VIOLENCE OUR KIDS FACE

MURDER: A 7-year-old was allegedly killed by a bus conductor of the Ryan International School in Delhi when he rejected the conductor’s sexual advances

The brutal murder of a 7-year-old boy in the Ryan School in New Delhi and the subsequent rape of a 5-year-old girl shows how unsafe our schools have become for children

By Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava

As a mother, every morning I take the biggest leap of faith when I wave to my children as they leave for school. This scenario is replicated across a gazillion households, a flying kiss from a bus window or a backward glance and smile from the school gate is what all of us hold on to, till later that afternoon, our precious little people get back home, bursting with academic news which for me has always been secondary. I have two standard questions I ask daily: “Did anyone bully you?” and “Did anyone touch you at all, did anyone lay a finger on you?”

For the family of a 7-year old in Gurgaon, the “have a good day” wave turned into unimaginable tragedy even before his father reached home after the school drop-off. Found with his throat slit in the washroom just minutes after he reached school, the boy was reportedly trying to escape the clutches of a man trying to sexually assault him, a bus conductor who the police say has accepted killing the boy. This was a little child who at his naïve age was only looking forward to having a routine day in school with his friends; instead, it’s a day that has changed his parents’ life forever.

For families who trust a school to look after their child for the better part of a day, there are many scary loopholes in this narrative. How was a bus conductor walking unnoticed in the school corridors and then using a washroom that should be reserved only for students? If his admission is correct, how was a man who can so easily knife a little boy driving countless children to school every day? It will be unfair to generalize, but when it comes to children, most of us are paranoid first and reasonable later. This was a student who didn’t even take the school bus. Where does that leave the majority of us, many with children still so innocent that they refer to their bus drivers and conductors as the familiar “bus wale bhaiyya?”

We haven’t even recovered from the horror at Ryan International School and there is more. A 5-year old, for whom school is, or should be, about  swings and giggles, has reportedly been raped by a peon inside a classroom in yet another Delhi school. How does one react when innocence is being hammered so brutally?

There are few more lucrative businesses today than education. The D-word (donations) is an open secret. To maximise profits, classes are stuffed with so many children that teachers find it difficult to control kids even in Kindergarten. Most schools need to hire extra buses to ferry their students home and it may not be surprising that a large number of them have done no due diligence on these drivers. When things are outsourced, accountability gets diluted.

Recently when my children’s school bus hit a colony boom bar, flinging many of the students around, I desperately tried to get parents to rally around and ask for seat belts. But most of them just laughed it off. Which school bus in India has seat belts, was the general response. I tried the state Transport Minister, but he didn’t think it was important enough to respond either.

This though seems lame compared to what the family in Gurgaon is going through. What is worse, Ryan International school reportedly functioned as though it was a normal day. Children at this age are vulnerable, so imagine how those boys who discovered the child in the washroom must have coped with their day; word spreads fast through tender ears, especially when knowledge about life is still hazy. The school is now also guilty of scarring many other minds.

Parenting in the age of millennials is in itself a challenge without borders, full of digital dangers and peer pressure which has a whole new meaning. The least we can expect is that our child is physically safe in a sanitized environment where we pay through our nose, totally accepting that nothing is more deserving of our hard-earned money.

This murder took place just a day after a disturbing video was doing the rounds on most school WhatsApp groups. A boy from a prestigious school near Delhi was slapped so hard by another student that by most accounts, his hearing in one ear is now impaired. The school and the boy who gave the slap insist that this was part of a slapping bet. The way the other boy was cowering, it didn’t quite look like that, and even if it was, how is fun in school no longer harmless?

A heartbreaking post in response to that incident, supposedly by the boy who was bullied, is now being circulated. “I am ashamed of being afraid…Many people have asked me as to why I did not hit back or try and defend myself. The only answer I have is ‘fear’, the fear of getting hit again and harder.” The background chatter of the gang of boys in the video is all about recording this incident for a Snapchat story. It has become so common that no one seems to be questioning how these boys had cell phones to record the incident. We reap what we sow.

In my 4-year old’s class, two boys had to be separated by adults as they went for each other’s throats, one even trying to hit the other on the head with the guitar lying nearby. Today, posh schools and fancy cars are status symbols that are flaunted by the kids themselves. They know no better, their parents substitute love with an iPad. 5-year-olds around me have their own. What business does a father have to drop his child to school in a Mercedes?

There is something rotten in our society when paedophiles like the British man who was recently arrested in Delhi can’t even spare blind children. We as parents know the danger signs, yet choose to look the other way. Your beautiful girl with her five different poses on Facebook may not be pretty just for you. The internet game “Blue Whale” that ends in suicide after 50 days of physical harm is a reality in our country, it no longer happens only in the west.

As parents, we have our battles picked out. The healthcare system in recent days has made a mockery of the lives of little children, our education network is also on the borderline. When a parent sends her child to school, the least she expects is that he will be home back safe and not found in the washroom with his throat slit, while his lunchbox is still not cold.

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