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Friday, June 9, 2023

The perils of a digital world and aping the West

Given the pace at which Bharat imports western lifestyle, western habits and western culture, all that ails the West has a way of affecting us even as Bharat continues to struggle to become a developed nation.

With the onset of smart mobile phones, Bharat has been quick to embrace digitization. This was not the case when digitization implied using computers as we tended to lag behind in the ownership and use of computers. Today, Bharat’s digitization may not be as widespread and universal as in the west, but we are certainly catching up rapidly. A May 2020 study showed that for the first time, rural Bharat had slightly more internet users as compared to urban Bharat.

Digitization catching on in the rural context has its advantages in the form of access to news and entertainment, access to data and information that can empower farmers, availing of e-governance facilities, ability to engage and participate  in e-commerce activities, and even getting exposure to concepts that help change attitudes to bring about positive social change. Similar such benefits have been listed here.

However, digitization also means that more and more children and adolescents whether rural or urban are communicating digitally. This increases the risk of them becoming prey to sexting scandals and the mental and emotional effects of such scandals.

In the west, sexting among adolescents has often ended in suicide and mental health issues. The Audrie Pott suicide that took place in September 2012 in Saratoga, California showcases the tragic outcome of high school sexting. Audrie was sexually assaulted when drunk during a party by some boys from her school, and one of the assaulters then circulated the humiliating photos among the students. The humiliation was too much for Audrie, who locked herself in the bathroom and killed herself using a belt to hang from the shower. By the time her mother realized something was amiss and managed to get the door open, it was too late. Schools in the UK seem to be facing a similar situation of rampant sexual abuse of teens as this report suggests.

Alcohol and drugs can also result in teenagers getting pulled in—using blackmail/peer pressure/threats–to engage in undesirable sexual activities as the film She’s Too Young depicts.

It appears that Bharat too has begun to experience the ill effects of living in a digital world. Just last month, 2 such cases have been reported. The first is of a 16 year old committing suicide in Gujarat when her boyfriend leaked an intimate video of hers. The second one from Gonda district of UP pertains to a married 22 year old woman and her 40 year old mother committing suicide due to the former lover of the 22 year old leaking lewd videos of her.

This brings us to the recent storm over the content of Bombay Begums, a Hindi Netflix series. Apart from the faux secularism aspect of promoting “Love Jihad,” what was found objectionable was that the series showed cocaine snorting, alcohol guzzling 13-year-old school children, with girls casually sharing selfies of their breasts to attract boys in their class, thus promoting negative role models, more so to the vulnerable and suggestible age group of teenagers and adolescents.

A recent mixed-mode study on portrayal of alcohol use in Bollywood also concluded that “There is an increasing trend toward alcohol depiction by positive characters for fun and relaxation…”

We need to ask ourselves – why are a section of our elites so eager to glorify and normalise lifestyles and attitudes that the West itself is struggling with? Also, there is a need to have a vigilant entity to look at and approve content not just of regular films but also of TV and OTT platforms.

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