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.
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.
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.
A 9 year old is married off to her uncle, her father couldn’t pay his loan. A 13 year old turns pregnant against her will, her husband wants children. A 10 year old drops out of school, she move into her grooms home. A 16 year old commits suicide, she doesn’t want to become a bride.
Child marriage is abusive, brutal, violent and all things wrong.
For many families, marrying their daughters off at a young age is a desperate response to extreme circumstances..
Worried for their future and fear for their safety..
Photo- Stephanie Sinclair
But, whatever the reasons, child marriage is a violation of human rights
For boys and girls..
Yet, perpetuating gender inequality
As they get burdened with responsibilities and household duties
Often abused at the hands of their partner
By way of violence, forced and early pregnancies..
Affecting reproductive and sexual health…
And mental and emotional health …
Impacting their right to education, right to participation…
With little future prospects of economic and social independence
Limiting their potential and possibilities..
Ending CHILDHOOD too early for many children
Between the saas-bahu dramas and reality shows on the small screen, the television industry is making way for some young talent. These are none other than child artists, some as little as six years old. From portraying historical characters, promoting social messages, doing aerial acts for their dance performances, to playing intense roles on TV, these child artists are fast becoming household names.
But recently, Shoojit Sircar, the acclaimed Director and Producer, made an observation or rather an appeal.. he said “Humble request to authorities to urgently ban all reality shows involving children. It’s actually destroying them emotionally and their purity, ” that caught the attention of many of those who wouldn’t have taken notice otherwise, sparking a much needed debate on the issue.
Here are some views and comments from Leher’s friends and family on Shoojit’s Sircar’s popular tweet last week…
MEGHA RAMASWAMY, an award-winning Mumbai-based screenwriter, director and producer works under her banner, Missfit Films, is dedicated to producing innovative films, also co-hosts Cause Effect, a platform that produces cause related content and outreach programs says:
“Any kind of ban concerning a creative platform needs to be studied responsibly. In the case of reality shows and children if production houses and professionals managing the show are following guidelines of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and not throttling unreasonable performances out of child actors reality shows can be an interesting and exciting platforms for kids from a young age where their creativity is finding expression through myriad forms. An important add on would be to counsel parents and relatives of these children and nudge them towards a healthy performance space environment for their children kids, not suffocating them into over achieving in a mindless consumer culture. It would also be interesting to change the format of these shows and make them less competitive. A ban is unnecessary. Children make wonderful performers, we should encourage them and make their performance spaces safe, secure and healthy.”
PALOMA MONNAPPA, a well known face in the modeling world, and also an actor and host on Discovery channel says:
“I think banning all reality shows involving children would be a bit extreme. There should be stricter laws involving protection of children (rest and meal time) that the production team should be mindful of. Most of the time in television it’s the parents that push the kids to constantly perform better which can be very pressurising on the child. It’s a tricky one because some kids are born performers and enjoy competition in a healthy way. I think the parents should be responsible to maintain a balance in their lifestyle.
It all comes down to having policies and laws to help control the hours of work, education on set and other things. We must remember that sometimes this platform can give rise to a number of opportunities to children that aren’t as privileged.”
CAROL ANDRADE, media stalwart, also the Ex-Editor of The Afternoon Despatch and Courier and the supplements of the Times of India and currently the Dean of St. Pauls institute of communication education says:
“When making a film with children in it, the potential for exploitation can be contained by the director and of course the parents. Sadly in India, too many parents see their children as a source of revenue and this route will continue unfortunately. But this is also a miniscule number of children. These bloody reality shows, on the other hand, are far larger arenas of exploitation, exposing the children to a completely negative adult world of cut throat competition, the inability to take rejection, a completely false narrative of what constitutes success (fame and face recognition) and, worst of all, the sexualisation of babies through make up and dressing like adults. This leaves them prey to pedophiles, fantasists, fetishists and the world of porn. This is what I am talking about when I say I am with Shoojit Sircar on the issue of banning reality shows for children. Going into that nonsense about his doing children’s films only dilutes the issue. It might be fun for the diluter but it is damn annoying for me.”
