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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Shame, shame La Martiniere

OK so it's my husband's old school and has a building that I've always admired when I visit Calcutta. But it is both a commentary on the school and the adults associated with it -- teachers and parents -- that the Victorian, if not medieval practice of caning continues within the hallowed portals of La Martiniere for Boys. At a time when we have dumped so many of the mores of parenting and teaching, that this sadistic ritual is allowed is a downright indictment of all those associated with it.
Who is surprised that an internal inquiry of the school exonerated the perpetrators, considering that the men -- the prefix 'gentle' cannot be affixed to these creatures -- are their own colleagues and boss? It seems highly unlikely that young Rouvanjit Rawla was the only obstreperous boy who was chastised in a manner that should have gone out with Tom Brown's Schooldays. This unfortunate teenager has merely become the tragic symbol of this barbarism-in-the-garb-of-d
iscipline as I am sure he was not the last boy to be caned thus in that school.
Why did the other teachers not protest that this practice was against the law -- besides being barbaric and of no use when it comes to instilling 'discipline'? Why were there no whistle blowers in La Martiniere? What message does the teaching faculty then send out to the student body about moral, upright behaviour? What lessons are young impressionable minds supposed to draw from the spectacle of an older man caning a young boy? Are there the values we want our youngsters to imbibe and perpetuate?
Even sadder is the fact that no other parents came forward to say 'J'accuse' either. No doubt because their sons are still students of the school and they fear reprisals. Only Ajay Rawla has nothing -- not even his son -- to lose any more so he has taken up the cudgels. Is this what parents want their children to learn from them: cow down to injustice, don't challenge autocracy, turn a blind eye if it doesn't affect us..... Is this the Indian of tomorrow we want to nurture?
It is also an indictment of the media and the authorities too that until a young, tormented boy actually took the ultimate step, no one acted to pull up the school. Now, there is a national level inquiry, a snivelling mea culpa from the principal -- who certainly does not deserve that office given his mindset -- a battery of media attention, and a glimmer of hope that an era of torture has ended in a so called premier school. But will the practice really stop or will the relentless glare of the media merely send these cowards -- what other kind of person would inflict pain on one who cannot retaliate? -- back into their ghastly little holes to wonder how their perverted behaviour can be explained away for the time being, to be resumed when the hubbub has died down?
And will anyone spare a thought for the children in other school the rod is not being spared too? Why should the inquiry committee only look at La Martiniere? There are countless schools where corporal punishment is practised even as it is banned on paper. Will justice be denied to other Rouvanjit Rawlas simply because it has not come to the notice of the media -- and hence the authorities and the world?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Amorous Indians

The case of David Davidar reiterates my belief that there is a fundamental disconnect between what we say or do and what others read it to mean, especially if cultural and racial differences kick in.
We all know that the stereotypical image of a white woman (or even a 'westernised' Indian woman) is that she is flirty and 'available'. And we know that the average Indian male is thought of as lecherous and pushy. If that is not a crucial disconnect, what is? Add to that positions of power and competing ambitions and the signals get crossed even further.
This is not to say that victims and perpetrators are always clearly distinguishable. Some women can take advantage of the lecherous male as much as men can take advantage of an 'available' woman. The problem is that there's always a payday -- or a comeuppance. At some point the women want more for the 'advantage' they gave, or the men want more for the patronage they showered. Then things come unstuck.
That's when an iconic IT boss has to hightail it back from the US, when an Indian designer finds himself in the dock and when an MNC advertising boss has to make a hurried exit. All this, of course, applies to the interactions between consenting adults, not minors (which is both illegal and immoral) even though there is a skew in the power equation.
Things can also go disastrously wrong if there are cultural differences, for then the parties remain unaware of crossed signals. Is a peck on the cheek just an informal greeting (or even a formal one, as in some European cultures) or a mark of interest? Is a hug a gesture of affection or a suggestion? Is a meal after office a simple convivial evening or a prelude to a romantic relationship? Is a risque text message a friendly, comradely exchange or an overture?
All too often, two people can progress along this path in parallel lanes, quite oblivious to the fact that the signals are being read wrongly all along. Till the unthinkable happens.... One decides to change lanes and come closer to the other. And then there is a crash.
Whether Davidar is guilty of a midlife crisis or something more serious may hinge on just this.