BENGALURU : Ideas for this week’s column: The magical ability my children’s socks possess to go into the washing machine as a pair, but emerge single. The fact that my eight-year-old refuses to eat noodles because he thinks he will get Coronavirus. How I can sit down and talk to my 12-year-old about CAA-NRC, Section 370, fake news, menstruation taboos and mental health, but I cannot quite bring myself to tell him about what is happening in his nation’s capital. Let’s go with the last one.
Is it my innate desire to protect him and his innocence? Is it cowardice? I don’t want to be the one to tell him how truly vicious humans can turn. Perhaps it is because I can’t even find the words to begin to articulate to him that the very people who are meant to protect the citizens of this country are doing the exact opposite? It’s not that he won’t understand politically-motivated and religion-based violence. He’s seen A Beautiful Life. We’ve read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. We discussed what religious persecution is. Was I able to do it because it was in the past? In a country that was not mine? By a government that was not mine? The words stick in my throat now.
But children have a way of finding things out. He comes home and asks me if some of his friends will have to leave the country now. He overhears snatches of a conversation with my sister. The little that he hears is enough to make him distraught. ‘Why? Why would anyone do that?’ he asks. I shake my head helplessly. ‘I don’t know.’ All the parenting books say that when your child asks you ‘Why?’ don’t shoo them away even if you don’t know the answer. Say, let’s find out together. But I’m not yet ready to set off on this particular journey of learning with him.
A few weeks ago, I did a storytelling session at a school in Bengaluru. When the photos were posted on social media, a friend messaged me and said, ‘So sad, they will all grow up to be brainwashed into hating Hindus.’ You see, the children in the school were Muslim. To see them and not be able to see their innocence. The curiosity. Their sweetness. Instead, to see only what we have been told they will grow up to be. I sent the same friend an image of young teens walking the streets of the capital with sticks in their hand, part of an angry mob. I asked her who she thought had brainwashed them into hating Muslims. She blocked me on Facebook soon after.
Some will say on reading this that 12 is too young to know about these things. Why burden your child with the politics of hate? But some children don’t have the luxury of choosing what they are burdened with. Like 11-year-old Kushi who saw her father beaten to death by a mob, fell at their feet and pleaded ‘Don’t kill my father’. All children deserve to be protected from the ugliness that is there in the world of ‘grown-ups’. Not just some of them.
Menaka Raman @menakaraman