I was waiting for the tiny van to come. It was already later than the usual time. Finally I see the silhouette of the van as it turned the corner – the familiar yellow very soothing to my eyes. My aching legs rejoiced. The little boy inside almost jumped on me and wanted to be carried. But I was tired and wobbly, the extra pregnancy weight making me a bit unstable. I asked him to walk. He happily obliged after waving a bye to driver uncle who smiled at him. The little chap gave his hand in mine while he chatted animatedly. The mother and son walked home that was just a street away.
This was my 4-year-old son and I. I had just quit teaching at the school. I personally knew the driver uncles and aaya aunts at school. Every child at school was supposed to address them as such. I also knew most teachers. My son loved most of them as they always pampered him extra. But he was extremely scared of the PT Sir. The young man was extremely strict. He had no qualms in using the wooden ruler on the palms of children for excuses as small as unpolished shoes or talking in the line. Many of us had directly spoken to him but he insisted that it was all okay in the name of discipline. The Principal, a very gentle soul also turned a blind eye to this PT Sir.
As the incident of the rape of a 6-year-old girl child in a Bangalore school flashed all over the TV and newspapers, every single parent grimaced and felt angered. As my younger son persistently asked me what rape was, I didn’t know how to best answer him. Yes, he knows about good touch, bad touch but what do you tell a 7-year-old child about rape? It is terrifying that with repugnant crimes against children being on the rise, the first hit is trust. Don’t trust the neighbor! Don’t trust your teachers! Don’t trust your drivers and helpers! Don’t talk to a stranger! Don’t accept anything to eat or drink from a stranger! We are becoming paranoid and correctly so. Every friendly smile is being questioned and a hidden motive looked into. Alas, the innocence is all but lost!
In all this anger and confusion, a note was sent from my children’s school to all parents. The lines that addressed “Your child, our child, our responsibility” and went on to address the steps the school had taken to make our children safe helped in soothing some frayed nerves. Parents across schools all over the city and the country were distressed when the incident of rape of the little girl came up in the media.
The callousness with which the said school handled the incident shocked the most. Instead of providing succor to the affected child and parents, the school tried its best to hush up the incident and also mislead the parents. Not only was the school at fault in not acting against this criminal offense but their approach to ‘save’ their own reputation produced a bitter taste in the mouth. This from a school that was reputed and charged hefty fees which by default meant that they would be more conscientious and caring! The incident once again highlights the issue of background checks of teachers. Imagine how many criminals and pedophiles are working in the guise of teachers in schools putting at risk hapless, innocent souls every single day. I shudder to think of it.
For our children, the school is their second home and the teachers their surrogate parents. Imagine their trust being violated in the worst possible manner in school. Where do we even begin rectifying the situation? These are some tips for parents:
- Teach even your very young children about good and bad touch.
- Watch any changes in their behavior especially something sudden.
- A small child can be often very confused, withdrawn and fearful if physically and verbally abused. Always take up their complaints seriously no matter how fantastic their stories may sound. It gives them confidence to openly communicate with you.
- Keep in regular touch with the teachers.
- If they take school transport, do check if there is a female aaya in the bus who handles the children. Else insist that the school provide one.
- Talk to your child every single day.
- Don’t hesitate to report teachers whose behavior is suspicious or violent.
- Don’t hesitate to reach out to the police. Criminals must not be allowed to go scot-free.
With slow sustained pressure, I hope we can make all schools fall in line in terms of following a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to child abuse.
When you are dealing with children, whether it is a crèche, a playschool or a full-fledged school, it is important to be sensitive to that little child who trustingly entrusts his/her little hand in yours with a smile. If you think of violating that trust ever then the consequences must be so horrible and swift that every predator must think 10 times before committing that crime.
Can our schools and police ever promise us that day?
Apart from signing online petitions and attending protest marches there is precious little that we can do. And a few days down the line, the news will die just like the multiple other such incidents that take place in our cities everyday. How do we keep this movement alive till all schools and police machinery fall in line?