Childhood Obesity: Shame The Popular Culture, Not The Children

Being a child is a risky proposition. The kid doesn’t understand the hypocrisy of adulthood. One sure shot example of such societal double-standards is childhood obesity. Society looks down on obese children. And the same society promotes the food habits linked to childhood obesity in the popular culture. What’s the kid to understand and do?

It’s birthday/party/celebration/get-together/having a good time/feeling happy – What’s to be done? Have unhealthy food and sugary drinks and fried items and above all, chocolate. After having all these food on a varied basis, the child will gain weight and society will look down on the obese child. What’s the kid to understand and do?

Yes, childhood obesity is not linked to food alone. However, genetics is beyond one’s control. So, what remains within one’s realm of influence is food habits and lifestyle. Of these two, what can a child really influence? Practically, nothing. To make matters worse for the obese kid, there will be few children who will binge and not put on visible weight. What’s the kid to understand and do?

Let’s get it straight. No child wants to be obese by choice. Nobody has any business fat-shaming a child. If anybody has any business associated with childhood obesity, then that has to be with shaming the popular culture of having unhealthy sugary/salty/oily foods. This is what the kid will understand and can do.

The Popular Culture

Many things give nightmares to parents. For us, one of such things is the popular culture of having unhealthy food for any/all occasions. Fortunately, we do not have a television at home. But the messengers of junk food abound all-around – relatives/play-mates/hoardings/slick packaging of the unhealthy food products in the supermarket etc. There’s no way to hide from them.

We explain to our twin daughters: What’s good to eat and what’s not. They nod their heads. Then, they get invited to birthday parties. No prizes for guessing what’s on serve. The girls get confused. We tell them that it’s fine to have such food at times, and they do have it. That’s not the problem. The bigger issue is the assumption that one needs to eat sugary/salty/oily food to celebrate/feel happy.

Then come the relatives/friends from outside India. With all due respect to them, they assume that the best gift possible to native Indians is exotic chocolates. That’s it. I have been unable to tell them discreetly that a little chocolate now and then does hurt. I have been unable to ask them if they have not been able to find any healthy options abroad.

If nothing else, the visit to the nearby grocery store gives the finishing touches to whatever is left in corrupting the young minds. The shiny and glossy packaging will be omnipresent to entice the kids. What’s more – even the shopkeeper will try to hard sell to children, it’s his/her bread and butter. And, the child will think – yeah, that’s to be had/eaten to feel great about one’s self.

I sound like a killjoy for children, don’t I? But what’s spoilsport about it? What’s in this so-called popular culture that does any good to any children?

Shame The Popular Culture

It is time to call the bluff of the popular culture. It is time to call out the companies – be it MNCs or Indian on their predatory marketing for children. How can they keep attracting kids to consume food products that do no good to them or anybody else, including the environment? Though, to be honest, we are the ones perpetuating the popular culture and they are just providing the music.

Why cannot we have birthday parties without cakes and cold drinks and french fries? The marketing of tobacco/alcohol products is banned. How about banning the marketing of junk foods? The packaging of tobacco products shows the bodily harm done by those products. How about a similar packaging design for sugary/salty/oily foods? They don’t do any good to the body either.

The defunct Ministry of Women & Child Development can take out advertisements to inform children about unhealthy food habits and foods. The out of use CSR budget of corporate companies can run marketing campaigns highlighting the adverse effects of junk foods on children. The sportspersons can show during IPL matches – What the real secret to their energy is.

See, these suggestions have got nothing to do with consumerism. For people who want to promote consuming of unhealthy foods to children, let them do it. Simultaneously, they and if not them, the marketing and packaging of sugary/salty/oily food should inform children – What they are eating.

For once, let children see the pretences of adults about what they are making them eat to feel happy.

Childhood Obesity Will Only Get Worse

Among many losing battles, this one takes the cake, literally, even though celebrations can happen without the cake too. Who cares what children eat? How does it matter if parent’s lives become miserable explaining to children that others are taking the easy way out by offering them to eat, what’s easiest to offer and also, what’s unhealthiest to the body.

We as a society will keep making fun of obese children. And, at the same time, keep promoting unhealthy food habits, a prime cause for childhood obesity apart from genetics.

What’s more? We will also ensure that children go on to become hypocrites, just like us.

Popular Culture’s Mission Accomplished.

PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, growing up together with my children. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent.

