Daily Archives: July 21, 2017

#EndViolenceNotChildhood- System Error… Software Not Responding

Not Found

It was the same old story. I had settled to begin my work when my laptop gave up on me. I sullenly sat and watched “System Error” messages creeping up my screen. How annoying that an entire system should conspire against me like this. Computer systems ruin our deadlines, digestive systems ruin our fondness for food and the legal and political system ruin everything else. Yes! the system can gang up against us. More so for some of us than others. Most often for those who have no means, no voice, and no vote. And one category of people who fit all these criteria is of course children. If our society were a large computer screen what would be the error messages, we would see?

A 16-year old was beaten to death over seats in a train. The mob focussed all their communal hatred on him physically and verbally assaulting him till he was no more. Here was a living breathing child who set out on a journey and died. What can we tell his mother? Religious System Error…Compassion Not Responding.

A Dalit child in a government school was thrashed for touching the Mid-Day meal plates. A meal that is his right. A right provided by our Constitution. Here was a school child who reached out for probably the only meal he would get in the day and was beaten up. What can we tell his parents? Caste System Error…Constitution Not Responding.

A young father in his thirties, killed his 40-day old baby because she was a girl. Here was a mother who had dreamt of a baby, who had songs ready to sing for her, stories ready to captivate her, tiny clothes to dress her up and now she has nothing. What can we tell this woman? Patriarchal System…Common Sense Not Responding.

A young man fed his four little siblings poisoned burgers which killed them in their sleep and then committed suicide because his parents were too poor to take care of all of them. Here were two parents who while struggling to make ends meet surely had hope that life would turn a corner and they would be better off someday. What can we tell them? Class System Error…Opportunities Not Responding.

Our systems breed discrimination. Discrimination is violence. Children are enmeshed in these systems that violate their basic right to protection on a daily basis. The question is how helpless are we and how helpless do we pretend to be? Can collective action change a system? History has proved that it can.

I am reminded of the lines that Martin Niemöller wrote just after the Holocaust arguing against apathy.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

They are coming after our children…Is it time for us to speak yet? Humanity System Error…Conscience Not Responding.

#EndViolenceNotChildhood- Spare The Rod Save The Child

Many years ago when I was in school I had a teacher who was known for her razor sharp tongue and her extremely short fuse. A tall, towering personality she scared us out of our wits and we were convinced she had built her upper body strength purely by whacking kids over the years. She did it for the exercise.

Those were the dark ages before the Right to Education Act. It was considered routine and even beneficial to children not to mention good for the teacher’s digestion to spank the nearest available child for the most minor infractions. That was the reason why the naughtiest kids were asked to sit up front. For the less naughty ones who still managed to whisper at the back of the class, there was always the well-aimed piece of chalk that hit them squarely on the forehead motivating good behaviour and rapt attention.

Things haven’t changed all that much. Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice Act 2000 prohibits cruelty to children. This makes teachers and parents liable for assaulting juveniles or exposing them to unnecessary forms of punishment. While people know of the ban on corporal punishment the gap between knowledge and practice is like the cricket pitch. Looks short on TV but not that easy to bridge when you actually have to run the 22 yards.

A couple of years ago I met a teacher, an educationist known for her experience in the field and an important person in framing education policy. She told me it was best not to tell children about their rights and the ban on corporal punishment. Once they know their rights they will question the teacher who will not be able to control bad behaviour. And there it is. The word all adults are in love with ‘control’. Teachers are often judged by their ability to ‘control the class’. So over the years, they have built up an artillery for exercising control. Warning shots in the form of banging the duster on the table. Short range weapons such as the use of rulers to rap the knuckles. Guerrilla warfare like sneaking up on unsuspecting dreamers in class and swiftly administering a whack on the back of the head; and long range weapons such as the aforementioned chalk missiles. They have also developed nuclear weapons like mass punishments for the whole class of kneeling down in corridors so all the other classes can make fun of you; and techniques of verbal taunts and name-calling that they probably learnt from their mothers-in-law. All in the name of control.

Ellen Key the Swedish writer and educationist once said “Corporal punishment is as humiliating for him who gives it as for him who receives it. Neither shame nor physical pain have any other effect than a hardening one.”

And so children watch, learn and absorb that what every adult seeks, is control. In other words, power. Consequently, that is what they learn to seek. As friends and siblings who bully. As boyfriends and girlfriends who learn to use emotional blackmail and silent treatments effectively. As spouses who passive aggressively and sometimes aggressively, make their displeasure known. And eventually as parents and teachers who develop their own artillery of weapons for control. The circle of violence continues across space and time.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The only way now is to use that duster to wipe out the harmful past and use that chalk to rewrite a mindful present. The future will take care of itself.

#EndViolenceNotChildhood- Confessions Of An Angry Mother

Mother Yelling at her child

I am guilty. Of hitting my child and getting angry at him. Guilty of breaking the law, breaking the promise I made to myself and guilty of letting him feel that violence is ok. Because it is not. It never is. I am not writing this to absolve myself of my guilt but just to get the message across to as many people as I can that it may have happened with you, and you may have 100 reasons to justify it but it is never Ok.

A statement people usually make is “If I had to do it again I would not change a thing”. That is something I cannot say about myself. Given a chance I would like to delete forever the times I lost control and hit my child. And yet “losing control” are words that seem to take away the responsibility from the perpetrator. We don’t hit when we lose control. We hit when we want to exert our control. It is power play plain and simple. I always thought I would be different. When I hear of parents using belts, slippers, and worse I feel outrage and relief that at least I am not one of those people. But that is not good enough. Still makes me a hypocrite.

Why is it that we seek so much control? Our frustration, our disappointment and our inability to stand up for what we need and deserve in our own lives make us displace all our shortcomings on the one person in our life who has literally no one to turn to and nowhere else to go. The child.

Trust me I know how it feels when an entitled brat throws a tantrum, or a snooty teen pulls a long face at a meal you have slaved over. After a particularly trying day with your boss, the last thing you want is a bored “whatever” from the apple of your eye. Children will do all of this to push our limits. They will do worse. They will lie to us and hide from us and mock us by doing the very same things they have been warned against. They will be rude and temperamental and as parents, we have all had moments when we wished we could give our children away. It’s not because they are little monsters. It’s because that’s how they grow and that’s how they learn and let’s be frank it’s what we all did.

Discipline is needed. Obedience too. However, fear as a disciplining technique has a very short shelf life and a very long afterlife of resentment. Never think you are hitting your child for their own good. You are only perpetuating a cycle of violence. Violence that we inherited that we are now passing on. It must end. It has to.

I have not been a good role model to my son. What I have been is honest. I am a work in progress. And at 39 years there is still too much work left and very little progress as far as being the ideal person is concerned. The only thing I have been able to do it is sincerely apologise and be on my best behaviour, hoping just hoping that time will heal it all.