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The Indian Parental Code

The Indian Parental Code

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The Parent Code

This narrative reflects on the traditional Indian parental code, exploring the use of corporal punishment and the cultural norms surrounding discipline. The author Dr. Puja Banerjee Barua juxtaposes her upbringing with contemporary parenting trends, contemplating the impact of authoritarian practices on children’s development and the evolving understanding of parental authority.

Don’t talk back. No looking in the eye. Absolutely no swear words. No questioning….and no answering back as well! No one asked for your opinion(s)! Wear this, eat that, sit this way, walk like that…no, you certainly cannot colour your hair! Oil and shampoo… that’s all! More ear piercings? Too smart for your own good, are you?! Waxing/ shaving / epilating unwanted body hair? Threading/plucking eyebrows? Asking for a death warrant ?! Now that I look back, l can see what awkward, geeky, oily, hairy, visually/ hearing/ speech impaired kids we were! It is a wonder we got where we did! We were not to eat, drink, think, wear, move, or even breathe by ourselves!! Every single thing was codified! The Indian parental code, to be precise.

Before you assume, no, this isn’t yet another article on teenagers.

Today l would want to cast my mind about parenting styles, viz, you guessed it right, the Indian style of parenting!

The recent trend of society in general and parents in particular, of handling children with kid’s gloves got me thinking. The way today’s children are parented and the way we were, gives enough scope for a full-fledged debate on the issue.

As we increasingly ape the western world in all spheres of life, parenting, it seems, is no exception.
Growing up, for our generation, included quite a few resounding slaps on our cheeks and some boxing of our ears on a daily basis, peppered with the occasional pulling out of a few strands of hair and the rare throwing at, of chappals, combs, rulers and rolling pins! It was all in a day’s work for both parents and their kids.

It would be deemed downright outrageous if anyone ever considered such acts as violence or abuse of child rights! We were, after all, their blood, their own children, not acquaintances ! Polite and formal behaviour were out of the question with one’s own children! Treating your child like the neighbour’s was not the norm back then.

For centuries, such subliminal corporal disciplining has been an intrinsic and inseparable part of Indian parenting. Socioculturally it has never been viewed as the wrong thing to do. So deeply ingrained is the thinking that it is thought to be necessary even for the proper upbringing of a child!

Some of this ‘disciplining’ would spill over into the school life as well, with a caning or flogging added by strict teachers for good measure. A rap on the knuckles was supposed to knock some good, hard sense into a belligerent child! No joking!

Brutality by today’s parenting standards, we Indians stand ‘accused’ of authoritarian parenting, a style which enforces strict discipline and respect but does not believe in the child’s individuality, independence or privacy.
The old adage ‘ spare the rod and spoil the child’, seems to have been modelled on Indian parents! Coming from a country and culture where respect for a child’s freedom of thought, action and choice were/ and still are not considered necessities of his/ her upbringing, I too am guilty of practicing the same, with dwindling conviction, as a parent.

While an occasional box and an offhand spank probably does not really harm the psyche of the child, especially a truant ( at least generations of well turned out, balanced Indians will vouch for that! ), stretching it a bit too far to regular flogging or caning can inflict lasting emotional scars on tender minds and inherently implies that the parents themselves are the problem.

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We have been brought up to think that our parents are beyond questioning…and that they practically own us, body and mind, till we ‘grow up’ and ‘learn to think for ourselves’. A totalitarian point of view. While there’s no doubt that a child’s best well-wishers and safety net are his/ her parents, when the parent/ parents resort to corporal disciplining at the drop of a hat, then there’s clearly an elephant in the room waiting to be addressed.

Based on my personal experience l have often observed that when it comes to my children, fear for their safety when they have unwittingly indulged in something unsafe, has often triggered extreme anger in me and l have ended up spanking them! The other reasons would be belligerence and truancy, a questioning of my ‘authority’ as a parent!

With my children themselves growing up to become ‘thinking’ individuals, l have had firsthand opportunity to know their points of view in such circumstances, and in all humility, to learn from them that reaching out for the rod whenever we think our children have strayed or stood up to our ‘authority’ might not be the best foot forward! I find the current generation much more capable of thinking for themselves and sorted out in their heads than we were at their ages. Of course, there are issues peculiar to today’s times that are the bane of every parent in every home, but nothing so bad that a little ‘letting go’ and a little empathy, putting ourselves in their place, will not solve.

However, l must say this with emphasis as l draw this conversation to a close, that as Indian parents it will not be possible for us to behave with our children like they are the neighbour’s, I repeat myself here ….. polite, formal with the fear of child’s rights activists lurking in the back of our minds, as we reprimand or even spank our children. Even though the world at large cannot fathom any good of this aspect of Indian parenting, l am inclined to think that maybe, just maybe, the spanks and thwacks harden and fortify and prepare us for the disappointments and challenges that life throws at us as we are growing up, toughen our psyche and raise our endurance and threshold for frustrations….how exactly they do all that beats me and maybe l am completely wrong….nothing that qualifies as physical abuse or assault though. We are walking a very thin line here!

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