Friday, June 29, 2007

Bad Parenting- Insensitivity and Indecency

The more I think about it the more I believe that the state of India – and all its ills are due to one single reason- bad parenting. It’s not the population; it’s not the economy; it’s not poverty and its not bad politicians either. I think it is everything to do with bad parenting. Unnecessarily concentrating on wrong values- such as non eating of meat, not smoking, not drinking alcohol, not visiting a prostitute, not watching erotic art, the Indian parents are losing out on the big picture on the essential and universal values- being a good citizen- to be paying taxes honestly, to be decent to others, to be civil and polite and courteous, to be taking responsibility about his environs, to keep his street clean, not to be corrupt, not to be dishonest.

Do you ever wonder why Indians are indecent to each other and why they throw garbage everywhere?

Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen has given us an unnecessary license to hush up all criticism that points at our lack of introspection. His thesis is used by all and sundry to tell us, ‘Look! We have always been an open society; we have always discussed our issues’. Thereby we believe that we have always pointed out our negatives when needed. Yes, it was a first good step, but what we did after we discussed and debated for hours is a complete mystery. Now, I want to point out two things that we almost never discuss- either during parenting or at a cocktail party or in a serious debate on Indian media- a massive desensitization program that is ongoing; and a program to make indecency a virtue.


You know how some western countries debate their homegrown desensitization towards violence and how it affects its youth! In India, we never discuss or debate our own homegrown desensitization towards our civic amenities- our garbage filled roads, child-beggar laden streets, handicapped on pavements, trash filled gardens and hill stations, plastic filled fields, streams and lakes. Instead, we blame everything on the politicians. We don’t seem to own up our problem (that we are insensitive). We don’t even want to admit that such a problem exists. Those who point out the problem (like me) are asked to shut up, and to take the next plane abroad. Such critics (like me) are called a traitor or termed an ‘arrogant one with lot of attitude’.

On a daily basis, we are allowing our kids to become desensitized towards all our civic responsibilities. When I wrote an article on how I see ugliness everywhere, people commented that I should try to look for beauty in spite of all that superficial ugliness. When I went to Nandi Hills and commented on garbage filled hills, I was told to look beyond and enjoy the view rather than get affected by the garbage lying around. There is this amazing sense of apathy in action here- which is nothing more than being highly insensitive. We DO NOT teach our kids where trash should go, but instead we do set examples on what to do with it – Dad throwing away the used packet on the street, Mom throwing trash outside the window without even looking, Uncle spitting right there on the street, etc. These examples are good enough for this kid to do the same. With added pride that he gets, compared to his parents because of better schooling, this kid also learns the art of rationalizing these actions. He explains them away:

‘Everybody does it, Live like a Roman in Rome!’
‘Someone will come along to sweep this up! Don’t worry! That’s why we pay our taxes!’
‘Look! This is just a drop in the ocean. First, clean up the ocean, then I will do my part!’
‘Don’t preach! Let’s see what difference your attitude makes’
‘Who are you to teach us? Have you seen the streets of

The new age parents spend lot of money to send their kids to top schools. I heard a radio advertisement where this international school actually sends the kids abroad as part of their education, where they spend time abroad learning. Wow! I thought. I mean which schools on the planet actually include a kid’s junket to a foreign nation? While we continue to spend exorbitantly and unnecessarily on one side, we don’t take time to teach our kids what they need to do with the trash.

I still remember one incident that took place few years ago, when I was living in US. I was at a movie hall waiting for the next movie. A kid aged 2, I guess, walked up slowly to a trash can and put his paper cup and walked back to his Dad. But this paper cup actually fell outside after few seconds. The Dad made the kid go back and put the paper cup back into the trash can. The kid did exactly as instructed. Then the Dad hugged the kid and they left the place.

Right there, in front my eyes, I saw a parent teaching his kid what to do with his trash. And to give a counter example, I have witnessed an incident in India, where a kid was reluctant to throw trash out of a moving train, but his mom reprimanded him; after which the kid’s resistance became zero and he just complied. Teachers, parents, uncles and aunts, friends, and everyone around are teaching this Indian kid to get desensitized to the filth and trash surrounding him. In fact, they are teaching him to throw more trash into the same pile of garbage.

I live in Bangalore. I see trash and filth everywhere. I don’t think this is a Garden city, I prefer calling it a Garbage city – some people get offended when I call this Garbage city. For those who fail to notice this garbage, kudos to them. They are utterly desensitized. Many people tell me that since I am living in India now, I should get used to it and be a part of the flow. I tell myself, ‘I am not going to be one of you. I will fight tooth and nail and go down fighting, but I won’t become one of you. And I won’t make my kids one of you’. What use is my education, what use is my intellect, what use is my rationality as a human being, if I can’t put it to right use?


You know why Indians are not decent to each other? It’s because decency is synonymous with the meek, the weak, and the helpless. In India, the actions of those who are meek and those who are decent are apparently the same. Let me clarify.

A meek person waits for the traffic to clear up before he enters the main street, only because he is afraid. A decent person waits for the traffic to clear up before he enters the main street, only because he thinks it is a decent and right thing to do.

A meek person stands in line to get his ticket, because he fears someone might scold him or bash him up if he cuts the line. A decent person stands in line to get his ticket, because he thinks it is a decent and right thing to do.

There are many examples, starting from how kids behave at school all the way to college and beyond into adult and corporate life and then into retirement, which suggest that a meek person and a decent person apparently acts almost the same way, though for different underlying reasons.

Therefore, Indians have grown up not differentiating the two, and instead, conveniently clubbed both these into one- 'the meek, the weak, and the helpless'. Nobody wants to be seen as meek, the weak and the helpless. They want to be seen as strong, assertive and aggressive. Therefore, we end up doing those actions which suggest these desired qualities in us.