Safe Neighbourhood Is A Right Of Every Girl

Whom does the safe neighbourhood belong to? It belongs to people residing there and also the society and country, at large. It belongs to trees, birds, insects; and in India, it belongs to cars also! If the safe neighbourhood is a common resource, which it is; and an essential resource at that, I suppose a safe neighbourhood belongs to girls too.

(Neighbourhood is the area outside the gated community. It is the area outside the boundary walls of the apartment. It is a place with free access and not a restricted entry. With the shrinking of open spaces in India, the neighbourhood gets limited to by-lanes).

When there are so many burning issues around that require immediate attention, I know the safe neighbourhood for girls is an issue that easily goes on to a back-burner. Also, the refrain would be that the neighbourhood is already safe. Good people reside here, and anyway, there’s no issue as such. What’s the fuss?

Well, I also thought the same till the time B +ve and O +ve started cycling around – independently. What would be your reaction when you see six and half-year-old girls pedalling on the by-lanes in the neighbourhood? What would be your thoughts? You might say – What’s there to think? The girls are cycling. So, what’s there to react and speak?

I will share with you the exact reactions that our twin daughters get on their cycling expeditions. “What are you doing alone? Why are you alone? It is not safe for girls to be alone like this. Girls should not venture out alone. Why are your parents letting you out alone?” The girls get stopped on the neighbourhood by-lanes and are bombarded with these queries/statements.

The keywords are – Girls and Alone.

Why Can’t The Girls Be Alone?

I have been told by people who raised the questions about the girls cycling alone is that they are doing this out of noble intention. I don’t get the noble behind their intention. If they are scared about the well-being of the girls, they can ensure that no untoward happens to the girls – till the time they can see the girls (nobody would expect them to tail the girls).

They say that strangers can be bad for girls. Well, the people stopping my girls are strangers too and if they are claiming to be good, why would they allow any bad happening to a girl, or for that matter anyone, in their physical presence? They say that it is not their duty to ensure the safe passage of the girls. Well, if that is not their duty, what is their right to stop the girls from venturing out alone?

Everybody knows that India is no country to raise daughters. So, how shall we go about making India safer for girls? By locking them up at home (though, there is no guarantee of their safety at homes either) or by making the country secure – starting with safe neighbourhoods.

It seems that, for girls in India, the right to safety and the right to independence are mutually exclusive. If they have to be safe, they cannot be independent and if they have to be independent, they cannot be safe. It is nobody’s case that safety and independence have to be integral rights for every citizen and girls are citizens, too.

You might say that I am exaggerating/imagining. In that case, what are the premises under which my daughters, invariably, get stopped on their cycling independently? And yes, why only girls? Why not boys?

The Self-Confidence Of Girls

The continuous forewarnings hurt the self-confidence of my daughters. For that matter, they hurt the self-confidence of every girl who has to endure this. The “noble” counsel raises the fear/worry in their young minds that when they cannot even roam freely in a neighbourhood, what else can they do alone in this big world?

It becomes a difficult situation for a parent. You would want your daughters to sail the world, and then you realize that the neighbourhood, the very own neighbourhood where you stay, is beyond their reach?? The messaging that goes to the young minds is surely not motivational or inspiring.

When the girls, who have faced non-stop queries about their independent moving around since childhood, go on become young women, surely they do not feel emancipated all of a sudden. Rather, it would be more like they are used to be at the receiving end which they have accepted/forced to accept and they do more of the same to young girls in the neighbourhood.

Needless to say, it becomes a vicious circle wherein girls get ensnared right from their childhood in the name of being safe.

Safe Neighbourhood Is A Right Of Every Girl

Girls have a right to feel safe and be safe where they live. A lot is spoken/discussed about the rights of young women. This is, of course, par for the course – absolutely needed. What is also needed is that the girls get wings too, not far away but, in their very own neighbourhood.

The least a society and a country can do is to allow the girls to have the freedom to play and explore by the making of a safe neighbourhood. Girls have a right to enjoy their childhood and be treated as equal citizens of the country. The first step is letting them be, rather than locking them up.

Girls Can Do.

PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert, just growing up together with my children. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent.

Indian Education System Needs Hands-On Parental Involvement

Education is liberating. Education is doing justice to the immense potential one is born with and also the learnings throughout life. It is about contributing to society, making the world a better place and being human. You would say, we all know this. What’s new? Now, contrast this to the Indian Education System.

