Schools and crime against children

[This was written a few weeks back. And is more of an outburst of anger than a reasoned argument. The Bangalore police seems to be taking a similar view on the responsibility of the management.]

Rohit Dhankar

And yet gain, the newspapers inform on 22nd October 2014 that a nursery level student is sexually abused in a Bangalore school. The third incident in recent months.

A school that does not feel mortally ashamed on child abuse in its precincts and does not accept responsibility unconditionally for whatever happens to children there, is nothing more than a den of thugs. “Alma meter”, the Latin phrase, is often used for the institution from which one receives a bachelor’s degree; but it is equally applicable to a school as well. The literal meaning of “alma meter” is “nurturing mother”. What kind of nurturing a school where sexual abuse is possible can offer?

The NCF 2005 recommends that “schools must be marked by the values of … dignity and rights of children. These values must be consciously made part of the perspective of the school and form the foundation of school practice. An enabling learning environment is one where children feel secure, where there is absence of fear”. How does one square up this idea of school with the everyday some or other news of child abuse emanating from these places we call schools today?

The schools are supposed to introduce children to the “grandeurs and servitudes”, to borrow from Oakeshott, of being human. This grandeur lies in keenness and depth of human understanding; in experiencing the sublimity of beauty and richness of moral consciousness. The servitude of being human lies in demand for exacting standards in understanding, feelings, thoughts and action; and to submit to guiding principles. It demands a discipline of thought and action. Thus schools are places infused with the spirit of satyam (truth and knowledge), shivam (goodness) and sundaram (beauty). None of these can survive in an environment where child abuse is possible; even imaginable.

Schools are not places of pure rigour; they are spaces where children should enjoy life and form lasting pleasant memories of their childhood well spend and well lived. Then only they will be able to help children form morally and intellectually satisfying self-identity; then only they will be able to gift them opportunities to form their own personhood.

An abused child is devalues, her self-confidence and identify are ripped apart. Her humanity is denied; she is used as an object of desire in the vilest possible manner. Her curiosity to know and concentration is destroyed, her faith in the goodness of the world is shaken, assumed protectiveness from adults is demolished; an exceedingly evil picture of humanity is painted on her consciousness. The progress she was making in forming a coherent, beautiful, enjoyable and sane picture of the world in her tender mind is disrupted. Her enthusiasm for life is dampened.

The perpetrator of such a crime discards his own humanity and reduces himself into an evil monster. His deadly sickness of mind and evilness of heart are revealed to the world. The society for the sake of its own sanity has to still grant the status of humanity and recognise rights to such an abomination; but as far as his own actions are concerned he is nothing more than a foul bundle of flesh and blood.

The schools where such acts are possible should lose their recognition immediately; be they public or private. Their management should be held responsible for such unpardonable laxity. Collecting hundreds of children in a tightly controlled and often locked compound where even parents cannot enter without permission is an act that demands responsibility and accountability. The management of schools cannot shirk this moral duty. They are dealing with the most cherished part of the humanity; most cherished part of people’s lives. They cannot be allowed to hide behind unpredictability of some of their employees. The management should be made to pay an unaffordable price for such incidents in their institutions.

Having said that, we should realise that this is not a matter of surveillance and security cameras alone. It is a matter of ideas, sensitivity, moral uprightness and discipline of each member of the staff. Running of a school is primarily a moral enterprise. The utilitarian and business consideration are secondary and can be taken into account if and only if the primary moral considerations are satisfied. Failing in the primary moral considerations should render the management unfit to run schools.

There are too many educational institutions being run without the proper understanding of the nature of educational engagement and obligations one has to accept when dealing with tender minds. The crime against children in schools is a symptom. The real disease is callousness, lack of understanding of the educational enterprise and/or administrative capability. If a school director hires a teacher or games instructor or a bus driver that commits crime against children it should be considered his/her direct responsibility; and he/she should be made to pay for this. In defending himself/herself on the plea of other human beings being independent agents such a director/manager is simply failing to show adequate level of remorse and moral accountability. A person lacking in either should be considered unfit for running an enterprise like a school.

The crime against children in schools is an indicator of sliding moral responsibility of all involved. It cannot be corrected by coercive measures alone. The schools, if they want to retain the tags of alma meter and vidyamandirs themselves have to come forward in owning this responsibility and improving their own understanding, sensitivity and efficiency. The relationship between the teachers and children is a very delicate one. Too much of restrictions and external rules will impoverish it to the level where it will become impossible to providing intellectual and moral guidance to the children. In spite of rules and procedures this relationship has to retain its spontaneity, purity and deeply felt affection. Therefore, the only possibility that remains is qualities of the mind and character of the teachers and management. The schools have to create a sensitive code of conduct for themselves, on their own accord.


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