(Translation of my earlier lament in Tamil)
The mind which gets agitated by distant deaths, gets diverted to other things soon enough. But deaths that occur near us continue to haunt us and the guilt refuses to fade away.
This week, at our village, Nithya, a tenth standard student, jumped into a well and killed herself. The villagers believe that she had been caned badly at school. They say that she got treated for a bruise on her hand, 10 days ago at the PHC. The teachers had been compelling her to bring her parents, since she was not performing well at her studies. Her parents, who are daily-wage labourers, had not gone to the school, probably due to their ignorance or work load or indifference. Her teacher had continued to warn her and rebuke her. On that day, she had gotten ready for the school, braided her hair, took money for the bus, left her school bag at home and fell into the well. The well, which was covered with bushes, had been barren till that week and water had just been filled from the bore well. The person working on the farm, where we reside at a rented house, had seen her going to that place. But he had not questioned her, thinking that she might be going there for relieving herself. Her parents, after being on the queue at the ration shop, had seen her bag and chappals at the house, and started searching her everywhere. Somebody happened to peer into the well, and saw the school uniform. The whole village assembled immediately.
Having gone to our farm, which is a bit removed from the village, we were oblivious to all these events. We heard the news and headed back to the village only in time for the cremation.
“Had it been one of our children, we would have abducted the teacher and hacked him,” said a few Keralites.
“If she can’t study well, what else can the teacher do but beat her? Should the girl kill herself for this?”
“What is the point of blaming others? Her parents should have gone to school. What can anyone do if they sit at home fearing to go there?”
“They left the matter at this because they are poor. Had they been from a rich family, there would have been great commotion.”
“If she had been from the S.C.community, they wouldn’t have remained quiet.”
We heard many such talks. Something had happened at school that had impelled her to death. It is not fair to blame the child. There is no point in blaming the parents. Almost all of them said that Nithya was a quiet and timid girl. Her brother had also dropped out of school and was working at a petrol bunk.
After investigation, the police seem to have recorded that the teacher had admonished her/advised her. The newspapers carried only those words, the next day.
When I sought to converse with the parents and the village elders on the possible next steps, they were not keen on taking this any further.
I too, personally, didn’t have a violent urge to ensure that the teacher was punished. It could be because I do not have faith in punishments in such cases. Transformation of hearts is what is needed here. And this is not a problem that can be pinned on one person. Most schools still have cardinal punishment for the children. Many parents encourage caning. Even the government schools are now under pressure to deliver good results in public exams. The teachers believe that poor students should have been filtered in earlier classes. They consider them to be a burden.
I thus keep rationalising within myself.
This should not occur to another child. The teachers shouldn’t become complacent that no one would question them.
Next week, I intend to go to that school with another willing friend, and offer to do what I can by engaging with the teachers in group discussions and counseling.
Though our farm is located in this village, we were residing in the neighbouring village so far. It has only been a month and a half since we relocated to this village. Since we hadn’t yet found a place where we can gather the children, our learning centre has not been started here yet. We haven’t yet commenced working with the children. Had we avoided this delay, could we have averted this death? My own lack of clarity, and inadequacies, give me great pangs of guilt.
We can view the bushes around that well from the windows of our house. We had not known that there was a well there behind those bushes. We had never met Nithya. But, when she had trudged towards the well, and slided down the bushes, we had been only about 100 feet away. Had we glanced there, we might have seen her. Had she screamed, we could have heard her. On the way to our farm, her mud tomb is located, decorated with flowers. It will be washed away by the impending rains. But my heart shall not be consoled.
Every time a teacher raises his/her hands to beat a child, they should realise that they might be holding a rope of death. The harsh words that you utter and the punishments that you give might suck a life out. Sow only love. Education, marks and your salaries are all trivial. So what, if Nithya had failed the exams? A death renders everything meaningless. We need a huge shift in our attitudes towards, and understanding of, education, teaching methods, and children – before we lose another Anitha or Nithya.