Toxic parenting: Beating up your child in the name of 'discipline' is not okay
Hey parents, how about using the old art of conversation instead?
Last week, a video of a little girl being taught math by a woman (presumably her mother) went viral, after it was posted by a number of cricketers, including Virat Kohli. It was no cutesy footage — the woman harangued the child verbally to read aloud numbers from her notebook, administering a couple of slaps to her face. The child, meanwhile, tearfully pleaded with the woman to be kind — 'pyaar se padhaiye' — adding that her head and ears hurt.
People who watched the video were appalled by it — I wonder why. Because these same people have previously championed being beaten to be disciplines. These same people championed Aamir Khan's character in Dangal.
In the days after the video went viral, it emerged that the child in the video, a 3-year-old called Haya, is the niece of singers Toshi and Sharib Sabri. Toshi was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying that what was seen in the video was simply a mother making her child study when she wanted to go out and play instead. (You can read his quotes here.)
What one sees in the video is a classic example of violent parenting. This is also, incidentally, how violence is taught to children — by being violent to them.
My parents never lifted a hand against me. I turned out just fine. I do remember an older cousin beating me up while teaching me Marathi: "Gaadhav saang, mee gaadhav aahe" ('Say "donkey", now say, 'I am a donkey'). We've dealt with it and laugh over it now. But if this is perpetuated further, then it is no laughing matter. Today, they are my best friends, but back then (I am not ashamed to say) my parents failed in protecting me. Or rather, left a child in the hands of someone stronger.
It is not okay beat up your children in the name of discipline, or allow teachers and relatives and friends to do so either. Most parents justify it under various pretexts, the top one being generational abuse. The fact that parents who were beaten by their parents turned out successful in the end, gives them a reason to carry this horrible trend forward. But no, it is not okay — and it is a crime.
I've seen an aunt bang a cousin against a wall. I've seen my cousin with burn marks on her hand, courtesy a 'punishment'. I've seen my teenaged nephew not being able to wear a pair of jeans of his choice — not fancy/revealing ones, just a regular pair of jeans — becaus eparents decide what their son should wear. Whether emotional, physical or sexual — abuse is abuse.
This happens because we have a culture of not questioning our parents, no matter what they do. I have great relationships with people who have been violent in the past. They have become far humbler, but it left a dent on my impressionable mind. Respect is a two-way street. Parents cannot beat children up and expect children to respect them. Parents cannot insult children and expect them to respect them. And if 'maa-baap bhagwan ka roop hote hain' toh let's not forget — 'bachhe bhi bhagwaan hote hai'.
I see child abuse all around me. Parental-child abuse, teacher-student abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse... and it is not 'lesser' than child sexual abuse. Again, abuse is abuse is abuse. We need to get as appalled about it as we do when we read about a child being raped.
As a child, my friend stole a Rs 10 chocolate from a shop. His father could have counselled him. Instead, to teach him a 'lesson', his father stripped my friend naked and made him stand outside the house for the whole day. When sympathetic neighbours attempted to cover up my friend, the father tied the child to the window of the chawl, still naked, and had him hold a placard that read “Main chor hoon (I am a thief)". Legally, this is child sexual abuse and is punishable under POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act).
However, many of you would be looking at this as 'just disciplining', right? I asked my friend how he felt about it now and the sad part is, he said, "Thank god my father did that to me. (It's because of that, that) I am not a kleptomaniac”. I didn't intervene, it was not my place to make him feel bad about anything. But I did try telling him that in the future, if he becomes a father, this is one example that he should not emulate.
(You can read about legislation that protects children here.)
It is a myth that it is only fathers who beat up children. I have come across more cases of mothers being violent towards their child, than fathers. Misogyny ensures that mothers have no voice in a patriarchal system; however, when some women become mothers, they gain a sense of superiority towards something they 'own'. I will, however, steer clear of generalisations.
This is about children. This is about individual beings. We don't 'own' our children. Parents are here to protect children. Children belong to themselves — not someone else.
Watch the video of Haya again. Look at how the child fumes with anger in the end. That’s how children are taught to resort to violence. It is a never-ending cycle that starts with pain and continues with justification. It is not okay to exercise your power that way. Use the old art of conversation. Take help from a psychologist in understanding parenting — do it before you decide to become parents. Because if you cannot protect your children and believe that hurting your child is the only way to teach him/her, then perhaps you shouldn't get to bear children/adopt them. For that matter, I wouldn't trust a pet animal with you either.