Indian Education System is rote. Indian Education System is getting marks and grades and cracking the entrance exams. It is joyless, devoid of real-life applications, sucks out creativity and curiosity, and more so, depriving childhood to children. You would say, we all know this. What’s new? That is precisely the point.

All of us know how important Education is to human life. And all of us also know how dissociated the Indian Education System is from the stated objectives of Education. All of us are aware of the obvious disconnect; yet, we are a willing part of the broken system.  You would say, National Education Policy (NEP) has come and the situation is changing/will change for the better.

Well, all the changes till now have been for the worse. Instead of one JEE, now we have two with NEET also thrown in. The Government is so much in awe of centralized entrance exams, the plan is to have them for all the courses. At the other end of the spectrum, formal schooling will start from 3 years onwards. The sooner the initiation into the rote, the better for the child seems to be the thinking.

What’s the change for the better in all these? Rather, the Indian Education System is getting deeper into the swamp with a further lethal focus on marks, grades, entrance exams, coaching classes. In short, it is a march to more of the same.

In such a scenario, who/what can lead to change?

Parental Involvement

Who has the highest stakes in the education of a child, apart from the child? The parents. Who is affected the most by the constructive/dysfunctional imparting of Education? The parents.  Who has the least say, rather no say in the running of the Indian Education System? The parents.

This is beyond belief. The parents who have the skin in the game are on the side-lines and have no role. Whereas, the people who benefit by perpetuating the rote without any genuine changes to the defunct system are running the show. What incentives do the administrators/establishment/Government, or for that matter even the academicians have to change the redundant system?

Let’s get this straight. Who got us into the problem isn’t going to get us out of it. For one, they do not know how to get out of it. Rather, they do not even perceive it as a problem. Second, the perverse incentives to continue with the rote trumps the desire for wanting/thinking a change to the Indian Education System, for it is the rote that gets them all the riches and enhances their power.

In a scenario like this, if a change has to be effected or even contemplated, it can/will happen only through parental involvement. Unless the parents get drawn into the affairs of the Indian Education System, the Education of their children won’t come through. The success in entrance exams, yes; but learning the purpose of Education and one’s living, NO.

Keeping Education Simple and Real-Life

If the parents get involved, the Indian Education System will respond that Education is a serious task.  Only a highly qualified/trained/experienced person, in short, one from within the system, can do justice to the Education of the child. Parents are non-qualified for the job and they are better off handing over the responsibilities of educating their children to the Indian Education System only.

Wait a moment. Are we talking about rocket science or nuclear physics or CABG surgery?  All these are highly specialized fields and requires years of training to make a meaningful impact. But, here we are talking about the Education of 3-year-olds, or maybe 7-year-olds, or for that matter even 15-year-olds. What is so Elon Musk-ish about it?

All of us have gone through the vigour of the Indian Education System. Yet, we are considered inept to comment/be a part of the same system that we so successfully sailed through! The system will educate the child, but once an adult, s/he is not welcome to the system anymore. What an irony?

Indian Education System uses the jargons to make it sound and feel complicated to scare away the outsiders. The Establishment makes the Education so complex, erect so many entry barriers – All to protect their turf. If the Education of 3/6/9/12/15 years old is really tortuous for a parent, who is an adult, to make head and tail out of and to intervene, does the poor child even have an iota of chance?

Why can’t Education be simple and real-life? The Indian Education System won’t let us see-through, for it will be known to all that Education is actually straightforward and possible without the confines of the classroom. Real Education, in fact, needs a giant and open classroom, also known as Life.

Education Is Important, Not The Indian Education System

Education is sacrosanct. But in India, we bestow this honour to the Indian Education System, and not the Education, per se. For us, the messenger has become sacred, and not the message. The message – Education is getting diluted by the day and the messenger – Indian Education System is getting hefty by the day at the expense of the message. An unrivalled Indan paradox.

For the sake of our children and their childhood, for the sake of a better and just society, and yes, for the sake of Education; it is time we reset the narrative and call the bluff. We, the parents, have to get involved hands-on in Indian Education System, now.

What are your views on this subject?

PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert, just growing up together with my children. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent.

