One of my abiding worries, as a parent, is whether my children will exercise self-restraint when using megaphonic social sites; whether they will heed the calls of conscience; whether they will be able to empathize with the marginalized, and perhaps be the voice of sanity in the midst of ceaseless indulgent chatter.

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The Dharun Ravi case has further amplified that fear.

Here are the facts of the case: Dharun Ravi was found guilty on 15 charges connected to the death of his former Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi. Dharun Ravi is 20 years old and is awaiting sentencing. Ravi set up a webcam to spy on his gay roommate’s sexual encounters. Ravi announced a “viewing party,” on Twitter and other online social sites and tragically, Clementi did commit suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

These facts do not all line up coherently, neither do they justify the all-guilty verdict that was meted to Ravi. But it is undisputed that social media sites gave Ravi an unfettered license to express his reprehensibly self-absorbed and morally repugnant thought flashes.

I feel profound sadness for his parents, Ravi Pazhani and Sabitha Ravi, especially when I read the words they had written on his high school yearbook: “Dear Dharun, It has been a pleasure watching you grow into a caring and responsible person.” It is deeply disturbing in the light of how Ravi’s life combusted publicly soon after. It speaks to how, as parents, we are rarely afforded a glimpse into our children’s occasionally inconsonant social personalities.
Certainly, making ethically complex discussions the centerpiece of our parental discourse will probably serve our children better than the quick pats and pardons that we are so often prone to.

I remember the Moral Science classes that were a compulsory part of my high school education. Enduring and resenting the be-good message that found its way into the curriculum was just part of my teenage angst then. Today, with the long-sighted rear view image of the past, I wonder whether the science of integrity stripped of religious references but rife with moral etiquette tips should be part of the prescription for our children’s empathetic development.

This is our teachable moment. Let’s make it count.

It is a great honor and privilege to write this, my first editorial, for the 25th anniversary issue of India Currents.

Jaya Padmanabhan

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