A few weeks ago, my 6-year-old came home from a play-date and made a rather bombastic statement, "Donald Trump is a good President, mom."
Surprised at this sudden enlightenment I asked him, "Oh yeah? What makes you say so?"
"Trump is good for India because he will control Pakistan. Pakistan is a bad country."
"Who told you that?"
"X," he said, naming one of his friends. "X says Pakistan is always killing Indians and that Trump will stop Pakistan from doing so."
Have you ever cringed at the videos of young kids being brainwashed into violent ideologies? Tell me, how is this not a watered down version of the same thing?
Never in a million years had I imagined that this is a conversation I would have with my 6-year-old, whose chatter usually revolves around his favourite cartoon shows, birthday parties and his next trip to McDonald's.
Now, X, also a 6-year-old, comes from your average urban Indian family. His parents are well-educated professionals, and he goes to one of the best-ranked schools in Delhi. He is a lovely boy, and as much as I have met him, not inclined to hold precocious political opinions.
So I asked my son "How does X know this?"
My son replied, "His father told him so."
Appalled didn't even begin to sum up my feelings. Why would anyone teach that to their 6-year-old?
As I spoke about the incident with other people, I learnt that this wasn't an isolated case. A friend told me about another incident where a British expat kid (again a 6-year-old) was roughed up in a school toilet by Indian boys because allegedly they had been taught that the British stole the Kohinoor from us. They, in turn, wanted to teach the poor Brit kid a lesson. A colleague complained about a video posted online by a parent, where their 7-year-old kid is voicing anti-Pak and pro-war inanities. The video was liked and shared by dozens, attracting comments like "Awww so cute", "Great job, baby", Jai Hind", so on and so forth.
What is wrong with us?
Have you ever cringed at the videos of young kids being brainwashed into violent ideologies, toting weapons, exalting violence in the name of god? Tell me, how is this not a watered down version of the same thing?
These are kids. Kids as young as 4-5, who have barely learnt to differentiate between their head and toes. And here we are teaching them to glorify war and pick sides in a history they have absolutely no understanding of.
This is not inculcating "patriotism" (if that is what you want to achieve). This is poisoning the minds of yet another generation, with half-baked and age-inappropriate information high on rhetoric, but little else.
When the so-called rules of age propriety apply to subjects like romantic love, sex, drugs, then why not to politics and war and violence?
I am a grandchild of the Partition. I grew up on a staple of horrifying stories of mass slaughter, always told with more than a tinge of bias. It was always the other side's fault. "They wanted a separate state. They are a violent people. They are never to be trusted." I know mine is not a unique case; the same stories have been repeated in millions of homes, on both sides of the border, to millions of impressionable kids. But to what pointless end?
You may say I am being naive. Given the murky politics of the subcontinent, what is not talking to children about it going to change? Countries and histories have been built, razed, and rebuilt again on wars. It is a fact of life. Maybe so. But then so is sex and I do not see parents rushing into talking to their kids about it. Hell, if you are Indian, you probably don't even kiss in front of your child. When the so-called rules of age propriety apply to subjects like romantic love, sex, drugs, then why not to politics and war and violence? There is an age and mental capacity for understanding everything.
Also, it needs to be said that by doing so we are projecting our misplaced sense of "patriotism"—which often fails to differentiate between national pride and jingoism—on to our children. You want to raise a patriotic child? Teach them about the diversity of this country. Teach them about the philosophies of our great thinkers. Teach them their civic duties. Show them not to litter, not to break traffic rules. Introduce them to the Tagores, the Kabirs, the JC Boses, the Sarojini Naidus of our country. Inculcate a strong work ethic; cultivate an inquisitive, honest mind.
For these are the values a great nation is built on. Not empty chest-thumping and war-mongering hinged on false notions of one's perceived greatness... where the only parameter to judge one's national pride is how thoroughly one has battered that of another nation.