Sparta, the city-state in ancient Greece is known for arguably the proudest military legacy in human history. But the inside story was more heinous than the external martial strength was glorious. It is said that soldiers would come to the house at the time of the birth of a Spartan baby and bathe the newborn in wine to examine his strength and fortitude. A strong baby would be identified to be groomed into a warrior hero and the weak baby would be thrown off a cliff or taken to become a slave. The babies were habitually left unattended when they cried and taught to face darkness and loneliness alone. They would be taken away from their parents at the age of 7 and joined the training ‘agoge’ which they would complete at age 21. At the age of 12, all their clothes will be taken from them except for one red cloak and made to sleep outside in whatever bed they could make for themselves. They had to scavenge and steal their food but would be punished with floggings if caught stealing. As if these ordeals were not inhuman enough, in the name of a ‘contest of endurance’ they would often be ritualistically flogged in front of an altar of Artemis, their goddess. Many would die while proving their bravery and resistance to pain. This was around 2500 years ago under totalitarian rule.
We must be thankful for democracy and the tremendous human security we enjoy. However, in a metaphorical sense, our children are subjected to nearly the same cruel and insensitive selection process in our times and culture. We may not literally bathe them in wine but they are put through a rough and tough situation where their basic rights and needs are neglected and many of them get rejected and banished to the cliff of despair and directionlessness.
Their basic needs are much more than education, food, clothes and shelter. Unlike in many poorer states in the country and underdeveloped world, fortunately, almost every child in Sikkim eats sufficient food (not necessarily a balanced diet), has access to education, has enough clothes to wear and shelter. Quality being a relative term is always debatable, which is not the subject of my article. What I want the hitherto blissfully unperceptive Sikkim to realize and concede unreservedly is that almost every child in our state is deprived of many basic necessities which I will discuss in the following sections.
Children’s needs, priorities and rights have been badly ignored in developing and underdeveloped countries. UNICEF has clearly laid out some of them in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Protection of children against exploitation, violence and abuse is the most important one. Educational and skill development is their fundamental need and right. They must enjoy fair chances irrespective of their gender, ethnic origin, religion, economic background etc. Most of our kids have probably enjoyed these blessings. However, our children have been denied “quality social services” “a safe secure and clean environment with access to green spaces”, space to “meet friends and play and enjoy themselves” and “opportunity to express their opinions in child-related matters, participation in family, cultural, community and social life” Many of them do not have a “good start in life”. Enjoying good health and all kinds of care is confined to the fortunate ones.
Let me draw a few parallels between Spartan and our kids.
A single way of testing strength and fortitude: Just as Spartan children had only one career option, our kids have only one way to success – namely scholastic excellence. How many other talents must have died in the Spartan military training? And how many talents are dying in our scholastic system? Join the military or die. Be educationally smart or prepare to fail. Even in some elitist families, children are forced to pursue the goals that their parents prescribe for them.
Face darkness and solitude alone: How callously we leave our children on their own, self-securing against the dark world out there! The detachment between children and parents due to a busy life is a dark reality. So is the detachment due to our over-involvement in the cyber world of TV and other gadgets? In our towns, children go out to face desolateness and congestion in a concrete jungle. The noise of greed, lust, suspicion, haughtiness, selfishness, blatant jealousy, open communalism, religious bigotry and their ilk fill the atmosphere. How often many of our kids fall victim to wolves in sheep’s clothing! We fear the impending danger of substance abuse, child abuse, pornography, various forms of violence and so forth but I have seen many parents’ actions do not match their concern. They do not lift a little finger to secure their kids against these ills. They foolishly expose their kids to these dangers and seemingly enjoy the misery of the fear of losing them. That’s the way their endurance is examined. The comforting and leading voices of shepherds are conspicuous by their absence. There is no space, physically and mentally, to play safely and express their childishness.
Forage for food themselves: Is there a worthy voice to which we can confidently lead our children? There is an utter dearth of food for thought for our kids to grow on. Just as they are exposed to junk food physically, they are subjected to junk food for their intellectual growth. Instead of parents telling them bedtime stories, television idiotizes them into sleeping. In their isolation, what all they must be scavenging on the internet is a thought that sends a shiver down one’s spine.
The condition of our society today is a reflection of our general tendency to children. We complain about the social disorder, lack of civic sense, lack of accountability and irresponsibility, corruption and insincerity so rampant in our society. These are the results produced by adults who were brought up the rough way. I am convinced that for the most part, our violent and careless behaviour, selfish and lazy attitude, etc. are the report card of our childhood experiences. Children raised with complete security, kindness and wise care are by and large predisposed to reflect that when they become adults. Family, social and cultural preconditioning decides what we finally become. Generally speaking, street fighters are seldom born in the warm and secure lap of kind and wise parents. Nor are selfless patriots born in selfish societies. A stark example of this is that our country is not known for its charitable giving and activities. Charity begins at home, they say. Society begets children of its kind.
Happy New Year!
“Generally speaking, street fighters are seldom born in the warm and secure lap of kind and wise parents. Nor are selfless patriots born in selfish societies. A stark example of this is that our country is not known for its charitable giving and activities. Charity begins at home, they say. Society begets children of its kind.”
By Jiwan Rai, the author can be contacted at [email protected]
NB: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.