January 7, 2020 6:14:39 am
In another example of the unorthodox approach that citizens have come to expect from Arvind Kejriwal, last month, the CM made school boys in Delhi take an oath to respect women. Newspapers carried pictures of boys with their hands raised when they said: “Main shapath leta hoon main hamesha sabhi mahilaon ki izzat karoonga.” (I will never misbehave or mistreat women.) Kejriwal urged girls to speak to their brothers at home in front of their parents and encourage family members to introspect why crimes against women just don’t abate in India.
The point, that we need to be more mindful of the casual misogyny in our own homes, was almost prescient: around the same time, a top IB school in Mumbai suspended eight middle school students for making threatening and sexually explicit remarks in a WhatsApp conversation. The story, buried by the NRC/CAA furore, is an important one because while it’s a known fact that kids can be incredibly mean, that they were using terms like ‘gang bang’ to describe what they want to do to girls at the ripe old age of 14, was a fresh shocker.
The transcript of the chat floating around WhatsApp runs into tens of pages: classmates, two females specifically, body shamed and jeered at with homophobic slurs and desperate profanities. The word ‘rape’ featured repeatedly. IB school fees can be upwards of Rs 50,000 per month, so these kids come from privileged backgrounds. If this is how the progeny of the educated elite are behaving, it’s clear there is a serious values crisis across socio-economic groups in the country. And this is not a problem that can be solved by attending the best school money can buy. We’d do well to take into account that children spend approximately six hours in school five days a week. Counting the summer, winter, autumn breaks, and weekends, they’re probably in school for less than seven months a year. When incidents like this happen, it’s unfair to blame schools, when 80 per cent of what children imbibe is from their home environment.
If a teenager is making lewd comments or using foul language, sure, peer group influence plays a part and so does social media. But if the parenting has been right, a child would know instinctively what’s never to be thought, said and never, ever, written. Where the schools fall short is in their response to electronic aggression, because the perception still is that bullying is limited to pushing and shoving on the playground. ‘Cyberbullying’ may be bandied around liberally but Indian schools don’t have an established protocol on what to do about cruel instant messages that can torment children as much as being physically hit. Schools hide behind the pathetic excuse that what happens outside their premises isn’t their responsibility and refuse to acknowledge that teenagers live and interact via Snapchat and Instagram.
Like the school diary has a set of rules and many carry an anti-bullying pledge, there is nothing unequivocally stated that Internet bullying will have extremely unpleasant consequences for students as well. Technology isn’t necessarily the enemy. But parents need to explain to children that the same rules apply during interactions online, as they do in person. Just like how one wouldn’t use certain slurs with someone you meet at a party, one can’t use it online either. The stealthiest version of social cruelty must be addressed with clarity — and with penalties.
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