The new focus in Manipur on the plight of children in conflict environments is welcome. The intelligence of children and their susceptibility to adverse influences by the social milieu they grow up in had been taken too much for granted for too long. Even if not all have been as unfortunate to lose their parents and dear ones, or suffer personal injuries and other traumas as a direct result of the violence that has engulfed our society, there is no way any one of them can escape from the oppressive tyranny of the situation by and large. Tidings of violence assault their senses just as they do everybody else every morning. Some of these news, they would also be realising, are too close for comfort. Bandhs, strikes and blockades have become part of their vocabulary, and school closures on account of these their routine experience. Not only this, quite outrageously and meaninglessly, they are also made to participate in political protests and agitations, spending long hours in the sun, marching with flags and placards the significance of which they have no inkling, and shouting political slogans from rote. Let us not be too hasty to presume their personalities will not reflect the oppression of this atmosphere when they grow up to be adults.
It is true that whatever its nature, good, bad or ugly, Manipur’s reality is the world our children will one day have to inherit. It is also true that the turmoil in the land cannot simply vanish, and they have no choice but to get to know and imbibe its essence sometime or the other. But all these do not mean they have to be dragged into the adult world even before they have completed kindergarten. Our society has miserably failed in clearly demarcating between the world of adults and the world of children. Which is also perhaps why children – their needs and desires, have been taken so much for granted, presumed as it has always been that they must live in the same world as their parents do, and share the same values and anxieties, and all its myriad other burdens too. By all means they must one day. They must have to ultimately carry forward the legacy and history of the society they were born in, but can this mean they have to be made to sacrifice their childhood and be forcefully baptised into the harsh realities of the adult world before they are ready? Must they have the space to grow up with their skipping ropes and marbles, or join political processions meaningless to them even as they are being introduced to the joy of figuring out the logics of elementary arithmetic? There seem to be many who think the answer is in the affirmative, wanting our children to grow up as street fighting activists. Well there is nothing wrong if they become activists, but let them be given the space to develop their faculties first to decide what they want to be. There is a time for everything: a time for play, a time for books and yes, a time for politics. But all of them cannot be clubbed into one time frame. In any case early baptisms, or call it brainwashing, into political ideologies, cannot serve the purpose of grooming good future citizens, and by that virtue, good pillars of the future.
A little diversion will help drive home this point. The adult world is also where sex and procreativity acquire a meaning. Our children must grow up to learn and imbibe the essence of these gifts of nature at some stage in their lives. Many parents, if not all parents, must have faced uncomfortable questions on this matter from their innocent and curious children. Where do babies come from? How are puppies made? If only females give birth, how are the new puppies the children of our (male) dog? Etc. What are the normal answers parents give to such queries? Surely at such times, all parents presumably would clearly demarcate between the world of adults and children, and without lying outright, would also not reveal everything in the raw. And this censure would be with the sincere belief that it is for good of the innocent minds. Children, it would be deemed here, must have the space to grow and imbibe such knowledge, inevitable as they are, in the right doses and at a pace that would not be detrimental to their overall growth as a person. So it must be with politics and violence.