How democratic are our households?- Kaunain Fatima

When you first think of the word 'Democracy', what pops into your mind? When I try to imagine it, I see a long queue of people lining up to vote for their ideal government and officials. Democracy is a term with which many people are familiar – but they still don't know its exact meaning. Democracy is not just about a country's government - its ambit is much wider than that. What it actually means is this: “Everybody has equal rights when it comes to the decision-making process.” The famous Charles Derber once said, 'Change begins at home.' Let's take a look into how democratic some of our Indian households are, shall we?

For some of us, our whole lives are planned out by our parents before we are even born. As children, we’re just 'too young' to decide what we want – after all, what do we know? It starts with academic competition. The kids who get ‘good’ marks are usually considered the 'bright' or 'smart' students. Meanwhile, the children who score not quite so high in school are considered 'weak'. Some parents never realize that maybe, just maybe, academics are not all that matters. For example, I could be horrible in Mathematics, but I could be a brilliant actor. Or, I may not do so well in History, but I may excel in Robotics. Then comes the part where we choose our subjects. That decision, more often than not, is not ours to make either.

Our parents tell us what subjects we MUST choose to have ‘good’ jobs in the future. A person who is keen on the Humanities stream might have to choose Science under pressure and then suffer for the next few years continuously, and perhaps even beyond their school years. Sometimes, our parents want us to be someone or do something that they could not achieve. Like, if a man could not become an engineer or doctor due to financial constraints, he may push his children to become one.

A household with a family history of high achievers in sports tends to have similar expectations from the children born to it. Even we, as a collective, tend to expect that the child of a legendary cricketer or of an actor is going to be just as good (if not better) than their parent in that area. Often, a child is forced to take music and/or dancing lessons, join sports coaching classes, and more, just because their family is well known for their achievements in that particular field. Children often feel the pressure to perform well, especially in an Indian society, where the elders share their children’s achievements as if they were their own. Children, on the other hand, hope to do well and only wish to see their parents proud. Approximately 1100 college students die by suicide each year, making it the second-leading cause of death among college students. Roughly 12% of college students report that the occurrence of suicide ideation during their four years in school, due to pressure and stress, familial or otherwise.

The next phase begins when we're done with school. Most of the times parents decide what college their kid will attend without even a single second of discussion. Later, they decide what jobs would be suitable and then who we will marry.

Not just major decisions, but even trivial choices – what we should and shouldn’t wear, what we should and shouldn’t eat, who we should befriend and who we must stay away from – are made by the parents, especially in Indian households. As a girl, one is often told, “Your dress is too short/not appropriate, go change!” or “Your jeans are too tight, what are you trying to show?”, etc. One is told where to go, when to go, and whether it is okay for one to go there at all. Some believe that the only way to survive in the world is if one is pretty. Girls with even a slightly heavier build than ‘flat-stomach skinny’, or a darker complexion are frowned upon, even called 'ugly' when compared to their more slender or fairer fellows.

It is extremely difficult for any LGBTQIA+ child to come out and be open about their identity and express themselves comfortably because of the taboo in our Indian society. If one has a non-straight or gender-non-conforming child, they hide their identity and keep it a secret because it is a 'shameful' thing. LGBTQIA+ 'correction' therapies in India are still prevalent, where they employ all tools and methods from hypnotism to physical torture. The majority’s view remains: “If you belong to this community, you're sick and perverted, because none of this is natural.” The worst part is that this is decided not by outsiders, but by your own family. So many are forcefully married to people of the opposite gender, in the hopes that they will be 'cured'.

India is improving, there is no question of it, and the mindset is slowly but surely changing. Still, we cannot deny that there are people here whose heads are full of these poisonous beliefs. Parents don't realize that everything they say, even jokingly, has an impact on their children. Sometimes, taunts and insults which they believe are harmless might end up damaging their child for the rest of their life. It damages their self-respect, self-esteem and faith in family. Parents forget that children are individuals too, with their own thoughts and opinions and feelings. We should be allowed to have a say in decisions that concern us, lest we begin to believe that our opinions are not important (or not as important as our parents’) and that we do not matter. If, as children, we cannot stand up for ourselves, we will never be able to stand up for ourselves as adults.

We need to think about how democratic our own homes are first, before thinking about our countries. If change begins at home, the time to begin is now. I hope that one day, we’ll live in a society where children are treated as free thinkers, can express their opinions freely, and do not have to conform themselves to their parents or society's demands.