Why Indians, including Anuskha Sharma and Virat Kohli, need to respect individual privacy

We need a Swachh Bharat campaign to cleanse our society of bad practices which we tend to defend as tradition.

 |  4-minute read |   26-06-2018
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The recent controversy over whether Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma were right to "shame" a person who was littering, by making his image public brings to the fore the question of privacy and personal space (or the lack of it) in India.

For a population that is used to jostling for space in buses and trains, it is almost understandable that our understanding of personal space is, well, not what any of us would like it to be. However, the concept of personal space is not just physical, and we tend to become quite nosey about the lives of others.

While many of us may brush it off, often with a dash of humour that "we Indians are like that only", the ramifications of our society not respecting individual privacy can be very profound. It is the breeding ground for social bullying and can ruin many people’s lives, especially those of today’s teenagers who are growing up at the cusp of changing zeitgeists.

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Most of us must be aware of people in our extended families who are extremely "protective" about their children, especially teenaged girls. Often their phones are checked for any "misguided" behaviour. As with most teenagers, it is most likely that they will find a message or two which may not be to the liking of the parents. Rather than guiding them and being mentors, they are often chided and belittled, which results in their self-esteem being scarred profoundly.

India being a collectivist society, it is almost impossible for anyone to intervene, and tell the parents that a child’s privacy must be respected, just as an adult’s privacy should be.

From this lack of respect for individual privacy spring the larger problems of stalking and harassing people. Many people still believe that sending an offensive text to another person is not something that needs to be taken seriously. They often brush it off as a misdemeanour that doesn’t merit society’s attention.

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However, such behaviour where one is not concerned about the feelings of the other people and actively seeks to cause distress, without remorse or empathy is the symptom of a sociopathic person.

Much of the hatred and vile in society comes from the lack of respect for the individual, which sadly is not taught in our schools or even by parents at home. On the contrary, it is often the parents and teacher who set the wrong examples by peering into the lives of children who then grow into adults who lack the sense of personal space and privacy.

If we are to contain the larger malaise of a large number of crimes in our society, we must start with becoming conscious about the example we set for our children at home and in schools.

Sadly, the governments are oblivious of the larger picture and fail to see how respect for individuals, self-esteem of individuals and social progress are all interrelated. And when there are cases of women being harassed, our response is often shallow, like the khap panchayats that believe taking away mobile phones from girls will solve the problem.

Much like the Swachh Bharat campaign, we must start another one to cleanse our society of such practices which we tend to defend as tradition. A society that has no respect for the privacy of the individual can’t progress much. When people cannot enjoy a life free from judgemental eyes, our collective efforts will always remain muted.

The government must consider having experts from diverse social sciences to advise it on developing a model for Indian parenting that is in sync with the changing times. Further, the government itself must respect the individual’s rights, as must the media, which is expected to promote a debate around such pertinent matters and educate people about it.

Privacy is an important aspect of freedom and enhances the quality of life. If nothing else can be done at the moment, perhaps the PM could at least talk about it in his next Mann ki Baat talk. Of course, he should also lead by example and not flood people’s inboxes about his talk without seeking their consent.

Also read: Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy A6+?

 

Writer

Madhuri Danthala Madhuri Danthala @madhuism_

The author is a political analyst based out of Bengaluru.

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