It has been two days and I am still reeling from the after-effects of the impact recent news articles have left on me. The most upsetting being the news of Pradyuman, a 7-year old whose throat was slit mercilessly by a bus conductor employed by his school, for resisting sexual assault in the washroom. As if this news was not ghastly enough, there were updates about a 5-year-old girl raped by a peon in the school in an abandoned classroom.
These incidents are over and above the previous two incidents that rocked the parenting community in India where a boy somehow fell into a septic tank in the school premises and died, and another boy allegedly ‘slipped’ outside his classroom and died on spot. The point to be noted here is, all of these deaths took place in Delhi NCR in fancy, reputed schools, which charge exorbitant fees for various facilities including ‘state-of-the-art’ safety.
These news pieces are the reason why I do not subscribe to newspapers and avoid reading the news online. There is nothing but gruesome rapes, murders, wars and devastation all over the world today and our country is no exception. Not that these kinds of reports did not upset me earlier, but being a parent now, I feel far more affected by any reports of sexual, physical, or emotional violence on children. It is horrifying enough for adults to bear such inhuman acts, but for children, it’s just unimaginable heartache. Their life didn’t even start before it ended. Whose fault is it?
Is it the fault of the person who perpetrates such unspeakable acts against innocent children? Who are these people and why are they allowed to access areas deemed ‘safe’ for kids? Why are they allowed to be drunk during duty or carry weapons? How do they get access to kids in isolation? Does our justice system ensure that they are prevented from committing further crimes?
Is it the fault of the school authorities? Why do they talk about CCTV cameras that do not actually work or record? Why do they charge high fees to compensate for more staff and help, which is never around when required? Why do they not adhere to strict safety guidelines within and outside the school premises? If any untoward incident happens, why does the school just pass the buck?
Is it the fault of the parents for sending their child to school? It is essential for kids to go to school, to learn, to play, to socialize, and to grow into smart and responsible adults. But is this what we send our kids to school for? To get murdered, raped, assaulted? Whether it be these incidents, or the incident in Lucknow where a teacher mercilessly slapped a student 40+ times for not answering her roll call; or the incident in a fancy Delhi school where a couple of middle school boys bullied a classmate and slapped him so hard, he lost partial hearing from one ear. If not, what choice do we have? Homeschooling? Is homeschooling easy for everyone? Is homeschooling the solution?
Or, is it the fault of the children themselves? For being born in such a cruel world. For going to school. For trusting their teachers, and staff members. What was their fault? That they went to the washroom? That they didn’t listen to the teacher or didn’t bow down to a bully? That they wore objectionable clothes or deliberately enticed these despicable men?
In the aftermath of this gruesome incident, everyone has been running around. Police have woken up and started to take strict action and investigate. The school authorities around the country have woken up and made their security protocols strict. Parents have been rioting at various schools to express their indignation. It all feels too little too late, for Pradyuman. But all is not lost yet, there is a chance that we all can learn from this tragedy and make our future better for our kids.
What are some concrete steps that can be taken up to ensure a better and safer environment for our kids?
- School: The school authorities must ensure they leave no stone unturned when it comes to following procedures before hiring people. A background verification should be done and hiring should not be based on nepotism. Strict protocols for ensuring the safety of a child must be followed.
- Parents: It is high time we come out of our comfort zone and address the elephant in the room with our kids, from a young age – sex and consent. Little kids from age 2 onwards should be told about good and bad touch and made to feel comfortable enough to share their discomfort or experiences with their inner circle (parent/teacher/guardian). Pre teens must be given correct information about sex and most importantly, consent. Both boys and girls need to be talked to, it’s not just girls who are at a risk of such crimes.
- Teachers: Teachers play an integral role in a child’s life. For 6 hours a day directly, and the rest of the day indirectly, they are responsible for the physical, mental, emotional safety of their students. If a teacher can go beyond the traditional role of just talking down to her /his students and rather talk to them, about their family, their friends, their feelings, their life; they can unearth the many troubles and thoughts children carry. A teacher should form a warm and friendly relationship with her students so they can discuss and share everything with her. A high level of morality and integrity is required on the part of the teacher, so that he/she does not resort to emotional blackmail, sexual harassment, or physical punishment towards his/her students.
The world is changing, in some ways for the better but in many ways, for the worse. It is up to us, to identify what is important and put our heads together to sort it out. Let us take a solemn vow to do our best to ensure that what happened to Pradyuman doesn’t happen again.