Thursday, December 1, 2011

Small Town India

A Small town school near Bangalore:
I am a school teacher. I have been so for the last 20+ years. Since the last few years I have been teaching English at a private co-ed school in Nelamangala.
In the 20+ years that I have taught school children, I have found my job very fulfilling and satisfying, though there are many challenges such as my low salary which is not able to keep up with the inflation; my failing health; the increasing workload and long work hours standing on my feet. But anyway I am not here to talk about myself but about my Nelamangala students.
Nelamangala, for those who have not heard of this place, is a small town, near Bangalore. About 30 years ago, travelling to Nelamangala from Bangalore, one passed agricultural fields of rice, ragi, groundnut and coconut before reaching the bustling bus stand in Nelamangala. Now, the agricultural land is covered by residential and office buildings, factories and shops. The population, traffic and noise has gone up and one cannot recognize the land anymore.
Nelamangala is now booming. Lots of farmers sold their agricultural land to builders and land developers and became rich overnight. This wealth is reflected in their homes and lifestyles.
The school I am teaching in has students from these nouveau riche families and also from families who are not doing so well such as farmers whose crops have failed, small businesses which have failed or have difficulty staying afloat.  While I was teaching here about 5 years ago, I had faced the same kind of children’s problem behaviours I had faced  during the first 15 years of teaching in Bangalore schools. These included behaviours such as copying in the exams, lying and truancy.
However I am now facing such impossible-to-handle-behaviours in this school that I am not sure whether I should continue or quit.
The new crop of problem behaviours seen recently included the theft of the class register. This had never happened before.
 Copying in exams, was there even earlier and is nothing new. But a new more serious problem/crime occurring is the stealing of notes belonging to the hard working and bright students, especially at exam time. This is such an aggravating and to me, unpardonable crime but something I am unable to handle though I am trying my best. The unfortunate thing is that the school management is not doing anything about it, inspite of repeated complaints! Apart from severely derailing  the academic life of sincere and studious students, this theft reflects the development of anti-social , callous, behaviour in youth of this school. I have advised the students who lost their notes to be more careful and to write their notes in sheets of paper than books. But this advise is not acceptable due to the rigid demands of some teachers who want the notes to be written in books rather than in sheets. The rigid following of archaic rules by the school system is another thorn in the flesh for me. {The rigid following of rules is one of the features of small town people! Bigger the city, more modern the people, greater the flexibility.Smaller the town , greater the unquestioning rigid adherence to rules}
And the behaviour which in some ways, portends doom for (1) the students of this school or (2)the people of Nelamangala or (3) maybe the whole of India
is the "absolutely disgusting behaviour & attitudes of boys towards the girls in their schools".
That boys will be attracted to girls and vice versa is true especially in their teenage years. I readily accept that. But small town India’s culture expects boys to not interact with girls .
The double standards, Indians have for boys and girls also make the punishment for girls more severe if they talk to boys . And it is the boys who are forcing their unwanted attention on girls who want nothing to do with them!
Boys and girls desire to interact is an age old phenomenon. What is new now is the technology. Literally all students have cell phones and the myriad ways the cell phone is used by the boys to harass the girls is unnerving! These few anti-social boys manage to get the cell phone number of the girls they are interested in and send romantic messages to the girls who are either not interested or even if interested, will get into serious trouble with their parents, if they respond. The girls have complained to me and other teachers but the school management is not willing to take the culprits to task. The girls have complained to their parents and some fathers have even managed to identify which boy is messaging. But taking the boy to task has no effect. The boys have become brazen and cannot be cowed down. They threaten the girls and their parents too! In the end, the girls cell phone is taken away from them or worse, the victimized girls are made to discontinue school!
I have tried to deal with this issue. I have confronted the boys but they deny sending messages…with a smirk on their faces. I have tried to tell them to put themselves in the shoes of the girls they are harassing, tried to tell them to think how they would feel if their own sisters were sent such messages, but to no avail. It is like they have become hardened and do not have even a vestige of conscience, though they are barely 16 !
What will happen to these boys when they are adults, if they are like hardened criminals at 16?
What is happening in India? What is happening to the morality in small towns? I am now convinced that there is a greater filth and lesser morality in these small towns than in the larger cities such as Bangalore.
How do these boys get away with these behaviours? I fail to understand why the school management does not think that girls being harassed in so many ways by boys  and not feeling safe in school is a serious issue, needing immediate attention. Every child has a right to be safe, to feel safe and a right to receive good education. Ideally a child should be safe anywhere; at the least, a child should be safe at home and school.....if the girls do not feel safe in school, then the school is seriously guilty and has to be severely punished! 
 Is the school management afraid of being harassed by the boys’ parents if they take action against them? Are the parents of these boys, notorious characters themselves who are poor role models for their sons? Maybe.

I am fully aware that there has been a rise in crime in Nelamangala recently. The sky-rocketing prices of land has lead to major crimes such as murders. For example,  one of my student’s father   was murdered and this was followed by other major issues in this student's family.
That the police accept bribe and let go of criminals is another well known fact and people simply prefer to put up with the crimes they are victims of, than go to the useless or worse, the  corrupt  police.
I have had a much easier time dealing with boys in private schools in Bangalore. The mere threat that I will tell their parents or that I will talk to the principal was enough to make them change. But in this small town, the boys are untamed rowdies. It makes me shudder to visualize these kids being in college. They are probably the type who will migrate to Bangalore and spend time teasing women on the streets and be hired by politicians during organized strikes.
What is tragic is that this rowdy type behaviour in boys can be easily nipped in the bud by the school management and parents. But the school management is indifferent; many parents are themselves guilty of many wrong-doings and will not bother about setting their sons right; the community as a whole, lacks a sense of community or ‘we-feeling’ and is being divided by economic and caste differences. There is rot everywhere …in the police, all government offices. Even the homes are torn apart by fights over property, dowry issues and domestic violence.  Surrounded as they are by such role models in the home and community, impressed as they are by films which depict the same, I suppose it is unrealistic of me to expect these boys to grow into model citizens.
Please do note, that I have not put in the worst behaviours I have observed in the students in this article. I feel such a sense of shame and sorrow thinking of these behaviours. Why can’t these boys feel that? Why cannot the other teachers and the parents feel that?
I believe that unless empathy and decency is taught to our children, there is no hope for India. Unless, the elders in the community have empathy and decency, the youngsters are not going to develop them.

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