What happens when civic sense is imposed on children?

A young mother was sitting on a bench, in a park at the heart of Bengaluru. Her two kids had some eatables on their hands in cardboard plates. In spite of them sitting very close to a ‘Use Me’ dust bin, the children scattered their plates and tissues all over the place.

‘The bin is just here child, why can’t you put them in there?’ – I said casually.

She looked at me askance and looked at her mother. The mother looked at me as though I did something wrong and with an expression of annoyance said “ಯಾಕ್ ಮೇಡಮ್, ಈ ಪಾರ್ಕ್ ನಿಮ್ದಾ?” (Yak madam, ee park nimda? – Why madam, is this park yours?)

Yes. This is the attitude of most of us. “Why should we be responsible for what does not belong to us?”

I have come across several such comments. When someone tries to cut a tree on a foot path and I ask them a question as to why they are cutting it, the reply I get is ‘ಯಾಕ್ರಮ್ಮಾ ಈ ಮರ ನಿಮ್ದಾ? (Why, is this your tree?).

There should be some reason for us, citizens of Bengaluru, for not having the kind of civic sense that our western counterparts have. In spite of the fact that we are very strict with our children from childhood about almost everything from dress code to behavior, this attitude is prevalent across all sections of Indian society.

Civic sense is not something that can be taught. It should come from a ‘sense of belongingness’ which creates pride and a sense of ownership. It should motivate everyone to create a good living atmosphere. This logic may be simple; but majority of the people do not seem to understand its basic premise.

This takes me back to the few months that I spent in USA with my daughter when she had her baby. I was called to one or two schools to address the students and talk to them about our country. The students were studying about India in history and it would be nice if I could answer their questions.

As I entered a classroom I saw one or two girls lying down on the window sill of the classroom reading a book. The teacher-in-charge of the class welcomed me and made me sit on a chair. The two girls who were on the window sill did not even get up. Sensing my concern, the teacher called out to them “Sarah and Millie, would you like to sit here and participate in the conversation?”

“No” – said one girl.

“Leave us alone.” – said the other.

If it was one of the schools of our country, this would have thought of as impudence and they would have been admonished. Instead, the teacher looked at me and said, “You continue with whatever you want to do. They are not interested.”

Yes. It may seem like ‘misbehavior’ to us, as we expect total obedience and attention from students in the presence of a guest.

The session was very interesting with quite a few thought-provoking questions from the students.

On my way back while I walked through the corridor of the school with one of the teachers, quite a few boys who walked past us looked at the teacher with a smile and said, “Miss Marge, you are looking pretty today.” Miss Marge just said, “Thank you boys.” and walked with me.

“Does it sound strange to an Indian teacher?” – Yes it does.

Back home, I ruminated over all that had happened in the school. Most of the schools that I visited in USA had similar ways of working. The disciplines in the schools were not like what we tried to bring in, in our country. What we expected of the students in our country was implicit obedience. From Standard I to Standard X, they were bound by the rules and regulations of the school; but unfortunately when they grow up and become citizens their ‘sense of discipline’ is something that does not match with the ‘sense of discipline’ that their western counterparts have.

Where are we failing? Do we fail them when they are in school? When they are in college? Where?

It is surprising that even educated, enlightened persons indulge in urinating in public. Our country has reached a point where hardly anything can be done to restore civic sense.

Stuti Srivastava, in an article titled No ‘incredible India’ without civic sense” says: “As much as we might want to blame the Government’s incompetent ways in handling these issues and see them as deterrent, I’d dare say we don’t seem to make the surroundings we live in any good for ourselves. Even a cursory respect for the name of the law seems to be a far shot when the onus is on us to clean the mess.”

We teach our children to succeed by thinking about themselves and themselves alone. It works well to compete for plum educational opportunities and jobs but, it also naturally manifests as a profound disregard for the space that our children need.

Quote from Sruti Srivatsava in her article titled ‘Incredible India”

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with much of the article except the part linking the two girls reading on the window sill with ‘thinking for themselves’. As a long term citizen of the UK where children are brought up to think for themselves and have a civic sense this would be seen as bad manners and impolite towards a guest. In fact the girls are ‘thinking only of themselves’. Respect for other people is important.
    Yes, it is true that a lot of children in India are brought up to think only of themselves and have no civic sense either as they grow up or as adults. There is a shocking amount of self centredness whether in traffic or in the use of public spaces. Originally from Bangalore, I spend a lot of time visiting the city. It is with sadness that I see the increasing deterioration of our public spaces but I try not to despair. Hopefully, publications like yours and the many community campaigns held around Bangalore will help to raise awareness of this issue.

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