Spare the cane and nurture the soul

I am not much of a newspaper reader, and with good reasons. It stems as an allergic reaction to the amount of time I spent devouring facts when I was appearing for various competitive exams post graduation (post as in after). Some of the revulsion stems from knowing that the political scenario is going from bad to worse and that money makes the world go round. In my Utopic world it still remains love. Most of my hate for newpapers is because I generally seem to open it only to know that everything I was taught to believe in is crumbling. It is not the papers that I hate. It is the fall of ideologies, principles, honesty and morality that scares me. And so, I have been behind in knowing some important things too. No, this is not about sliding stocks or countries in war. It is about the loss of dignity. It is not about a Nation, it is about individuals, specifically about the most important force in shaping the future of any country, our children.

I just chanced upon a wonderful person, Kalyan who chronicles his love for food through his blog, "finely chopped". What he did not tell me about was that he also wrote a sometimes thought provoking blog called "Mumbai Coffee House." The post I am referring to is "Hope you are in a happy place Rouvanjit". It is about a thirteen year old child, Rouvanjit who took his life after the principal took upon to discipline the boy by 'mildly caning' him. My own post started as a comment to his, but owing to the length, I had to make it a post by itself.

As a prankster I was 'disciplined' several times as a child. Luckily, the spirit remained intact because if there were 'monster teachers', there were also 'angel teachers' who understood and helped you cope with the monsters. As a grown up and a 'has been' prankster turned into mother of two I have pondered several times upon why teachers behaved the way they did.

I remember in Kanpur, one teacher who 'taught' Standard One (First Grade), who would make a child walk without his underpants in class if his homework was incomplete! These were little five and six year olds who still believed in angels and Santa. Back then too, I knew she did more damage to their spirits than disciplined them. She robbed them off their dignity. It still sends shivers down my spine. "How could one be so mean?" - I would think as an eight year old. But having been subjected to some less cruel but mean punishments myself I understood, or so I consoled myself. I was lucky I guess, that I only had to kneel down on the muddiest and stoniest section in school. They tore my knee and my eyes would swell with tears that I would try to hold back but they could not kill my spirit which was the whole idea behind the punishment. There were many days when I would be back with rejuvenated spirits and patches of bandage covering my knee, proudly displaying a blob of dried blood. Most of the time the punishment was for a book forgotten at home or a homework not done. There were other ways to remedy but this was the easiest.

I took on the teacher mentioned above in another matter. She could not bear it. A mere chit of a girl complaining against me, she thought and saw to it that I was denied the privilege of traveling in the school bus. I was right some times and though tired of my 'pangas' with the system, my parents thankfully did not kill the spirit of justice that keeps me going to this day. It bolstered my failing dignity during those times and yes, to an eight year old those were crucial moments. Teachers were cruel back then, venting out their personal frustrations upon unsuspecting children and stripping them off their dignity in the guise of disciplining them. It is the same principle employed by black magicians/tantriks in villages - beating out the evil spirits.

Why are students the victims?
It is because as human beings we have not been taught to respect the dignity of another human being. It is because we have been taught that respect needs to be earned and children are too young to have earned it. We also have very mixed up reasonings behind who deserves dignity. As a child one is often told, "Show some respect to elders." The so called 'elder' has earned the privilege not by his acts but because of years that have added up in making him grow older. The idea that follows in a morally weak 'elder' is that he can get away performing acts that would have not been excused had he been younger. Even if such acts were known in earlier times, people tried to 'sssssh' it down and so the 'elder' became a stronger monster and the victim became weaker.

Schools just took the concept a little further and meted out the same treatment to children. The analogy was the same, essentially. Youngsters have no right to dignity. Teachers have a right to dignity. Caning was basically administered as a tool to break, not the fingers but to crush the ego and dignity of the child. It is a typical case where the teacher is shallow and turns into a bully and uses authority as a tool to abuse and mostly gets away with it.

As parents can we do something about it?
Lots!! As a society we have been sending a lot of wrong messages. It shows when people yell at 'servants'. Have you ever seen 'servant' listed amongst 'our helpers'? We were taught 'postman', 'newspaperman', 'milkman' but the servant who does all the menial jobs in an average Indian home never finds himself mentioned. Why? Is it that they do not deserve to be treated as a 'helper' to society? It is the same feeling that makes people take pride when they say - "Oh! We have a mundu to take care of house work". What is a mundu other than a poorly paid bonded labourer? If you know the kind of jobs people get done from mundus you will know why the mundus do the job. Their dignity has been robbed at some stage of life.

I grew up with servants but my parents made sure that we always addressed them politely, admonished us if we behaved badly with them and ensured that we treated them with the dignity they rightly deserved. Not because they were older but because they were hard working, honest individuals. I had got into my teachers' bad books too because of my stand on equal rights for all. I do not remember a single occasion when my parents tried to break my spirit. They would explain sometimes about how the system works and how I could avoid getting into scrapes over little things, sometimes using the ruler too. Unfortunately, they were a victim of the 'olden school' too. But never did they ever try to break my spirit. That is where a parent comes in. That is the purpose of this post. Oh! And every human being, irrespective of age or sex or physical infirmities deserves to be treated with respect and I am not talking of degenerated persons here! I mean that a child's ego needs to be nurtured not disciplined.

Had Rouvanjit killed himself only due to the 'caning'? Had he somewhere lost trust in his parents? When did the thirteen year old boy's spirit get crushed, and why? Just one incident could not have been the reason for suicide. It must have been a series of little things that probably we will never know. Or probably we could teach our children to trust in us. How? Not by preaching but by leading by example.

Labels: , , ,