The chilling murder of Shraddha Walker, allegedly by Aaftab Poonawala in Delhi, has sent shockwaves across the country and raised a million questions among families about the safety of their daughters. The post-murder discourse largely revolves around the gory details, speculative reasons for the crime, and the mysterious ghost of the criminal. The need of the hour is to help families and youth adapt to the new world and learn new technologies to prevent violence and chaos against women. Following are some strategies:
Demo firm parenting
Years ago I would share this maxim with parents: “Trust your child completely”. In recent years I have adapted it to: “Trust your child completely, but keep your eyes open”.
By emulating the so-called liberal values of the developed world under the guise of democratic parenting, informal surveillance of youth has suffered. This is true in an era of globalization where a security guard or a CEO works long hours and nuclear families are the norm. Demo firm parenting (democracy + few hard boundaries) from early childhood is a must where democratic parenting comes with a few firm rules. Here the family establishes certain norms whereby the parents are aware of the children’s company and retain the veto power to protect their wards from unsafe places and unsafe men.
Pool parenting, where groups of parents join hands to take care of their neighborhood, is a good idea where mothers and fathers can share the joy of taking turns accompanying them to school and supervising studies, play and leisure .
Schools are important allies in this. Therefore, the shame and stigma give way to cooperation and cooperation and values are automatically instilled. Accidents can still happen here, but major disasters can be prevented. While pool parenting can have inherent contradictions due to different parents with different natures, safety software and seeds can be sown effectively. This can contribute to a fairly well-rounded personality in children. Such actions can be extended to ‘Community Safety Networks’ that informally monitor community behaviors that can lead to aberrations, crime and violence.
Calamities can be prevented, although such instances should not deteriorate into agents of moral police. When we were younger, the news of a boy talking to a girl reached parents’ ears at night. Today, in the era of brutal anonymity, community security networks can help on the lines of “Mohalla” groups that started post-communal riots in the country.
Sharing bad news in the family
Two teenagers recently fled to Goa. When they were discovered and returned, the 17-year-old girl said: “I am in love with this boy and I couldn’t share this with my parents. When my mom discovered some chats, we felt like running away in fear. My boyfriend was also in a similar situation with his own parents.”
The young people should experience the freedom to openly share good and difficult stories with their parents. This environment can be created if parents use “emotional expressions” at home, such as “I feel very angry and disturbed when you hide the truth” instead of “I hate you when you tell lies.”
This helps children to respond with feelings. Here, negative adjectives and sarcasm that can break down a communication within the family are avoided. When parents hear the word ‘love’, many panic, but listening to their children’s desires and starting a ‘samvad’ (discussion) is key. Friendly teachers and counselors can be part of the exercise. “It takes the whole world to build a safe universe,” and whoever believes in this statement can raise healthy children.
When parents share their own family blunders as much as they feel comfortable with, it sends a clear message, that is, “I can share my problems with my boyfriend with my parents without fear or embarrassment.” Irritable and authoritative parents push their children away from them. Yet young men, who are impulsive and aggressive by nature, may require specialized care to avoid emotional and physical mishaps.
In order for parents to be equipped to share emotion-laden sentences, they need to take care of their own mental health. I remember one time when I was invited to address the issue of “Life, Love, and Learning” at a prestigious university, the principal quietly rubbing the word “love” off the bulletin board. He firmly told me to talk only about “Living and Learning.” Needless to say, I didn’t take his advice and was never invited back to the same institution after that.
When teachers and parents discuss “love” as a healthy concept, the youth are inculcated with benefit and pro-social behavior.
Identify red flags early
A young woman recently shared with us that she has a crush on an IT professional who is misunderstood in society. She said, “He’s very good at heart, but gets a little violent”. This girl tried to be his counselor to improve his behavior and get him in order. This is one of the most dangerous beliefs people hold.
Despite being attacked repeatedly, she remained in the relationship. When we went deep, we found that the girl lived in an environment of abuse and distrust in her own family. Her self-esteem was poor and she was also abusive. Those in pain metaphorically cling to a twig thinking it is a branch and fall down with a thud.
A large number of women who fall for delinquent men are victims of abuse in the family. If a friend insists that the girl share all her locations, passwords and money and is suspicious and often violent, it’s time to get rid of him. Here, friends, family and society should not only advise the girl to stop, but should turn the boat upside down and get the woman out of the web. Such men should be reported by society for offenses to the law enforcement and mental health authorities. In such circumstances, the world’s usual refrain is most often “It’s her choice, we don’t want to interfere”. This should change to “We have to step in to save her from violence because this could happen to anyone including my daughter”.
One of the ill effects of a fast-paced life is that families become isolated and self-centered. This alienation must be fought with the “feeling of coming together” and closing ranks. The fact is that if we view youth as a community, our children will also be safer. On the contrary, “Just me, my and our children” is a belief that can only be self-destructive in the long run.
The “conspiracy of silence” prevailing in our communities where Indians fail to notice and report the red flags to prevent major tragedies must be fought by every citizen of the country. Young people can also be misled in healthy families. The solutions here remain the same.
Meaning and purpose in life
‘Mental Health Curriculums’ and ‘Seva Syllabus’ in schools are more important than pointless assignments, homework and obsessive assessments and tests. ‘Emotional well-being’, ‘Mental Health Awareness’ and building ‘Self-Esteem Muscles’ should be given top priority. In all educational settings, in the workplace, and in other groups, emphasis and conversation should be had on “meaning and purpose in life.”
In my experience, boys and girls who experience the joy of serving and giving together with a love of housework are more grounded than others. In addition, those who are constructively spiritual are more peaceful than the others.
This barbaric cruel event, like the tandoor murder case in Delhi years ago, raises fundamental questions. Is our vigilance and societal empathy going down today as a result of reckless globalization? Will we become highly efficient robots running around mechanically with a heart without compassion? Why didn’t we rock the boat and stop Shraddha Walker from eloping with Aaftab Poonawala when many knew she had been physically and mentally abused?
Unfortunately, many ignorant bystanders claim that “it serves her right. Who asked her to run away with a rude man?” They are unaware that it is not her fault, but a collective failure of the social consciousness. This collective inertia to act in time will diminish as we slowly realize that if communities survive, so will we and not the other way around.
Eternal vigilance and being alone together will help to provide reasonable security for the young, old and disabled. Alienation must be fought by all of us.
Dr. Harish Shetty is a social psychiatrist and has worked with young people in various capacities for over two decades. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of this publication.
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