Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Is India a better place to bring up kids?

This is a serious dilemma that many parents face while living abroad. Many of them site that as the main reason to go back to India and settle there. They think prevailing situation and surrounding conditions in India will allow their kids to learn “Indian culture”. The dilemma mainly raises two questions. First, what do we mean by “bringing up”. Secondly, what do we mean by “Indian Culture” that many of us are so desperate to teach that to their kids?

To me bringing up implies to help the kid to become a better and total human being. Formal education is only a part of that. But the main aspect is learned from parents, society and surrounding environment.

The pressure to succeed there in India is so high that our own parents want us to prosper in every aspect of life. They forcefully impose almost all of their unfulfilled desires on those kids. In India today, we hardly behave in a honest, rational way. Our present society does not support honesty, as a virtue but consider it as a 'drag' force to become 'successful'. We teach our kids the same in the name of reality.

We see good number of kids going to school with heavy load of books and return home to do huge home-work. After coming back from the school they go to music class, then swimming, then home work and so on… They are too busy to spend time with parents. Very limited free time they get, they prefer to spend with TV and/or video games. Kids in the past used to read comic or other books or listening fairy tales from grandparents. This change in habit reduces their ability to imagine, to think 'unthinkable'.

Parents themselves cannot afford to remain honest and straightforward in present Indian society. They hardly can protect their own dignity, be it in the office or in a housing society or neighborhood, if they try to behave honestly, if they oppose corruptions and so on. Kids grow up with a distorted vision about life and "reality". They learn to accept corruption, not to oppose it in the name of “practical sense”. Money becomes almost the sole purpose of life. Accumulation of money and power start becoming the only yardstick to judge “success”. I agree that it's almost a global problem; but in India, it already has taken the dimension of an epidemic. Globalization is making it worse. We are loosing our good values fast while adopting cheap and easily imitable negative aspects of western culture.

In India, we learn that we can get away with almost any crime, "believers" may say "sin", by bribing even God, leave alone government officials and bureaucrats. Many of us feel that observing some bratas and offering costly items to God is sufficient to continue doing crimes and overcome our own limitations, e.g. failure to become rich, failure to pass exams, inability to find suitable spouse and so on. When we see highly visible but utterly corrupt people (e.g. well known political leaders, film actors, industrialists etc) offer huge money and expensive jewelry in the famous temples like that in Tirupati and media loudly advertise & praise it, then we need to acknowledge there is a serious problem with the society.

Our highly 'educated' and religious parents teach their kids not to help any other kid in the school or neighborhood. 'Little' cheating is acceptable to score higher marks n the exams or credit that s/he does not deserve. Kids start learning that showing off (money, power, degree etc.) is the best policy to hide any form of deficiencies or inabilities. From the beginning of their lives they learn that admitting fault and ignorance is a serious crime. It does not surprise me when most of the Indians always try to shift responsibilities and blame others or the 'system'. It not only deprives them from knowing the right thing but also expose their lack of  education.

Many parents blindly follow some rituals in the name of 'tradition' or 'religion' which they cannot explain to their curious kids. They take help of phrases like “you should not question when elders ask you to do something” or "you will know when you grow old". It not only hurt kid's psychology but also trains him/her to loose his/her ability to think independently and ask questions. It has severe consequences both for the kid and the nation. We see the same trend in homes, societies, schools, universities and offices. As a result India now produces mainly technician grade professionals who can walk only through the roads invented and developed by others. We can not make basic computer software like C++ or JAVA or operating systems like Windows or Linux, despite of being the global “power house” in IT. Our much-hyped biotechnology sector can only boast to produce generic drugs (patent expired drugs) and copying products by stealing/breaking patent laws of other countries, sometimes using the loopholes of Indian patent law. Published articles show that the quality of science and research in India is going down fast, despite of huge increase in fund allocation. India now mainly supplies scientific/technical coolies worldwide and due to lack of interest in science education and research among students in  developed countries, Indian techie/science coolies survive & thrive there.

Many studies showed that kids need to play in natural surroundings with bushes, ponds, forest etc. to have a healthy body and mind. But today Indian kids in cities and smaller towns hardly have anything else to do but to waste time in front of TV or video games. It’s almost impossible for kids to play & explore nature, even if their parents want. Land sharks and unplanned growth reduced that probability to a very worrying level. Running after money and busy schedule of parents prevent them from spending time with their kids. Many of them wrongly think money can buy 'education', 'culture' and even happiness. They can not differentiate between scoring high marks and buying degrees with education. This is a very pervasive disease in Indian society today. 

It’s not surprising at all when kids grow up and kick out their old parents. Such parents must not blame the 'system' or write songs, poems on old-age homes. They are responsible for their own fate and fate of the country. For many people, bringing up means enabling kids to earn money and survive with reasonable personal comfort. India is surely the place where they can get a cheap and effective training (I am avoiding the term “education” here) to do just that. But others, who still believe that bringing up means infusing a positive value and a dream to make this world better place, need to think many times before opting for an option to bring up their beloved children in India.

If the child is a girl, then it becomes more problematic. In India, we hardly allow a girl child to develop properly, with an analytical mind and a strong body. We kill most of her qualities (as a human being) in the very beginning and allow her to grow only as a 'girl', playing with dolls, tolerating sexual harassments and bullying by the society and even by the members in her own family. 'Ladki jaisa' (like girls) is a very insulting slang frequently used by parents, even by moms and, most pathetically, even in front of the girl child.

Here in the western world, there is a higher chance that the kid will do something they enjoy. They will not be forced to study medicine or engineering or science when they love journalism or cooking or singing or studying philosophy. There is a higher chance that s/he will love what s/he does and the probability to excel in that field is higher. The probability of the girl child to blossom into a woman with stronger body and logical mind is much higher in a western society as compared to India.

If the kid cannot read Rabindra Nath Tagore, cannot enjoy Durga Puja, can not eat hilsa fish, but enjoy reading Rohl Dahl, sign Celine Dion, enjoy rib-eye steaks, but is a good and honest human being who dream to make this world a better place, I’ll be proud of such kids, despite of being a proud Indian and Bengali myself.

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