Western ethics and eastern sustainability

They told me ‘why are you sleeping with the children in the same bed?’

[I told them] this is also a purely cultural issue. We never leave the children in another room and say goodnight to them

A strange story was recently reported in the media, where Norwegian social workers had ceased children from Indian parents, over what appears to be some cultural differences.

The Moral Low Ground website says that Norwegian citizens of Indian origin, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya lost custody of their threeyear-old son and one-year-old daughter eight months ago, after Norwegian Child Protective Service officials found aspects of the couple’s parenting to be, according to what they termed - ‘inappropriate’.

Apparently, what had prompted these social workers to seize the children were that the Bhattacharyas were feeding their children by hand and sleeping in the same bed with them; habits, which are culturally acceptable in India and other Asian countries like ours, but unfortunately not in Norway.

Cultural difference
A distraught Anurup Bhattacharya who was interviewed by India’s NDTV has said, “They told me ‘why are you sleeping with the children in the same bed?’ [I told them] this is also a purely cultural issue. We never leave the children in another room and say goodnight to them.”

As for the “inappropriate” feeding method, Anurup added that “Feeding a child with the hand is normal in Indian tradition and when the mother is feeding with a spoon there could be phases when she was overfeeding the child. They said it was force feeding. These are basically cultural differences.”

Oprah Winfrey when she recently visited India for the Jaipur Literary Festival, and was interviewed by BurkhaDutt for NDTV said that when she visited the Bachchans (Aishwarya and Abhishek) she was quite surprised to learn that four generations of Bachchans lived under the same roof. She went on to say that she understood why India did not need so many nursing homes (for elders) because of this cultural difference the country had from the West.

Talking about the things that surprised her about India she told Dutt, “When I first came to India, I was overwhelmed by the chaos, the traffic and the people who never stopped for red lights, by men riding donkeys, women wearing helmets with saris and oxen-drawn carts laden with steel. It made my head spin - I felt like I was part of a video game. But I realized there’s a method to the madness - there’s a karmic calmness within the millions of people that keeps them moving along a path. Being in India has expanded my idea of humanity”.

East-west blend
The West talks a lot about sustainability these days, to the extent that it has even become the new catchword to replace corporate social responsibility. However, the sustainable approach towards life has been practiced here in the East for generations; and it looks like the time has come for us to showcase our models to the world.

What has happened is that we are losing the values ingrained in us, due to this problem of trying to ape the West all the time. It takes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey to discover and showcase these value systems and find meaning to what the West sees as chaos. In the West, children are expected to leave their homes and make their way in the world by the time they are 18. But in places like India or Sri Lanka it would be a definite no, no. Even if they get married, they are expected to stay connected to the ‘mahagedera’ (family home).

The West might be surprised by the fact that children sleep with their parents or that they are fed by hand but we are proud of the fact that we do these things. We believe in the bond these habits create amongst our parents and children.

About 20 or 30 years ago, Asia was gearing to do business with the West and we had to change the way we did things here. Yes, they taught us not to employ children, discouraged our sweat shops etc. an entire line of best practices had to be introduced so that companies could become what the West termed ‘ethical businesses’. And it was a good thing!

Today, as the West looks to the East for their growth, isn’t it time that we introduce them to our culture, making them understand the way we do things around here. It’s not about a tit for tat approach but more about finding the ideal blend where western ethics meet eastern traditions.

How will this all help? For starters, they would respect us more! In turn, it will help the East to become partners not just someone that fits into the western consumers’ supply chain. This will help us find synergies rather than just opportunities to exploit and a win-win situation for all.



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