Jainism is considered one of the most peaceful religions in the world. They haven’t contributed to religious violence since inception, hence the tag ‘quintessential pacifists’, but certainly demonstrate their fanaticism in other ways.
Recent news about the death of a 13 year old girl Aradhana, observing a religious fast to bring good luck to her family, was the subject matter of widespread national debate. After 68 days of nothing but water, she succumbed to complications leading to her death. Among fundamentalist Jains, the girl has been glorified as a religious icon. Many Jain leaders have defended this practice of extreme penance saying their rituals should be respected under religious freedom. The girl’s parents have denied allegations of force stating that it was done voluntarily.
Many have asked the government to ban such practices. Others have welcomed the imprisonment of her parents. However, the bigger issue here, which a few have thought about, is the amounts of control parents have over their children. No one denies the involvement of parents in shaping the lives of their offspring. Yet we agree that boundaries must be drawn somewhere. Instances like physical abuse and choosing clothes can be categorized as black or white, but grey areas like a child’s upbringing involving significant beliefs and values require most scrutiny and efficient judgment. This line of thought questions the limits of parenting normalized by society, ignoring problems in such validation.
Indoctrination associated with religion is an approved behavior globally. Critics of religious fundamentalism see it as a kind of abuse, but most people think of it as handing over tradition and cultural values. Religious and cultural beliefs are taught at a young age, where the possibility of objection is close to nil. This is not to say that the knowledge people attain during these years is unimportant. A huge part of learning we undergo is methodically verified or at least allowed to be criticized. Dissent is allowed on such issues, in most if not all countries. However, socially, such disapproval is condemned. It is no surprise that children, when they grow older, show favorable attitudes toward similar social beliefs that are publicly endorsed.
In other instances, the lack of alternative ideas at a child’s disposal makes it hard to pin down if they have voluntarily adopted these beliefs. Maybe they have. But what if they had the availability of contrasting opinions and no parental or societal pressure? Those who legitimize the status quo justify themselves suggesting that children have the freedom to choose their own opinions once they reach a particular age of acceptable maturity. What if they lack the necessary psychological capabilities, at that ‘prescribed’ particular age, to make an unbiased, informed choice?
Which contradictory belief among the parties is true is an irrelevant question. Everyone agrees people should have freedom of thought but a lot of social pressure prevents this platitude from coming into practice. Aradhana would have most likely undergone similar conditions. Her story serves as reason to seek out others facing same issues.
Instances like Aradhana’s are easy to find in India but with varied degrees of repercussion. To tackle this, educating young minds on difference between critical thinking and dogmatic beliefs must be imparted at elementary level. Some might easily conclude what Aradhana did as solely her decision. Although what we need to question is whether Aradhana and several others, who make such choices, are in a position to understand the consequences and make rational decisions.
Parents are supposed to be our guardians, teaching us morals and equipping us with tools to deal with the world. But who knows when the unwavering trust in our values ceases to be valuable for those around us? Perhaps we could at least remember this the next time we force children to do something.
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