Stoned Shamed Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India’s Teens – Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava

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In June 2019, an app called DeepNude was withdrawn by its creator. His rationale was that the world was not yet ready to assimilate the app. The app, by the way was algorithm-based that employed Artificial Intelligence to ‘virtually’ ‘undress’ photos of fully clothed women. Just before its demise, it was downloaded so many times that an unprecedented traffic led to the app crashing. In the same year an infuriated 21 year-old beheaded his father for curbing the former’s uncontrollable addiction to PUBG, a multiplayer game. In October 2019, a twenty-four-year-old man allegedly jumped in front of a train after he was mocked for posting a video on TikTok in which he dressed as a woman.

If the above reads like a selected and sporadic litany of woes brace yourself. As journalist-cum-author Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava reveals in chilling detail, a contrivance of social media, gaming and drugs has enveloped the teens of India in a vice like grip that is tightening every passing day. The teens in “Stoned Shamed Depressed” are not the homeless, underprivileged kids who can be found snorting and sniffing over used and discarded bottles of glue and whiteners. On the contrary the subject matter of this book represents children of well heeled and privileged parents gravitating the higher echelons of society. This book is a garish nightmare as well as a wakeup call for every well intentioned parent. As Ms. Bhargava warns, it is time to shed the head in the sand ostrich mentality and to face reality, however harsh it might be.

Thirst Traps”; “Grooming”; “Sadfishing”; “date rape”; “Hot Box” and “slut shaming”. These are neither new age neologisms nor coinages depicting innocuous acts or events. They represent a dangerous leitmotif that have become uncompromising zeitgeists for the teens of our world. Whether is be an obsession towards social media or an addiction to drugs, many children between the ages of fifteen to nineteen are mired in vices and prone to inequities. Yet, society seems to be turning a blind eye to both their pernicious acts and, in most cases, pitiful plight. As Ms. Bhargava illustrates, schools are now becoming hotbeds of depravity. Reciprocally, and many a times, forcibly exchanging “nudes” on smart phones, ‘making out’ in empty classrooms and blackmailing to elicit sexual favours have all become not just a norm but badges of honour to be flaunted. “‘Snapchat has the biggest culture of sending nudes,’ says a girl in Class 12. ‘I would say over 90 per cent of the girls around me in school will send stuff. They will screenshot it on an android [videos on Snapchat have a limited shelf period] and no one will find out. There have been parties where friends have recorded and circulated in a group, I was at the mall the other day and some boys I know were standing together and laughing. They were watching a nude video of a girl in our class. There is complete insensitivity and lack of empathy.’ “

Drugs are fast becoming the handmaiden of sex in schools. As Ms. Bhargava elucidates in graphic detail, orgies on trips to Goa to let one’s hair down after taxing examinations such as the board exams makes the Woodstock era seem like a congregation of unruly toddlers. Sample this: “Waking up was at 2 p.m., we skipped breakfast and instead drank whatever was left over from the night before. Then we had JUUL in the room until people were okay and went for lunch where we make a “hot box plan”. We then rolled at someone’s place and smoked up till 6 p.m. after which we got ready for the night’s party. We did “whatever” there was and came back home around 2-3 a.m. and did it again the next day.” This is as narrated by a participant in one of the Bohemian events. For the uninitiated, “Hot Box” refers to a practice where numerous smokers closet themselves in a confined space and blow smoke from their respective joints. The primary purpose behind this madness, is ensuring that not a whiff of smoke exhaled by anyone goes to ‘waste.’ The most incredulous aspect of these kind of indulgences lies not in the activities per se, but in the attitude of parents who ‘choose’ to be blissfully oblivious to the doings of their ‘entitled children.’ Such blanket freedom was exactly what encouraged a 22 year old brat to dump his brand new BMW into the Western Yamuna Canal. The boy was besides himself with rage that he was not gifted with a Jaguar instead on his birthday.

Boys and girls addicted to games and smartphones go to the extent of physically attacking their parents when goaded to kick the habit. Games such as “Fortnite” and “Call of Duty” keep teens occupied for extended hours with nary a break for even drinking water and consuming food. Instead, they are consumed by a frenzy that borders on the maniacal. Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) Clinic in Bengaluru, widely recognized as the country’s first digital-detox clinic, tries to rehabilitate teens besotted with gaming addiction.

We all have been witnesses to the spectacle of very young boys and girls remaining riveted to the screen of ipads and tablets while their parents either try to feed them or have a meal of their own in relative calm and quiet. Behind the prismatic allure of the screen lurk dangers unseen and predators unbelievable. Popular games for kids such as Talking Tom and Peppa Pig have built in pop up voice messages that encourage self-harm and sexual proclivities. The playground for pedophiles is vast, unregulated and uncontrolled. Suicidal games such as Blue Whale that instructs kids to perform fifty self-harming ‘tasks’ in fifty days before directing the ultimate act of suicide on the fifty first day become gestures of obstinacy and one-upmanship. Its almost as if the kids are reveling in a display of comeuppance with a behaviour that transcends from the recalcitrant to the revengeful.

Body Shaming is yet another insidious practice that is taking innocent boys and girls to the verge of taking their lives. Ostracism because of shape and size has led to a surge in anorexia and bulimia. Gorging to purge or starving to death have become unfortunate tendencies that are precariously on the rise.

Ms. Bhargava’s book also offers hope. Concerted efforts of parents combined with the will power of the children have extricated many kids from the tentacles of social media obsession, drug and gaming addiction and other violent tendencies. An honest discussion, a shoulder to lean on a pair of sincere ears to hear out the roiling cauldron of emotions that rack the insides of hapless and helpless sufferers, more often than not, does the trick.

A kid beseeching help and screaming out for succour might not exactly be hollering. Silence at times, can be raucously deafening.

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