In this case, it could as often be he, and not just she. But as it happens, in a number of recent cases, girl students have been especially targeted. Students in West Bengal in the schools have a generally terrible time. The Right to Education is a pointless law, unless it is linked to quality control. Governments Central and Provincial, spend very limited amounts for schooling. To ensure that all children get proper attention and quality educational training, many more schools would have to be built, many more teachers properly trained and recruited, and given the salaries that would enable them to pay serious attention to their jobs, and also given the necessary equipment.
Instead, we have overcrowded schools with pathetic student-teacher ratios, ill-paid teachers who seem in far too many cases to have taken the job not because they like teaching or really know teaching, but because they need some money to survive. One hardly blames them for wanting the necessities of life. But a society that cannot rationally plan its future, a society where, in the words of Sir Thomas More, “money beareth all the strokes”, will ensure that school teachers, unless they are teaching the children of the elite, will remain ill paid. So we will seldom get the right kind of people as primary or even secondary school teachers.
Vast syllabi are also dumped, literally, on the kids. Who has not seen the parent carting along the bag or satchel bigger almost than the child herself, to school early in the morning? As the child grows a little older, moving to Standard V or VI, the load goes up, and the child now walks, back bent under the load, to school. Children of less affluent families get into a system where schools do not finish teaching, the parents often have little money for really adequate private coaching but try to get the child something, and in the upshot the child does domestic work, goes to school, goes to a so-called private tutor who cannot teach, explain or motivate at all, and starts getting failing grades. Thanks to the rule that up to Standard VIII no one may be flunked the child is routinely pushed up into higher classes, but does not understand the subject – especially mathematics and English.
As if all this was not torture enough, though, in recent times one has been constantly reading about physical and mental abuse of children in schools. Not all are cases from the poorest layers or the most ordinary of schools. The ultimate Other, the school that boasts of Rabindranath Thakur as the founder, Patha Bhavan, saw a horrendous case when a child who had wet her bed was compelled to lick it, and it took five days and a direct prodding from the Prime Minister’s Office, (since the PM is the Visitor of Visva Bharati) before even a hypocritical apology was issued.
There have been other cases, equally or even more astonishing. In one school, a girl was suspected of having stolen a fifty rupee note and strip searched. In another school, a girl who had spilled some water in the Staff Room was asked to take off her skirt and wipe the floor.
One can and should and must take up each of these cases individually. No “social” and “broad” explanation that ignores the specific crimes can be acceptable. To strip search on suspicion, to force a girl to take off her skirt in a public place, all these are tortures that can traumatise them for a long, long time. To merely stop physical torture is not enough. We have to fight for legal action to punish the guilty and to ensure that such tortures are never gain perpetrated.
But it is also necessary to look at certain broader issues. When Michael Foucault wrote Discipline and Punish, he challenged the view that modern disciplinary systems were primarily the result of humanitarian impulses. Foucault had looked at the transition from torture to disciplinary systems.He had argued that public torture was a method whereby the sovereign deployed to express one’s power. Torture, all the way to execution, was a ritualised ceremony. But for its reality and horror to be felt by the people, it had to be public. There were unintended consequences though – such as the possible displacement of negative feelings from the convicted person to the torturer/executioner. He went on to argue that historically, the rise to domination of the bourgeoisie involved an ideology of legal-juridical egalitarianism. But this went hand in hand with a darker side, the creation and generalisation of dark disciplinary mechanisms. If this were the case, one suspects that uneven and combined development lies at the root of the public shows of torture by hostels wardens, teachers, and the like. While the top layers of Indian capitalism can think of buying up well known international brands like Jaguar, at the lower levels, pre-capitalist ideologies or their residual elements have managed to influence and modify the dominant, as Raymond Williams could have argued.
Our modernity and its flawed progress has repeatedly been exposed. Today, it is being exposed through the tortures on the children. To ensure the modernisation of an India that is also Bharat, we need to look at the majority, to ensure that they get decent schooling, not merely for the limited needs of the ruling class, but so that they can learn what they are. We have to strive for the kind of education that can break what Freire calls the “culture of silence” and develop a critical consciousness. Not merely by arresting the Warden of one hostel will this be achieved. While taking part in struggles against specific crimes we must point out these broader issues and develop demands over them.