Even after the boy was declared dead at 10 am, the school went on with its classes as usual… The parents had not been told whose child it was for a few petrified hours.
Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?
Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish
While there are many people to speak up for women, dalits and minorities, the children of our country remain voiceless; they have nobody to turn to. The only difference between the oppressed and the children in India is that kids are smothered in the name of love. The rush and push starts early, when parents enrol their tiny tots, who have hardly started talking, in schools where loads of knowledge is stuffed into them but not wisdom or values.
The commencement of this academic year in Tamil Nadu was marked by newspaper headlines about the death of schoolchildren. The first news report was about the death of a small girl who slipped down to the road from a hole in the bus she was travelling in and was crushed. The driver was callous. No less so was the transport officer who gave the fitness certificate for this godforsaken vehicle. We often hear of children falling into pits dug for various reasons, and covered carelessly by workers with flimsy materials. But the carelessness or irresponsibility of these workers has also to do with the fact that they are brought from backward states of India like slaves for a meagre daily wage of Rs 300 (for 12 hours of work). Their working conditions do not help matters either. A few days ago 10 workers died when the roof of an engineering college where they were working caved in. That was not really an accident; it was due to the indifference of the people who treated workers as dispensable and wanted the work to be completed at the earliest.
The news of the girl who slipped through a hole in the bus and died whipped up a frenzy in Tamil Nadu, but a tragedy is forgotten as subsequent tragedies overtake it. For example, a few years ago a girl fell into the Cooum river through a huge crack in the Napier Bridge near Marina Beach. How many local people remember it now?
The very next day after that bus incident, another kid who tried to cross the road after getting down from the school van was run over by the same van and died. It’s a common sight in Tamil Nadu that several schoolchildren are carried like cattle in autorickshaws, which are designed to carry only three people.
Every year students in Belgium go on an excursion to Swiss Alps, and this year, in March, a tourist bus carrying 52 people crashed into a wall inside a tunnel. Twenty-two among the dead were children. When those white coffins reached Belgium, they were brought into the city from the airport by a military convoy of hearses. The whole of Belgium mourned for them that day. The national flag flew at half-mast, people stopped their vehicles for a minute and trains ceased to run for a minute to mourn the dead. Western countries treat their children as treasure. If a child looks sad in the school, authorities visit their home to find out the reason. But here is how we treat our children in this country. This incident happened in what is considered to be a top-notch school in Chennai. Parents would pay any amount to admit their children in this school, which is said to not accept any “recommendations” and where admission is on the merit alone. Last week a Class 4 boy died in the school’s swimming pool. The school, with a pool on its campus, has made swimming lessons mandatory and that too in the first hour of the day, not considering the basic fact that it’s not advisable to swim with one’s stomach full. The pool’s depth goes from two and a half to seven feet. It’s a matter of pride for these schools to have swimming classes in their curriculum. Which is a good thing. But is it also a matter of pride not to have any provision of emergency first-aid, which could have saved the boy?
That was not all. The school handled this situation crudely. Even after the boy was declared dead by the doctors at 10 am, the school went on with its classes as usual that day. There was a huge commotion outside the school premises on hearing the news, especially since the parents had not been told whose child it was for a few petrified hours.
In our country it’s not only the schools that should be blamed but the parents too, who want their children to be supermen. So the schools cater to them, with their “package education” in which the child will be taught swimming, music, dance, cricket, foreign languages, painting, shooting, etc. The kids are seen as mark-obtaining machines and tormented. The upshot is that private schools have become commercial joints.
India urgently needs education reforms lest there be a danger of future generations sinking in an abyss of psychological trauma. I would like to cite two incidents here. One, I was talking to a group of upper-class children aged between 10 and 15. “You do well in school but I have serious concerns about whether you people will live happily,” I said. “Oh! That’s easy uncle. We’ll read a bulky book on ‘How to live happily’” pat came the reply from one of the boys.
One day when I was travelling in an autorickshaw, the car in front of us suddenly stopped. So our auto and a lot of vehicles behind us had to stop as well. The chauffeur got out, came round to the left side of the car and opened the rear door to a 15-year-old girl who slowly got down and sashayed to the temple near by. The driver reverentially waited for her to get to the temple, then closed the door and started the car despite loud horns blaring from the vehicles behind our autorickshaw.
Something is wrong somewhere.
The writer is a post-modern Tamil writer based in Chennai. His magnum opus, Zero Degree, is considered one of the best in trangressive fiction.