Free Sanitary Products: Real Celebration Of Women’s Day For Indian Women

Another Women’s Day is upon us. Apart from being a day of repeating yearly customary paeans to Women, what could have been different? What could be the real celebration of Women’s Day for the Women of India? After all, Women’s Day has been around since 1913, and it might be around for another century. But, what could be the game-changer for Women of India? Free Sanitary Products.

Now, one might say what has got free sanitary products to do with Women’s Day? The country is busy honouring the Women and their achievements and empowerment. Why bring up a colourless topic like free sanitary products when the Women are being hailed with gusto? It is not in sync with the bigger picture of women’s emancipation and the newer heights scaled by Women in India.

Well, let’s have a dose of reality.

80% of Indian Women do NOT use sanitary products

Women’s population in India is 66 Cr. Let’s take 40 Cr as the number for the Women of menstruation age. Assume that a Woman uses 8 sanitary pads, on average, during a menstruation cycle. Let’s take a price of a sanitary pad at Rs. 5/-. So, what should be the per annum size of the Indian sanitary pad market? 40 Cr * 8 * 5 * 12 = 19200 Cr. Remember, all these are conservative estimates.

In reality, what’s the size of the Indian sanitary pad market? 4000 Cr, at best. Meaning, only 20% of Indian Women use sanitary pads. That’s about it!!! Now, if this is not shocking, what is??? Are we staying in a 21st Century India or a country stuck in medieval times? Why should 80% of Indian Women NOT use sanitary pads?

Yes, you can ask for a survey/source to back up the above truth. In India, a survey covering the entire country is not feasible and it will not see the light of the day. However, the numbers do not lie. If anybody wants to refute the veracity of 80% Indian Women not using sanitary pads, s/he is welcome to prove it with counter-data of any sorts.

Why Free Sanitary Products?

The detractors will say why free sanitary products?

  • It is not that critical an issue. Well, if menstruation hygiene of 50% of the population is not vital, what is?
  • Awareness is important. Well, the Government has been working on awareness for ages, what’s the output? We even had a movie, what’s changed?
  • It is too expensive for the Government to supply. If it is expensive for the Government, think about the buying power of the Women not using sanitary products. To whom, will it be more feasible to intervene?
  • It is a luxury item. Our women have stayed so long without sanitary products, do they really need it? In that case, we might as well bring back child marriages, sati etc. How about going back to living in the caves?
  • Why are we even discussing this topic? Good families do not discuss such issues. Yes, this is precisely why 80% of Indian Women are left out of using sanitary pads.

The Advantages of Free Sanitary Products

Sanitary pad is, of course, a simple product which for reasons endemic to Indian society has not become ubiquitous. When made free, apart from being a simple product of menstruation hygiene, it signifies a change in attitude. A change in mindset.

  • Women are free from the clutches of the typical Indian patriarchal society.
  • Women, also, have a right to a life of dignity and respect.
  • More so, Women are important for India. The country cannot claim to prosper without the efforts to ensure the well-being of 50% of the population.

From every rationale, free sanitary products are a no-brainer idea.

The Real Change

The discussion on menstruation hygiene remains a taboo subject in India. The stigma on “pads” and “periods” is difficult to be washed away. If even after 70 + years of independence, the magnitude of the issue does not reduce in intensity, it requires a drastic intervention. Piecemeal solutions won’t do.

If this is not the time for free sanitary products, when is? The discussion on approach, awareness, access, affordability can continue forever. In the meantime, let’s have free sanitary products. Come to think of it. If Women do not have periods, none of us would be born. Yet, their menstrual hygiene, a bodily function, is taboo.

India levied 12% GST on sanitary pads, as a luxury item. After a furore, the Government made it exempt from GST. The hue and cry were for a worthy cause. The worthier cause is making sanitary products freely available to the Women of India. The worthiest cause is to regard Indian Women as equal partners in Indian society. The starting point will be to take the usage of sanitary pads to 100% of the population.

On this Women’s Day or for that matter, every Women’s Day, India can continue to do lip-service to Women’s cause; it is a tried and tested option with incremental/difficult-to-notice results. Else, India can decide to make free sanitary products – the real change for Indian Women.  A game-changer making Indian Women independent of men controlling their lives and menstruation.

PS: I am not a Women’s rights activist. Rather, just a stay-at-home father to six year-old twin daughters. The above thoughts are an expression of my growing up together with my daughters and wanting a just country for my daughters that treats all citizens fairly and equitably.

Stand UP, Speak OUT!!! #IAmAParent