A person who doesn’t wait at traffic and instead juts in causing lot of inconvenience to others is seen as aggressive and ‘smart’. He is paid handsomely for this aggressive posture because he gets away with it, seen by others as a great example. When you wait at traffic, you are actually told not to wait, and that it is the Indian way to jut through irrespective of how much inconvenient it is to others. You are told that you will end up waiting there forever (which according to them is losing out).

The parents teach the kid (by setting the wrong examples) to become more aggressive, be more dishonest, be more corrupt, to cut the line, to bend the traffic rule, all in the great Indian game of ‘getting ahead’. They rationalize all this as ‘getting ahead in a rat race’. ‘Hey, do you want my kid to stay behind? No way! I am teaching all the skills he needs to win this race’, is their usual response when asked why they prefer their kid to be an aggressive go-getter ‘using all that it takes to get there’ instead of being a decent human who respects others, is more concerned about his environs, and is an honest tax-payer.

We have made this ‘aggressiveness with utter disregard for politeness and courtesy’ a virtue in India. Crossing the traffic light when it is red is a virtue. Bribing your way to get your passport earlier than others is a virtue. Getting the best deal by paying off some corrupt official is a virtue. In this game, the person who knows where the corrupt official is a well-informed person and his advice is sought after. The person who knows an honest official is of no use to anyone. When one homeowner breaks all the norms and rules to build his home such that he occupies more land than he is supposed to, he is seen by others as an accomplished individual. Many come to him to seek his advice and know how they too can flout the rules in the same manner. When IT officials raid a rich man, that rich man becomes highly sought after for business deals or marriage proposals (to his son/daughter).

In India, throwing garbage on the street is a cool thing. It shows that you have a cool attitude. It shows you don’t care. If you are aggressive on a road, and don’t yield, it’s a cool thing. It shows you don’t care a damn. These are all cool things as a growing teen in almost any society on this planet. However, those societies tend to shed that cool attitude and take on a mature and responsible attitude as they grow up, which is quite missing in the Indian context. We never seem to grow up from our adolescence.

Through our bad parenting, which sets wrong examples, we have institutionalized insensitivity and indecency and made them virtues. Please don’t blame the politicians. They are just the symptom, not the cause.


  1. Yes, this is something that I have observed too....people think they will be considered meek or weak if the follow traffic signals, do not honk or if they follow traffic rules.....damn, think we should be taught more moral science or civic sense in school...

  2. Great post! I am sure that had been insensitive and pushy often, but I am trying to fix myself. Thanks for the reminder.

    I recently witnessed a shocking instance of bad parenting which left a scar on my mind. We - me and my better half - were shopping at The Forum mall in Bangalore and we noticed a family outside the Fabmall store. There was this gentleman & lady in their late twenties or early thirties. The had a boy of maybe 5 years and a younger baby of maybe 2. A small maid girl of maybe 10 years was in tow. The maid girl had the younger baby on her hip. Both kids had ice cream cones in their hands. The mother was coaxing the younger baby to eat the ice cream; and even took a couple of licks from the cone in the younger ones hand. Remember, the maid girl who was holding the baby on her small hip had no ice cream.

    I felt very bad for the maid girl. But I felt bad for the parenting experience the young boy was getting. There were three kids with his mom - and she chose to buy ice creams for just two of them. I won't be surprised if when he grows up he will find his old parents an inconvenience.

  3. Sujai

    I admire your courage - to go back to India and fight for decency as a value while there. I have given up. I am a coward. I do not have it in me to come back to India and fight it all - the corruption, the road bully, the queue bully, the garbage, the discrimination based on 100 different grounds etc. I have given up. Totally. I am not returning to India. A few more years of this despondency and I will be giving up my citizenship and staying abroad.

  4. Great post! Good parenting is needed not just in India but in the whole world.

    BTW, Have you heard about Goonj? ( Go get involved! One man's garbage is another man's Gold.

  5. A movie recommendation "Dead Poets Society" , in which a father is desperate for his adolescent son, Neil Perry, to pursue one course and one course only in his life: a career in medicine.

    This shows it is not just "idiotic Indians" :). Good parenting is needed EVERYWHERE.

    The father's desperation is such that, driven by disappointments or fears in his own life, he overlooks the personality, talents, and deepest desires of his only child, who wants to be an actor. Neil cannot bear to tell his dictatorial father that he has excelled as Puck in a prep school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. When the father threatens to pull Neil out of school and acting and threatens military school, the boy commits suicide.

  6. good post...thank god am not one of them[not an exaggeration].....

  7. It's indeed a great post and it's my pleasure to go through this post.

  8. This is a great post Sujai. I appreciate it. I was a victim similar to the kid on the train. But thank god my civic sense prevailed over me than my mom... may be because, I was a little bit older...

  9. Wow, Great post. It has always, always appaled me as to why indians were so clean in thier homes but didnt think twice before chucking thier trash on the road?
    A few years ago I was visiting niagara Falls and there were a group of Indian guys who probably were pretty fresh off the boat,we were enjoying the beauty and power of the falls and of nature, in our provided raincoats. All of a sudden one of the guys took his raincoat and flung it into the water. I watched, aghast in horror and shame. Needless to say security showed up in a minute and whisked him off!! Indians sit and argue about what a great country we are blah..blah..when more than half of the indians do not have access to clean drinking water in the 21st century!!! Dont even get me started on child labour and abuse. Parents emphasize on education and becoming a professional and no sense of pride or ownership or civic duty...Shame.

  10. Sujai,
    Whenever we dig farther, i see that we(indians) have been very productive in the population aspect and somehow all the things we complain of points out towards the over population.

    With time, this issue or pressurising children becomes cyclic (egg of chicken story).


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