India is no stranger to the tiger mom trend
By Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2012
New Delhi—Stay-at-home mom Swati Rastogi watched her daughter Krisha play with plastic monkeys as son Dhruva lined up model cars in their two-bedroom apartment surrounded by Hindi and English alphabet posters.
Dhruva, 3, asked whether Pakistan is part of India. He was informed that it’s not. “I don’t know where that comes from,” she said, watching attentively.
That’s a rarity for Rastogi, who leaves little to chance when it comes to her children’s education. Although China and its diaspora receive lots of attention for hyper-parenting since last year’s publication of the book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Indians aren’t exactly wallflowers in the child-rearing department.
At a January literary festival in Jaipur, “Tiger Mother” author Amy Chua told adoring audiences that Indian tiger moms may outnumber China’s.
“The crowd went gaga over almost anything she said,” said Shobha De, a writer, socialite and mother of six. “I don’t think she’s seen such a positive reaction elsewhere in the world.”
Indian tiger parents feature in Indian TV series, reality shows, books and magazines in a society willing to do almost anything for its children’s future, even sometimes before they’re born. “Looking for sperm donors,” read a recent Chennai advertisement. “Must have graduated from a top technical institute.”
As millions of Indians migrate from villages to cities, expanding India’s middle class, parents increasingly view education as their family’s best ticket to higher social status and material wealth.
In one survey, parents said they spent half their take-home pay on education. The sacrifices, monetary and otherwise, made so children can learn English and won’t have to work on a farm, lead to a frequent mantra, experts say: With all I’ve done for you, why aren’t you getting perfect grades?
“It’s become very crass,” said Shayama Chona, former principal at prestigious Delhi Public School.
The drive to succeed is filling the world’s top hospitals, universities, multinational companies and start-ups with people of Indian descent. Given the growing competition from Chinese and Indian youngsters, American students must raise their game, President Obama warned in May.
“In Indian culture, parents say: ‘You’re going to do engineering, not music, and you’re going to be first. No excuses,’” said Indian-born University of Houston Chancellor Renu Khator.
Rastogi, who rates her intensity as average for an Indian parent, quit her software industry job to raise her children, enrolling both in pre-nursery school at age 2, supplemented by home instruction.
When her daughter turned 3, Rastogi and travel executive husband Aakash applied to 15 nursery schools, scouring their circle of connections to find one who was a board member at Delhi Public School, then charming his secretary for a recommendation letter. Covering their bases, they also prayed to deceased guru Sai Baba.
“It was divine intervention” when Krisha got in, Rastogi said.
Rastogi then focused on Dhruva, showing up every other day at Krisha’s school so teachers and administrators wouldn’t forget her and making cut-out tree props for school assemblies. Dhruva was also accepted.
“If you want relaxing weekends, enroll elsewhere,” the school principal told parents at orientation. “If you’re ready to work weekends helping your kids study, you’re in the right place.”
Despite being taught the first-grade syllabus in advance, Krisha is struggling in Hindi and English penmanship, so she and her mother practice at home.
“I give her a deadline, not a very tight one, just 10 minutes,” Rastogi said. “She’s more interested in distractions than the blackboard.”
Recently, Rastogi backed off teaching Krisha herself—sending her instead to thrice-weekly tutoring—after realizing she was losing her temper, occasionally slapping her daughter, when progress lagged. Krisha’s also doing twice-weekly art and dance classes for relaxation.
A government survey released in early March found that 99% of Indian children had been either slapped on the face or hit with a cane at school, and 81% had been told they were incapable of learning.
“Hitting, slapping and forcing kids, which is quite common in the Indian context, are traits of tiger parenting,” said Mumbai’s DNA newspaper. “Such parenting behavior would have child rights groups up in arms in the West.”
Some mothers consciously reject the parental arms race. Novelist Namita Devidayal, a self-avowed “slummy mom,” teaches her children yoga. “India used to be more holistic,” she said. “We’re trying to be like China, but we’re not even getting there. Hopefully this will balance out.”
The pressure carries costs: In 2010, there were 2,479 suicides in India committed by students who had failed school tests, compared with 1,571 in 2001. Chennai’s Sneha hotline, one of India’s first such counseling programs in a nation where mental health treatment still carries a stigma, fields up to 450 calls daily from anxious students.
In search of offspring perfection, some parents wield guilt, anger, feng shui and time-management strategies, pushing teenagers to study as much as 10 hours a day outside classes, after canceling cable TV subscriptions and banning parties.
“My mum went insane,” said Kavita Mukherji, a recent graduate who now works in the publishing industry. “She locked me in, delivering food to my room, so I wouldn’t leave the house.” At a temple one day, her mother made her walk around an auspicious idol for luck. “If I do 100 rounds, will I score 100% in every subject?” Mukherji asked her mother. “She got offended and never took me to a temple again.”
That said, most Indian tiger moms believe they’re less fanatical than their Chinese counterparts, perhaps tempered by a more tolerant culture and core spirituality.