This article originally appeared on VICE India.
When India announced its lockdown back in March, the only silver lining on these cloudy times for many Indian families was the announcement about reruns of the mythological classics they grew up watching like Mahabharata and Ramayana. Within weeks, these shows emerged as the most-watched television series of all time, getting higher views globally than even Game of Thrones, and were thus also introduced to a new generation of kids who had till then only heard about the glory days of Doordarshan, and how no one would venture out on the streets when these shows were on back in the 80s and 90s.
As these influential shows of epic war and strategy are exposed to a whole new crowd of young ones in the hopes of imbibing moral and social values into newer generations, it has also led to many children imitating the actions they see on the shows. But when they see invincible godlike characters on these series wielding bows and arrows, it turns out that several kids have tried to do the same and made homemade bow-arrow sets, particularly with broomsticks. However, this took a dark turn: These arrows have ended up piercing some of the kids’ eyes, causing parents to rush them to the hospital.
The first such case came up on April 20, when a 10-year-old from Ranchi needed surgery to repair his eyes after he hurt his cornea and retina with a DIY bow and arrow. Now, more than 12 children in the state of Hyderabad, and in areas around it, have lost their eyesight in at least one eye in the last 40 days, according to The Times of India. Meanwhile, there are 25 other similar injuries that doctors say are being caused because of the powerful influence of these shows.
“When Ramayana was telecast about two decades back, we saw many bow-and-arrow injuries,” Dr Subhadra Jalali, director of Retina Institute at a Hyderabad hospital told TOI. “For about 15 years we did not see these injuries, but the numbers are starting to rise again. In an attempt to copy the central characters (from these shows), kids make their own bow-and-arrow games.”
Research has proven time and again that young children can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and that because they learn by imitating what they see, the television can be a powerful teacher. In India, there were a string of tragic deaths reported when the superhero show Shaktimaan was popular on television, though like in the case with the epics currently on TV as well, Shaktimaan was also lauded for imbibing good values in kids. Dr B P Kashyap, a senior eye specialist at KEMH told TOI, “Soon after the government’s decision to air these shows on TV, I wrote to the senior government officials, requesting them to run a disclaimer, along with the serial, advising people not to imitate what they see on TV.”
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