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India’s silent youth crisis: College-educated but poorer than a farm hand

Two-thirds of India’s unemployed youth are educated — a fraction which has doubled since 2000. As India votes, a question gnaws at its future: If education can’t get you a job, is it even worth it?

Ralegaon, India – Sometimes, Shivanand Sawale rues his choices and dreams.

Growing up in Dabhadi village in the Yavatmal district of western India’s Maharashtra state, the 42-year-old was so inspired by teachers around him that he wanted to become one himself.

He battled poverty, his father’s untimely death and his growing farm losses and turned that aspiration into a reality.

He is now among the most well-educated in his village: Sawale obtained a Master of Science and a Diploma in Education, a certificate degree meant for elementary-level school teachers.

Yet, he is often the butt of jokes among his friends. The reason? He makes less money than a landless labourer in the village. After working for 13 years in a private school, Sawale makes 7,500 rupees ($90) a month, or 250 rupees ($2.4) a day.

In the village, a day’s wage for farm labourers is anywhere between 300 and 400 rupees ($3.7-$4.7).

“My friends keep mocking me, saying [that] even uneducated workers at corner shops earn more than I do,” Sawale says.

The only consolation for Sawale is that he is not alone.

As India elects a new government, jobs have emerged as a key issue. A pre-poll survey by the New Delhi-based Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that rising unemployment was foremost on the minds of voters.

There are also many millions of Indians like Sawale who are underemployed and in pitifully low-paying jobs they are overqualified for. Their education, often, counts for little.

Instead, like Sawale, they face gnawing questions