AMIR RIZVI, a human rights activist passionate about gender equality, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and child rights and also a talented designer and writer says:
“As a person involved in TV entertainment industry and also concerned about child protection, I always felt that kids have the worst deal in the Indian TV industry. For animals there is a very clear law therefore, abuse of animals on TV is almost impossible to show. Whereas there is no clear law about child actors. It is a very common practice to stick young baby actors on set for shooting. Parents of such baby actors also ignore the abuse because it they who are interested in money/fame, babies don’t even know what is happening with them. There have been some lose laws drafted to avoid child abuse but they are openly violated in the industry. They violate the number of working hours, it is impossible to shoot any serial/episode in the given time duration and the competition to finish more work in limited time forces kids to be on set for entire day sometimes even entire night. Parents themselves abuse their kids, they are involved in getting a crying baby shot or sometimes scolding children to work when they refuse.
I was delighted to see Shoojit Sircar’s recent tweet expressing his concern over children’s vulnerability in reality shows, it is a very serious issue but no one wants to talk about it. Kids are one of the best tools in the TV and advertising industry for connecting and capturing audience’s emotion. Entire industry is making money out of kids’ exploitation, therefore you become an outcast if you bring people’s attention towards the problem.”
“I don’t feel a ban is needed, simply, I don’t believe in things which are forbidden by governments. What is definitely needed though is respect for the children and much less selfishness of the producers and TV stations. Kids are NOT marketing tools, and their efforts shouldn’t be sold.
We at Janwaar Castle have been approached a couple of times by Reality TV programs and we’ve never accepted. Only once Sony Entertainment had sent three people (choreographer, photographer) and after two hours we’ve sent them home. Their behaviour and attitudes were simply beyond belief. You could clearly sense it is NOT about or for the kids, BUT for the TV station and the people around. And only for them. Flat, no wit, boring and very, very selfish. Actually everything kids should NOT learn.”
VALAYSINGH RAI, an independent writer and photographer based in Delhi, also a member of ProChild, a network of child rights organizations and individuals says:
“ The notion of purity is defined and enforced by society. Child actors don’t have the agency to choose their own shows or roles. These decisions are taken by parents according to their wisdom and prejudices.
Are we ready to ban all child actors? Shoojit is part of the industry that peddles agarbatti, a religious product showing women’s bodies and home loans by depicting children. If we want to ban child performers from reality shows shouldn’t we also ban children in advertisements?
The answer is not banning child reality shows but working with children’s organisations to formulate guidelines for such shows. The way forward is for us to define what is child-appropriate and what is not.”
Reality shows or the (not-so-real) reality shows have seen a consistent rise in the the number of children taking out hours of their time to participate every year, an almost obvious fall out of the increasing number of reality shows. Driven by return on investment, producers alike have chipped in pots of money into these shows, driven by Television Ratings Per Views (TRP’s) and popularity. With big budgets and high stakes, these children play make believe in an adult world of tight schedules and heavy responsibilities. Shoots last for hours, multiple re-takes are common and there’s limited tolerance for incompetence. In India’s film and television industry, competition is fierce and expectations high – even for its youngest actors… demanding hours and hours of work everyday…
Instead of being taught rhymes and riddles, spending time in the playground or being buried in books, children are now being used in the entertainment industry, especially television. Looking at the bigger picture, children are being pushed into the rat-race too early, in order to become either successful, famous, rich and in some cases support for their family. In a bid to increase their TRP’s, production houses often fail to comply with the recommended guidelines by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).Often, children spend their early years being overworked at the hands of productions houses and television shows. Parents believe that this early step would help them gain confidence and give them better opportunities to pursue their talents, but in the longer run, it is only detrimental to the well being of the child. Many children are known to have failed in school, not completed a much required education and therefore haVE bleak prospects for the future, because they have been busy shooting for shows during the childhood. While a child does get an chance to showcase his/her talents on national television, the flip side is not so positive.
What children require in their early years is the right to a childhood –carefree, happy and stress-free. Instead of spending days and years competing with other children, they should be playing, learning and growing like other children. There are many people who believe that reality shows give children the best platform to showcase their talent, securing them a future, but that isn’t the reality for most children. Of course, there is exposure, fame, glamour and success for the one-in-a-million children, but the pressure that gets attached to being successful at some a young age, cannot be discounted. Yet parents throng to casting calls, hoping their child will be the next superstar and eventually make the leap from adverts to full-time roles.
To all the parents out there who wants the best for their child… don’t forget that your child is a child who needs a happy childhood before anything else.