17 lakh voters in the district. The district is also known for being the educational hub of the state – lakhs of students from Karnataka, the rest of India, and even from abroad come here to get their degrees.
But despite acing the field of education and having a critical mass of youth, the district has a peculiar problem: It is unable to retain talent, as job opportunities are few, and incidents of communalism and moral policing, are many.
So what are students thinking about on the eve of the keenly watched state elections in Karnataka, in a district that has failed to prove lucrative for employers?
"There is limited opportunity here in the fields of IT, Engineering, Law, Medicine or anything with formal education. The government has failed to create job opportunities and failed to utilise the pool of talent. Definitely, I will consider moving outside Mangaluru or even abroad after my education," Ashwin, an undergraduate student says.
Another student, Atul Pai, adds that the pay-perks are better in nearby cities. "Government is only promising jobs but has not delivered on its assurance, otherwise who would not like to work and stay close to family?" he asks.
Several youngsters said that though in recent times the law and order scenario looks relatively stable, the government is neglecting the culture of violence that is being spread in the district. "The fringe elements give communally rhetorical statements, and a lot of youngsters are attracted by these roadside heroes. This is rowdyism in a different form. The district administration simply detains and warns them, which has no effect on them, as once out, they get back to their old self," Ajit Shenoy, a 19-year old shop attendant says.
Many feel that the district administration is quite unclear on how to act against communal instigators. Vigilante groups, they say, are now online, and continue to target victims on social media.
"There have been several instances of communal vigilante groups issuing threats, stalking youngsters and later hurling abuses or slandering them online. But the IT law is toothless, it does not even have a deterrence effect on these perpetrators," Madhuri, a student, said.
These concerns stem from different incidents in the district, where men and women from different communities, if seen together, become walking targets for communal elements. In many cases, couples have been surrounded by a large group of people and publicly humiliated.
In many cases - the vigilantes themselves have had the audacity to take such couples to the police claiming ‘moral-indecency.’ "The police, instead of acting against the perpetrators, warn the couple, summon and rebuke their parents and pacify the vigilante mobs at the station, which makes these vigilante groups feel some kind of validation," a youngster not wishing to be named said.
The party in power does not make any difference to maintain law and order, according to 20-year-old student Neel. All parties are the same, no matter who is in power, he feels. "When some incident takes place, the ruling and the opposition play a blamegame, divert people's attention. Under a particular regime, the police may file a case, under certain they may not, then it’s all over," he adds.
"But what’s the point? The stigma the victim faces has been triggered. How do you compensate their fear or loss of safety," 19-year old Anand argues.
With a wide variety of multiplexes, restaurants, and pubs, Mangaluru is turning out to be a metro-city in itself, the younger generation feels that they want to vote for a party that promises to bring less fear among the youth and more opportunity, which unfortunately finds no torch bearer either in the form of a candidate or a party, the youngsters rue.
"For starters, instead of cramming up jobs and industries in Bengaluru, it would be great if the state and Central government diversify some opportunity here. Subsequently, with people from different backgrounds merging in the region, the city may also broaden its views and perspectives, and eventually a balanced sense of security and social-order might prevail," Namratha says.
Story by Story Infinity (Subs and Scribes Media Ventures LLP.)