Challenging the foundations of Bangladeshi parenting with Jomano Kotha

The parent-child relationship is one which is multi-faceted, one that has to be nurtured and where both parties play a pivotal role. In order to understand each other, parents and children need to communicate effectively and be able to identify when they are needed by the other. The intricacies of the various aspects of these relationships were highlighted in the event, “Jomano Kotha”.

An event called Jomano Kotha: Exploring parent-child relationships, organised by Kotha, took place at the EMK Centre on October 12th. The event brought together both demographics – parents and children – in the same space to unpack relationship dynamics in the context of Bangladesh.

A New Approach

The structure of the event was quite unique and was designed around an Interactive Theatre segment. The 2 act play followed the same scenario in which a father reacts to his young daughter returning home past curfew. The two acts depicted contrasting interactions between the two characters and helped initiate conversations regarding healthy parental communication. In the first act, the father’s concern for his daughter’s safety comes off as hostile and aggressive while in the second act, he reacts in a more composed, sensitive manner. Following each act of the skit, the audience posed questions to the actors, who stayed in character while answering them, allowing people to unpack each character’s motivations and the impact they had on the other. The skit allowed parents and children to observe interactions that they have only been directly involved in allowing more objective reflection. Analyzing the situation from both the child and the parent’s perspective helped build more empathy.

Exploring parent-child relationship in Bangladeshi society 1
Auyon (Ace) and Aahir Mrittika played the character of Baba and daughter respectively.

The discussion pushed boundaries but created the space for participants to be vulnerable and honest with each other. Some parents acknowledged that the violence they perpetrate against their children was learned from their own mothers and fathers. In a society like ours, the common perception is that familial relationships do not require work but is to be taken for granted. Participants discussed that it is crucial to nurture relationships between parents and children through building trust and practising healthy communication. One parent mentioned the importance of respecting children’s privacy. “Children have a right to privacy and allowing privacy and respecting their boundaries do not necessarily mean they are involved in wrongdoings.”

Creating the space -A parent’s duty

While parents pushed for children to be more open with them, children asserted that in order for them to openly share their thoughts and feelings, parents have to allow them space to open up. Sharing cannot happen out of obligation or expectations set by parents. One participant speaking from the child’s perspective pointed out that in the pursuit of ensuring a child’s physical safety parents often put their child’s mental health through various forms of intimidation. One key takeaway from the skit for parents was the need to take their children’s mental health into account during any interaction. One mother said, “The words “I’m here for you” is very important for children to hear. Growing up we never heard it. We heard it when we were much older, after marriage. We need to always tell our children, we are on their side.”

Through the discussion, it was concluded that both parents and children have to actively try to preserve their relationship.

The phrase “two-way street” came up in the discussion and it perfectly articulates the fact that both individuals have a role to play in the building of the relationship. It was noted that both parents and children need to work on letting the other party into different aspects of their lives.  

Towards a better culture

“Family is at the heart of South Asian culture. However, a large part of this culture is also unhealthy and toxic to an extent. Communication barriers with parents were one of the most common struggles that the adolescents we work with mentioned and it was also something we noticed in too many of our friends.

Kotha wanted to explore parent-child relationships in Bangladesh to see what it would be like to redefine those relationships and interactions. Our challenge for Jomano Kotha was to frame this issue as a societal and cultural issue. By bringing private, individualized conversations out into the public sphere we were able to do just that.

We did not expect such an big response from both demographics – parents and children and we noticed a real demand from people to engage in these conversations but in a healthy, constructive manner. We were so happy to host a full house and received requests to start a Jomano Kotha series. Our greatest success was to be able to create the space for such honest and genuine conversation between generations.”

Says Umama Zillur, founder of Kotha who organised the event

Kotha is a primary intervention program aiming to address the culture of violence in Bangladesh. Although they work in a few different areas, Kotha’s flagship project is Kotha at School, a school-based interactive curriculum that teaches adolescents about issues of gender, consent, relationships, bullying etc alongside traditional subjects.