Times of India Column – Shobha De
I dub the worthy Union minister for women and child development, Renuka Choudhary, Mother Courage. She has dared to venture into dangerous terrain by recommending the impossible — responsible parenting! Both her recent initiatives deserve a round of applause for saying it like it is, and articulating the unthinkable — making parents accountable for the lapses of their underage children. The Munnas and Munnis driving around in Pappaji’s fancy cars are an absolute menace to society, and worse, are dangerous as hell. Innocent lives are lost, what with reckless teens zipping around happily, uncaring of the consequences. No point booking these brats — get the parents first. That ridiculously flimsy excuse (“What can we do? Do children listen these days?”) definitely does not wash. If Pappu is bullying his papaji, why should defenceless citizens crossing the street pay the price for papaji’s weakness? By nailing the ma-baap and placing responsibility for the conduct of errant bachchas at their doorstep, Renuka has issued an important wake-up call to society at large. Most of the recent accidents involving underage drivers have involved a lethal combo of booze and drugs. Some parents of these killer kids have passed the buck on to Bollywood movies, internet porn, peer pressure, and of course, that favourite whipping dog — “western culture.” But the more important issue is-where were they when their kids were getting “corrupted” by all these vile influences? Who gave the car keys? Who tracked what happened later? Where did Pappu go after backing out of the garage? If Pappu had indeed stolen the keys, how come nobody heard him…. saw him? What about the petrol gauge? Mileage? No checks? Sorry boss…. these are faltu excuses. Nabbing a teenager is half the work done. Hauling in the parents, completes the grim picture. Ditto for Renuka’s timely warning regarding the monitoring of cellphone usage when it comes to kids. It’s not uncommon to see pre-school toddlers babbling incoherently into their very own dinky mobiles. It is considered ‘cute’ by their doting families, who point out how the kid uttered his/her first word over a handset held to the ear by a fawning naani . This is not grandmotherly over-indulgence, it is sheer ignorance and foolishness. Whether or not one can accept the radiation theory that suggests a link between short-term memory loss and severe headaches in children to excessive use of cellphones, the minister has asked parents a relevant question: how exactly do these phones ensure the safety of school going kids? Since parents trot out security factors as the official reason for providing children with gadgets, it is worth seeking an answer from them. Today, owning mobile phones (fully loaded! latest model!) has become a status symbol for parents and kids alike. It is not about instant connectivity or communication, it is more about showing off. The pressure is tremendous and it requires a brave parent to fight it. Renuka has recommended that ads for phones should avoid showing kids and pregnant women as users. This is an entirely valid stand that deserves widespread support. I would add my own two bits worth — can we also be spared the embarrassment and torture of watching painted up children in obscene costumes, gyrating suggestively on reality shows beamed into millions of homes? It is all a part of the same syndrome. What are their parents thinking when they encourage pre-pubescent kids to compete in these utterly vulgar programmes? One cringes while watching 10- and 12-year-olds performing ‘item’ numbers with such gusto, while their proud parents cheer them on. Yes, i know the money is good! But isn’t good sense, better? What about the high profile judges who agree to be on these awful, exploitative shows? Shouldn’t they exercise caution, discretion and better taste?Toddlers with cellphones, 16-year-old speed demons, and pre-teens shaking their booty — why blame these underage idiots ? The real rascals are the parents. Go get ’em! Renuka has shown the way.