The (5th) space pulls the youth in because it speaks to their stage of life – youth. Its like a garden that draws caterpillars by the droves. It offers them support as they struggle in their identity quests looking for the butterfly within. It does this not by preaching but through peer connection and group action. It does this by staying as close to reality as possible. It reveals life to the young person like it is – minus the faff and the fluff – showing them the thorns but the beauty, too.-an excerpt from ComMutiny – Sparking an Inside-out Youth Revolution
The media recently reported that the unemployment rate in India in 2017-18 was the highest it has been in 45 years. When we think of those who are unemployed, we often think of the young.
Introducing youth to the 5th space
Most of the discussion on young people’s needs in India focuses on livelihood. But there is more to a young person than just a job. Of course, a job assures roti, kapda and makaan (food, clothing and housing) but it does not necessarily guarantee a person’s freedom or happiness.
Every youth needs to fulfill not just their material needs but also their psychological and social needs. When any of these remain unfulfilled, it leads to frustration and at times, results in conflict that manifests itself in various forms. This is why there is a need for a new kind of discourse to address the psycho-social-economic needs of the young. That’s where the 5th space fits in.
In 2013, Pravah and ComMunity The Youth Collective brought out Ocean in a Drop, a book which explains the concept of the 5th space. The book argues that people become leaders when they find a space that enables them to lead. It introduces us to an empowering experimental space called the 5th space that lies beyond the usual four spaces of family, friends, education and leisure. It is not a physical space. It can be created anywhere. It is now an ongoing and successful experiment in 25 states of India.
5th spaces are exclusively designed for young people and based on unique values such as co-leading, refl-action (reflection followed by action), freason (reason and feelings), non-judgement and psycho-social transformation.
ComMutiny – Sparking an Inside-out Youth Revolution
Recently, ComMunity published ComMutiny – Sparking an Inside-out Youth Revolution, a how-to guide for the 5th space that carries forward the work of the previous book. It has been written by Mahamaya Navlakha and Arjun Shekhar.
Mahamaya Navlakha explains what makes this book different from other manuals on youth work. She says, “This is not a preachy book. It intends to create an experience for the readers where they get access to techniques that they can apply straight away and see the results.”
The story of Sambhav, a youth worker
Both youth workers and young leaders alike will feel drawn to ComMutiny. They are likely to find parts of their own selves in Sambhav, a 22-year old. Frustrated with the power dynamics at home, where his father rules with an iron first and pressured into continuously taking competitive exams, he finds his life empty of all possibilities. He secretly struggles with his biggest fear – something that stops him from being who he really is until he stumbles upon a special space called the 5th space.
At a workshop run by a youth organisation, Sambhav begins to rediscover hope by exploring his individual identity and that of humanity as a whole. Later in the story, he is forced to take up a call centre job due to his family’s dwindling finances. He eventually grows comfortable into corporate life only to realise he is just a pawn of the capitalist system.
Like many youth workers and leaders who started out by questioning society’s unrealistic expectations and rejecting its exacting standards, Sambhav too sets out on a journey. He dreams of a livelihood generating alternate space for young people in the hinterlands of India. With a supportive partner and a mentor by his side, he moves to a village in Maharashtra and sets up a BPO.
Sambhav tries to create a sustainable 5th space and often fails. He narrates his own story and shares the mistakes he makes and insights he gains in the process of adulting – graduating from college, looking for work, starting a BPO in a rural area and running the organisation like a 5th space despite several obstacles.
Unlike a typical manual on youth work, ComMutiny is a fictionalised “walkbook” – a handbook where Sambhav invites the reader to walk the talk along with him and get involved by simultaneously implementing new ideas on the ground. The book also provides a well-crafted framework full of tools and techniques that enable youth workers to navigate their everyday choices and struggles.
Dr. Brian Belton, a senior lecturer at YMCA George Williams College, London has also reviewed the book. He writes, “(It is)…a very interesting, engaging and accessible reflective guide to something that is much more than a way of working with young people. This book offers us a journey, where we are invited to take part in a narrative that any reader can relate to. We are made aware the capacity of humanity to discover itself and the human ability to ‘become’, not within a closed ‘end-game’ but as a realization that flourishing can be a perennial process.”
While working with youth, if you have struggled with tricky interpersonal relationships, questions of privilege and socio-economic barriers, the pros and cons of the capitalist system and the practicality of alternate ideologies, not only will you find this book very relatable but it will also answer your questions.
A book that helps you navigate youth work everyday
Written in a conversational and simple way, it not only tries to answer these questions but also introduces the reader to a variety of perspectives. This is evident in the discussions that happen between Sambhav and his boss Rebecca when they dissect the market economy or the exchange between Sambhav and his co-worker Smriti who brings up the issue of her feelings not being respected in the workplace.
Sambhav not only evolves in the book as a person who faces his fears and learns to embrace his identity but he also goes from being a frustrated college graduate to a compassionate leader in his organisation.
One of the most memorable parts of the book is Sambhav’s visit to the Socio Institute and is meeting with Father Jerry who runs the place. It gently reminds the reader that it is truly possible to have vibrant spaces owned and run by the young where freedom, love and respect are practiced. The Socio Institute is inspired by the real life Don Bosco Institute located in Jorhat, Assam.
ComMutiny is a book that you can read and re-read whenever you run into a roadblock in your youth work journey.
Youth across the world share the common struggle of finding a balanced way to take care of their emotional, social and financial needs. At its end, the book beautifully asserts that young people are not mere instruments for organisations or political groups. Inciting them to take up arms will not work. What will work is understanding, respecting and working towards all their needs – psychological, social and economic – to enable them to become well-rounded individuals, who form strong collectives devoted to social renewal.
ComMutiny – The Youth Collective is a coalition of 35 (& rising) youth-led and youth-engaging organisations across India working towards promoting empowering spaces for youth leadership. ComMutiny aims to be one of the key youth workers’ associations in India.