14 March 2015, a minor was raped in Sarkhej (Gujarat) by a 22 year old man. In our country, minors are dealing with issues like rape and drugs when they should worry about homework to be submitted on time or when they can go out and play. On 1 April 2010, the Right to Education Act was imposed, the motive being to provide “An education that enables them (the students) to acquire the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes necessary to become responsible and active citizens of India,” in the words of the Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It is assumed that education means holistic development of all students. The Act further prohibits physical punishment and mental harassment. The Act also provides for age appropriate admission of children into schools. It does not allow the holding back of a child till he or she has appeared for Board examinations.
Another educational programme launched in the same decade (2005) was the Adolescence Educational Programme (AEP). According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, “The Adolescence Education Programme (AEP) is an important initiative that aims to empower young people with accurate, age appropriate and culturally relevant information, promote healthy attitudes and develop skills to enable them to respond to real life situations in positive and responsible ways.” Needless to say, this programme has been banned in various states namely, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Four out of these seven states (Chhattisgarh, M.P., U.P and Rajasthan) are currently among the ten least literate states in the country.
All these are just measures to protect our culture and of course, to overprotect our children. The recent cases of sexual abuse and rapes were of course mild, so mild that the respective state governments did not even think about reconsidering their ban on AEP. Giving a child age appropriate education about what incorporates sexual abuse is considered to be the parents’ responsibilities. Children with orthodox parents will not have any intimation that such an occurrence could take place in schools. In Chhattisgarh, an 8th standard child was being repeatedly molested by her teacher, for 3 years, who touched her inappropriately. She underwent the trauma numerous times before she finally mustered up the courage to complain to the authorities. This child had not been told that she would be provided safety if she complained and hence, she kept silent. The parents seem to think that the safety of their children is the teacher’s responsibility when they are in school and the schools are keeping in tune with the ban on AEP. There is an obvious excess of communication.
Apart from this, the states of Maharashtra (Mathura rape case 1972) and Gujarat (Bharwada Bhoginbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujarat 1983) do not have a history of sexual abuse which justifies the ban. Bangalore itself has registered 289 cases of child sexual abuse in the past 2 years, let alone the other parts of Karnataka. In 2010, the state of Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of cases of child sexual abuse only to be overtaken by Gujarat in 2014. In the 2014 report, Madhya Pradesh records the second highest cases of sexual abuse with 57% of children being terrorised.
Make no mistake of generalising as boys too report incidences of sexual harassment with 36% of the boys in Gujarat having reported so.
The Human Rights Watch Report “Breaking the Silence” in 2013 found that the status of child sexual abuse in schools and homes is still grim. A committee set up by the government itself stated that the government child protection schemes had failed to achieve their motive. Students are also under the influence of cigarettes and drugs. Eager to grow up, elementary school students are seen smoking and doing drugs in and around school premises. NGO surveys reveal that 63.6% of people who come for treatments were introduced to narcotics before the age of 15 years. Alternatively, they make use of cough syrups, pain relief ointments, paints, etc. to serve the same purpose. About 20 million children India are drawn to tobacco addiction each year.
These can be seen as effects of westernisation and blind following of trends. Children in schools are indulging in bullying from as early as the 7th standard. They start to explore their sexualities from 6th onwards which is the prime time for girls to reach their puberty. It is not a myth when it is said that with every generation children are moving a step forward. India too needs to move forward and not reach a stage of stagnation. Children are our country’s future and the most important resources that can be harnessed and moulded more easily than young adults. With the lack of punishment (non-violent) children are losing their discipline and the attempt to safeguard the “Indian Culture” is falling flat. The RTE prohibits mental harassment which has led children and parents alike to misuse this provision.
Teachers find themselves increasingly incapable of taking the help of light scolding to try and shape the student. India has been a land where since time immemorial, teachers have been treated with utmost respect and honour such that a teacher’s word could bind even the emperor. This too has been a part of our culture. Children are fast losing this respect for their teachers by sitting inappropriately in classes and not listening to what is being asked of them. At such a crucial juncture where India is taking leaps and bounds internationally, we cannot afford to let the young minds lose their paths.
With sexual harassment so rampant in the country, children should be taught and trained in the art of defending themselves and given the confidence to stand up for the right. To raise our children to be culturally and socially responsible citizens of the nation, their holistic development is indispensable which can be achieved through increased awareness. Instead of age, the level of education should be made a criterion for children to be admitted into schools so that the child may not feel left out in terms of the level of competition. Today, children are more inquisitive and hence, more vulnerable to things like substance and sexual abuse.
So, let there be no reforms in our education system because it incorporates a negligible part of a student’s growth. Ours is a free country and there are no obligations that we have to it as citizens. So, let not my country awake into that heaven of true freedom.