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Millennium Post

Parenting in a digital age

One thing I hated during my early school days was class monitors. Chosen via democratic class voting or by teacher’s autocratic decision at the beginning of every term, they were equally disturbing in the otherwise happy hours in the school. One reason of my disliking the school monitor was because of the unchallenged power they enjoyed of reporting any fellow classmate because of creating disturbances between two class periods – when one teacher walks out and the other walks in. It goes unsaid that I found my name in the list of trouble makers and at the end of the day trying all my verbal skills to give a logical explanation to a teacher who never seemed to be interested in understanding the point of view. Infuriated by finding myself on the wrong side of the rules again and again and in a way to get back, one day during lunch time I used the black-board to draw a caricature of my little overweight fellow class monitor. Not going into the specific of the creative, I remember making it unkind to the extent possible and used enough imagination to invoke a roar of laughter from my fellow classmates after the classes resumed. Momentarily I felt like a hero by being able to avenge the wrong with humiliation even when the monitor was weeping at her desk.

What followed was a series of lecture from the teachers and my parents about how wrong my actions were and how hurting sentiments was not something educated people are supposed to do. I don’t remember whether I understood those lectures at that moment, but many years hence I somehow won’t count that as one of my proudest moments. Today I have learned to understand. Fat classmate in your class, juniors during a ragging session, minority caste in your society or somebody physically challenged in your neighborhood – you need to stay careful about not spelling out certain things in front of them, even if they are true or even if you mean them in good fun. As a human we need to protect one thing that sets us apart from other living creatures – emotions; even if we do not care about hurting each other physically.

I will be damned if there will be any teacher or parent today who will stand up at this point and say that the principles they invoke in the younger generation today is any different. If you find someone talking rudely, if you find somebody being insensitive – that is not an example you follow.

But our parents probably found it much easier. A few examples that diverted from the ideologies inflicted in us were easier to keep hidden under the carpets but things are not the same anymore after the advent of internet. We now live in a world where ‘liberal’ becomes synonymous to ‘insensitive’ and ‘freedom of speech’ is not much different from ‘right to offend’. The scarier part is there is larger section apparently intelligent communities who are advocating for making this happen at a faster pace. And somehow the thought seems disturbing.

With majority of Indian social media users belonging to a juvenile age group – the thought seems even more disturbing. So we find some cartoonists drawing the India’s parliament as a toilet seat and your son liking it on his Facebook wall and you keep wondering whether respect for the nation will ever stay the same. You will notice your daughter drawing a cartoon of her most strict teacher and you fail to explain her how it is different from the Mamata Banerjee cartoon you were so supportive about. And it’s not easy. It is not like sex that you wait for them to learn after a certain age. There is no logical intellect that will teach a human when will be the right time to exercise the right to offend. So when Mamata Banerjee threatens the media and the teacher scolds your kid – you find yourself in a confusing corner trying to explain why both are to be treated with different level of seriousness. Gradually the ambit of this explanation increases from a person to a community to a religion. So one day you suddenly realise that it’s no more limited to you but your religion, your Gods and Goddesses are also being dragged down from their position, unapologetically being questioned, stripped and discussed in a way which looks mockery to you – all within your own house. You feel hurt, but who cares? That is the objective anyway – to offend and all for a liberal society.

And simultaneously the right to offend does not guarantee a right to tolerance. So someday you offend somebody more powerful than you as human or community, you end up creating a social and communal disturbance. So much for a liberal society.

So why is it so difficult to stick to the old school thought of being polite and sensitive about others sentiments? Would that have stopped our progress as a society? Well, in probability not. But with the advent of social media on internet, being polite is so out of fashion. Democracy has taken a totally new meaning in digital age. Across the world and in India, no government has any clue about how to handle this newly acquired usage of democracy. Till the time anybody figures that out, we can continue our ride of the tiger – who cares about what happens when we have to get down?

Sudipta Sengupta is General Manager with citizen journalism news portal merinews.com.He can be reached at sengupta.sudipta@gmail.com.
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