You hear the laments everyday – “Erosion of Indian values”, “Youth corrupted by Western culture”. Is there any truth in these statements? Are we right in blaming only the youth for the decadent society that we have today? If yes, what are the “traditional Indian values” in question?
When hemlines rise, does a nation’s morality fall? The conservative evangelists of Indian culture seem to think so. These days, almost every Indian feels obliged to pass a comment on the poverty of values among Indian youth. The discussion revolves round the same dog-eared examples – Gen Next’s Westernized fashion sense, public display of affection, the “BPO culture”, addiction to “obscene” TV shows.
Our not so moral past
The relevant question is not whether these accusations are true, but whether the above parameters are true measures of a nation’s morality. If yes, are our virtuous evangelists aware that a few generations ago, “low-caste” women in parts of India were not permitted to cover their breasts? Kamasutra and Khajuraho may have become clichés, but they highlight the level of permissiveness in ancient Indian society. Given the increased intellectual and economic freedom that today’s youth enjoy, it’s only natural that they are bold enough to wear their lifestyle and thoughts on their sleeves. Rather than mull over skin-deep cultural indicators, it would do good to examine what’s happening at the level of value systems.
Most cultures, and Indian culture is no exception, emphasize tolerance and peace. While the caste system has been banned in India, the growing number of riots, homicides and other violent acts in the name of religion would put all previous generations to shame. Though the Hindu scriptures glorify respect of women, they have traditionally been treated as an inferior lot. The 2001 census reveals that India’s Child Sex Ratio dropped from 962 females to 1,000 males in 1981 to an alarming 927 in 2001. The reason? The advent of ultrasound technology in the 80s made sex determination, and consequently female feticide, possible.
Cause for concern
One concern of the morally righteous that does seem to hold some truth is the increase in casual sex among the youth. A survey report in the International Herald Tribune indicates that at least 8% of Indian teenagers indulge in casual sex. Not surprisingly, 50% of all HIV-positive cases reported in 2006 were in the 15 - 29 age groups. Also, for several decades, India has recorded one of the world’s highest corruption rates.
A reason to smile
On a positive note, the decline of the joint family system has not affected the family-orientation of Indians. In a survey of 18 - 24 year olds conducted by Henley World, 89% held that they respected their parents’ values. Another ray of hope – though divorce rates in India have increased over the last few years, it’s still among the lowest in the world. The devout may find faith in the fact that 92% of Delhi teenagers who participated in a BBC survey believe in God or a higher being.
If the Indian values have changed over the generations, the changes appear to be no more than cosmetic. Now, would that make the culture vultures happy?
Do you think traditions have been handed down to us in their intact forms? Shouldn’t traditions be flexible enough to accept contemporary thought and behavior if they should survive? Don’t you think such flexibility only makes a tradition more acceptable?