Friday, 11 July 2014

Loss of Indianness

The loss of Indianness is happening systematically in urban schools – and the children coming out are losing basic Indian values, and respect for basic Indianness and Indians.

My daughter’s moving into an urban school at the age of ten years showed up the urban schooling realities in stark outline which otherwise would be muted as one would have closely grown up with and internalized the realities.

In the middle class and in its schools one prominent feature seems to be to look down on all that is Indian. This is done, while simultaneously professing a love for Indian culture, Indian classical dance and music. The real Indian, and the real Indianness is dismissed. Wearing Indian clothes in a natural fashion is questioned and derided.  My daughter grew up in paavaadais, and continued to wear them joyfully. She realized soon after joining school that this was looked down on. She was happy in her bangles and anklets and flowers. She soon discovered that those simple Indian ornaments, worn, incidentally, by 90% of Indians today, the ‘masses’, is looked down on. And the more westernized makeup is admired. Her colour which is dark as of most Indians was again derided. She learnt that some darker children were able to pull it off because their attire and makeup was more western which   overrode their colour! Her teachers objected to children speaking in Tamil in school, saying “Are you slum children?”. While they may have reason to encourage spoken English in school to build up fluency, this remark speaks volumes of the contempt the poor, which again includes 90% of our countrypeople, are held in. A quick and lasting lesson a child learns is that all that is Indian is wrong and to be ashamed of – having the Indian colour, wearing the Indian dress and Indian ornaments (except as exotica), speaking the Indian language (especially if fluency in the whiteman’s language is limited). Basically, while a love for vedas and bharatanatyam maybe cultivated as showing ‘culture’, all that truly of the average and poor Indian is derided and despised. Once one despises one’s identity, and looks down on one’s countrymen, one is completely lost.

Along with this sweeping derision for all that is of their country, is a more sweeping derision of the villages which actually make up most of our country. My daughter initially hid the fact that she grew up in a village, and that her heart belongs to the gentle world there. Her friends used to discuss ‘Do you know I went to a village. It was so boring and dirty.’ And the others would concur that villages are so dirty. Ignorance covered by arrogance.

A second prominent feature is worship of possessions and of those possessed by possessions. A prime concern of nine and ten year olds seems to be what car they possess, whether there are ACs at home.  My daugter saw a classmate being derided for buying a second-hand car, ‘Don’t your parents have enough money for a new car ? Are they poor ?’ A class two child was teased to tears by older children for not possessing a car. My daughter did not have the courage to say that her parents have desired simplicity, and do not own, or wish to own, a car or a TV or an AC. Though she has grown up with families with similar values, she realized that she was in a minority of one here, and did not have the courage to explain her family’s choice.

Another very noticable feature is that core values seem absent. Children sometimes throw away their lunches in the wastepaper basket if they do not like it. My daughter’s lunches and snacks were simple – that is, they were not ‘Lays’ or ‘Kurkure’.  Her classmates have tasted it, said ‘yuk’, and thrown what they took in the wastepaper basket. This was horrifying for me to hear of, and the child must have got a bad shock. The village government school she was going to had midday meals served there. The children would say a prayer (‘sahanavavathu …’) before eating, eat the simple fare of rice and a vegetable , and sweep up neatly after eating. From that cultured world to this uncouthness must have been soul destroying.  That she used shikaaya or sopanut for her hair instead of shampoos was another issue. She would be harrassed for using cowdung, as the children termed shikaaya,  on her hair. Maybe shikaaya has to be advertized in the Vogue before the mindless here will value it.

I realize that these are all symptoms of a society run amuck, which are also showing up in schools. These are systemic issues in today’s urban society and schools.

Another more ordinary school ...
After a few months here, we moved on to a  more ordinary, more vernacular school having more children from poorer families, assuming that the world view would be simpler, consumerisim less, decency more. It has been a mixed experience – and on the whole, things are not very different across different strata of the urban world.
Most children spoke only Tamil fluently, and so it was not derided, though speaking English was the admired trait. Though many children were dark, it was fairness that was admired, and fairly derogatory words were used towards the darker children. As children from poorer families do wear anklets, that was not frowned upon. But most admired were the western clothes. Even here, my daughter had to face disparaging remarks on her wearing paavaadais often. The fact that she uses shikaaya to wash her hair instead of shampoo is another point they mock at. Children, even here, have stopped oiling their hair.

Though children cannot compare their cars and boast about them as almost none possess cars, in my daughter’s assessment, “There is no difference at all. Here they boast about having friends who have cars.” But overall as the crowd is less affluent, sharp comparisons are not possible. But the one child who does have a car, boasts and drives softer children to tears through his sharp words. The basic admiration of affluance continues. The advertising world has won. ‘Fair is lovely’ is a basic tenet, as is, ‘The costlier is the more desirable’. Parents have brought the mantra, society has brought the mantra, and the children are sucked into this vortex also.

Another stark similarity across all urban schools, which stands out from the rural world, is a pervasive meanness. The children seem to derive an identity from who can hurt more or be more scathing. Their power structure seems defined by this.

Urban children, of all classes, seem to live a world defined by school hours, tutions and TV. The rural child lives in a world defined by work, though she also has an eight hour school. She gets grass for the cow before going to school, comes home and cooks the family meal before the mother returns from labour, and is also responsible for the younger siblings. The children’s identity exists rooted in real day to day responsibilities, and no silly and perverted power games are needed to establish identity. The city child deprived of wholesome, responsible and meaningful work seems to have developed complicated ways of creating identity.


  1. Hi,

    Great Observations!! I observe this too, and don't appreciate it. What do you think can be the solution to this menace? In my opinion, the turning point has to begin with the lessons and learnings at home, but you cannot have your kids in front of you for 24 hours, and sooner or later they will interact and socialize with all sorts in the outer world, which unfortunately has such a behaviour.

  2. I have no idea. I can see changes we need to bring into our own lives ... and also after that talk about it ... amybe slowly (or suddenly) mindsets can change.

  3. This is so true, and so painful. As you, I can write books on this, in the almost 20 years of teachertraining, mentoring etc. and learned immense. Awakening in a broad scale what is all behind it, on all levels is one thing. Real teachertraining with this incorporated is another. Once in a KG training, teachers asked me to buy some lighter brown-color cloth for dollmaking, and a whole true discussion came. My answer was, as long as there are children, people in India thinking they are 'less' because of a dark skin, I ll buy the darkest brown I can find. In Vidyapith, Ahmadabad I found a research on the english medium education, how less children actually can speak the english, where there days are filled/ruined with. Words are taught, not language. Which affects the connection with all language... What Gandhi and Steiner say about the value/effect of the mothertongue, should be breaking news in teachertrainings. And English will flourish next to that, when needed. To disconnect nagatively,inwardly, with the culture where one is born with, has a deep devastating effect on selfesteem and character strength. Which gets hidden, masked with all the things we see, and deep unhappiness inside. That is where the meanness comes in, but unconsiously. Huge work to do...