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From Porn Addiction To Vaping, What Bombay Begums Didn’t Show

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Ahh, so our sensibilities have been hurt again. Our ‘precarious’ culture is under attack from another Netflix show and ‘Western influences’ will take down our children, announce those who think that if they scream loudly on social media, it becomes reality. This is true of our new soft target – OTT content.

We are a society that seldom has the pulse of its children. Those who are outraging over the portrayal of a 13-year-old girl in Bombay Begums pretend they see no evil and yet, ironically, talk evil – their public rant against the drama series is the real adult content.

“She was fourteen when, bedridden while recovering from a surgery, she started chatting online with another girl – or so she thought. They exchanged similar stories of adverse circumstances and before long, the other person had convinced Meera to share her nudes.”

“I watch porn every day,” confides a fourteen-year-old girl. “Even with it being banned, I downloaded VPN and I watch daily, since I was about ten, since I first got to know about sex.”

“In my experience of over 35 years, I have never had children as young as 13 in my rehab till about five years ago. Since then, I have been seeing five to ten teenagers every month, and as of today, 25 per cent of the cases I see are teens…A favourite of school children as young as 12 is Mephedrone, or ‘Meow Meow’ ” he tells me. “It does not have to be smoked and can be simply ingested by sniffing.”

These aren’t deleted portions from Bombay Begums, they are real conversations with real people – especially children across schools in the country who confided in me for my book “Stoned, Shamed, Depressed”. This is the Netflix generation that identifies with all that is shown on Bombay Begums – and more.

Vaping (it is called “pen hookah” amongst the Tier-2 children in Mumbai and could be posing as the pen drive in your child’s geometry box), hacking Instagram to make a quick buck on the side, and sharing nudes is some additional content the makers can chew on if they are allowed to make a Season 2. By accusing the new release of glorifying wrongs, we have shown once again why even a ludicrous series like ‘Naagin’ has many runs. It does not make us uncomfortable with some home truths. Of course, the saas-bahu ones are ideal, they continue to enable a section of society that needs no enabling. 

No one is forcing anyone to watch the show. If you don’t like it, don’t subscribe. Also, it has an 18+ rating, so act the adult and be the parent. Don’t allow your underage child to watch it. I won’t. If you can’t control that, the problem is yours, don’t blame it on a filmmaker. Many of those indignant are probably the same people who have given their child unrestricted freedom on a mobile at a young age. Shooting the messenger is our favourite pastime these days.

A teenager is shown sniffing cocaine and we missed the wood from the trees, once again – the toll it is taking on a social media generation to ‘belong’. Our conditioning prefers to dismiss it as a small sample, but many children that I have spoken to over a period of almost two years were from middle-class families where daily joints are casual. Nor do I recall an uproar over nine and 10-year-olds on the streets who are addicted to drugs. Are they not young or are they not our children?

The normalisation of drug culture among the youth does need urgent intervention – some children are themselves peddlers, earning a quick buck on the side and yet, “polluting young minds” is a convenient default mechanism that shifts responsibility away from us. All this as a Microsoft survey says that 53% of Indian children between the ages of 8-17 have been bullied online. There are expected to be more than 700 million smartphone users in the country by this year and with a dominant young population, imagine the lethal cocktail of vulnerability and aggression.

Like Shai in Bombay Begums, many children are on the outside looking in, Rani’s cut – throat corporate competition is not a patch on what a child can do in the desperation to conform. Many schools that I spoke with said self-harm among students is an epidemic. Spiking water bottles is not unheard of in school corridors. Instead of blind denial, have we once stopped to ask why our children are cracking?

Misogyny trivialises anything uncomfortable – whether it is adolescent curiosity with the body or a woman struggling with hers. Bombay Begums has barely touched the tip of peer pressure today. Ask most students and they will tell you that sex education remains at a nascent stage, mere tokenism even now. It is no secret that the preference remains to replace it with yoga lessons. Many children have written in asking for help, they want to openly speak about this with their parents. I don’t envy them the task after seeing the reaction over Bombay Begums. Despite its claims, this generation is less woke and more confused but as adults, we have a choice. To understand why these days some children think they have none. 

(Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava worked with NDTV for more than a decade and now writes on a variety of topics for several news organisations. She is the author of ‘Stoned, Shamed, Depressed’.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.



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