Are My Opinions Really My Own?

A recent trip to my relatives’ house showed me how we imbibe elders’ opinions early on in our lives.

Largely, the opinions we hold as we grow up are shaped at an early age and are often a reflection of our immediate environment. The recently concluded general elections offered an intriguing insight into this process through my 12 and 9 year old cousins.

As we were chatting about social media in general, they learnt that I followed Rahul Gandhi across various platforms. A collective gasp was let out. This action of mine was almost looked at as blasphemy – why follow the loser when you already know the winner?

To them, Rahul Gandhi is the grovelling leader of a party that upper caste Hindus can never support.

My parents’ generation and the generation before them see in Prime Minister Narendra Modi a credible and decisive figure, who wears his Hindu identity proudly on his sleeve (or much like his name on his suit, everywhere?).

Purportedly with the rapid influx of western thought into our education, media and lifestyle, our parents have watched us grow into increasingly deracinated individuals.

Thus, Modi is that saviour who – with his hip vocabulary and oratory skills – is making nationalism palatable to all.

Also read: How Divisive Politics Have Entered Our Drawing Room Discussions

The younger generation, which does not understand/comprehend the nuances of politics, is easily charmed when Modi uses buzzwords like PUBG in his speeches in the ‘Parikshsa Pe Charcha‘ addresses (Don’t get me wrong, Pariksha Pe Charcha indeed was a great initiative taken by Modi to promote dialogue on the perils of exam stress).

But, alas, pretty speeches don’t run the country.

For a child, their understanding of politics (and also cricket – Dhoni is the ultimate captain and we must always win against Pakistan) is quite hardwired.

I find this worrying for two reasons.

First, they seem uninterested in, or rather, are impervious to ideas and arguments opposite to theirs. And secondly, it appears that anyone who differs with their own opinions are readily viewed as naive persons who are apparently oblivious to the magnificence and magnanimity of Modi.

Not just innocent children, but most ardent supporters of Modi possess the same traits. His carefully crafted multi-hyphenated persona appeals equally to the young and the old, the rural and the urban.

But the revived interest in our rich old history seems to have taken a turn for the worse.

Unreason and pseudo-science has begun to sprout everywhere with politicians going so far as to make statements claiming that cows exhale oxygen (move over trees, cows will save us from this choking pollution), and stroking a cow from its tail to the head cures breast cancer (again, why invest in research and doctors when we have cows? Duh).

It is this current narrative – using conservative interpretations of religion/tradition as a basis to defend absolute balderdash – which I find most worrisome.

It might seem innocuous, the views of school-going children, but they are also a testament to the brainwashing that we are exposed to as early as we develop the faculty of comprehension.

The question then is, to what extent does our immediate environment influence our views?

As we grow and assimilate varying ideologies, what decides which ones we keep?

Is our education system capable of inducing reason-based thinking in students, or will mass-thinking and herd mentality continue to shape our minds?

Tanaya Rajeev Unhale is a research fellow working on Malaria drug discovery at ICGEB, New Delhi. She is enthusiastic about all things biology, literature, and politics.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty