Am determined to sit through and enjoy what my daughters have clearly told me is a disastrous, junky movie - SATC. Well, it sounds exactly like something the doc ordered for a dull, pre-monsoon afternoon. Russell Crowe and 'Robinhood' tomorrow night. My movie calendar is pretty full this week, as you can see. But.... being a total movie junkie, there's no such thing as 'one movie too many' in my book. Am planning to catch Colin Firth in 'The 'Single Man' mid-week, and 'Ravan' on Friday. These are all the treats I accumulate for myself after working ridiculously hard the rest of the time ( justifications! justifications!!). Hope all you guys had a terrific week... here's to a pleasant sunday.
This appeared in the Sunday Times.... and tv channels are already on it aggressively.
La Martiniere( Kolkata), is my husband’s old school. For decades, he has remained one of its proudest ex-students. So embarrassingly proud that a few years ago in Karachi, when he discovered five ex-La Marts’s ‘boys’ at the posh Club where we were dining, he gathered them up and got them to lustily sing the school anthem. If other diners were disturbed, they chose to ignore this group figuring all it needed was one crazy Indian to break Pakistani rules. Such is the fierce loyalty factor La Martiniere used to generate in its vast network of alumni. Till the horrific suicide of Rouvanjit Rawla, the class –V11 student who hanged himself four months ago, unable to take the humiliation meted out to him by the Prinipal of the school, Sunirmal Chakraborty, and other teachers. The lad’s ‘crime’ ? His classmates say he was ‘naughty’ and didn’t do his homework on time. Those transgressions cost him his life.
Ajay Rawla, the boy’s father took four months to pull out of the shock and decide to do something about the dismal state of affairs in one of India’s most prestigious schools – he lodged a police case. Had the media not been alerted, chances are, the grief- stricken father’s complaint would have remained a piece of paper on a forgotten file. As of now, the investigations are on, and the Principal has finally confessed to ‘caning’ the boy. How archaic is that word itself! Caning!! Come on… who canes defenceless kids in this day and age? And worse - calls it ‘tradition’? Well, here’s one Principal who did just that – and thought it defence enough to justify his deplorable actions. One would have thought this sadistic system of ‘disciplining’ naughty children disappeared with the British and their ghastly, kinky public school rules that adversely impacted some of India’s brightest minds. To acknowledge that this still goes on in our better schools is a pathetic comment on how stuck we are in a bizarre time warp that doesn’t recognize the basic rights of children. Of course, caning happens in patshalas across the country. Of course, that is equally despicable. The explanation is also absurd, but remember …the mindset of some village teachers has yet to switch gears. Young Rouvanjit’s profile is vastly different. He belonged to the urban elite of the City of Joy ( such irony!).He represented the ‘Babalog’ of the ‘Bhadralok’ in our midst – privileged, affluent and aware. The school in question comes with impeccable credentials. And yet, one of their own was compelled to call it quits in the most awful way. Kapil Sibal made a strong pitch on behalf of children across the country on a tv channel when he said these bachchas were a symbol of tomorrow’s India. Schools that believe in this form of barbaric discipline completely ignore the law (which is in place to protect our kids) and worse, destroy a child’s confidence , sometimes for life. No matter what wrong was committed by Rouvanjit, the viciousness of the combined attacks on him ( one report mentioned the cane broke on the child’s back) were obviously enough for him to go in search of that killer rope with which he hanged himself from the ceiling fan. Surprisingly enough, no teacher from the school had thought it necessary to alert the Rawlas about their son’s ‘indiscipline’ earlier – it was easier to pick up a cane and thrash the boy. Usual story – ‘teach him a lesson.’
Reading the account and watching the television clips revived long buried memories of being frequently caned myself as a school girl. This was the punishment reserved for students who were considered ‘rebellious’ and ‘disobedient’. Of course , I was both… and worse.But to be so severely punished for those ‘failings’ by the ogre of a school principal – a towering woman representing a Scottish mission ? I often went home with swollen , angry red welts on my upper arms – welts that made me feel so ashamed, I hid them from my parents and said not a word about the frequent torture. I now realize, had I been less ashamed and more outraged, not only would my torture have stopped ( perhaps at a huge cost – I’d probably have been thrown out of school for daring to protest),but other girls would have been spared this nasty woman’s brutality. I chose to remain silent. Like Rouvanjit. Big difference being, he’s dead. And I am alive to retell and relive those hellish minutes when I’d be summoned to the Principal’s office after standing on the yellow bench for hours, often without food or water.Why am I ready to share this dreadful part of my distant youth? Only to demonstrate the tragedy that our schools continue to perpetuate till today, and in an age where there ought to be a far better understanding about such sensitive issues. A child’s mind and sensibility cannot be easily penetrated, even less ‘controlled’ by fiendish, cruel adults who imagine they are ‘doing the right thing’ by striking someone defenceless…. and often, voiceless.
No matter what Principal Sunirmal Chakraborty says in his defence, no matter how sloppily the Kolkata police respond, no matter what kind of pressures are brought on Rouvanjit’s family to withdraw the charges, it is important for the sake our children, to keep up the pressure and punish those responsible for driving Rouvanjit to take his life. The old era of adopting the so-called traditional ‘cane and able’ modus operandi to make errant kids toe the line are over, Mr. Chakraborty.
Try reading ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips…’. Try loving those children - especially the difficult ones – whose parents place their trust in you and your teachers. Better still, try therapy.
What an idea, Sirji!!