The shooting has been called “American-style”, “reminiscent of American values” and “a case of violence familiar to US schools”.
In reality, it is none of the above. This week’s tragedy at the Euro International School in Gurgaon demonstrates a collision of the India we once were, the India we aspire to be and, sadly, the India we continue to accept.
At the outset, I concede not knowing how and why two class VIII students killed a 14-year-old in the sanctum of school. But a few facts and conversations with educators and residents make clear that our quest for answers might better come from examining our own behaviours than the West’s.
The day after the murder, I headed to the suburb just south of New Delhi —the outsourcing hub that can at once remind me of New Jersey’s identical housing developments and manicured landscaping, Miami Beach’s art deco towers over swimming pools and golf courses, and oddly, my ancestral village of green fields, jagged boundary walls and herds of goats and cattle.
And that is why so many people begin their description of Gurgaon by saying, “The thing about this place is it’s really a gaon.”
Because of the way Gurgaon came to be acquired and built gradually, large swathes of farmland were parcelled out even as villagers hung onto their pockets of homes, which cluster in the shadows of sleekness. Some took profits and bought into new societies clinically named “sectors”, renting out the old place to migrants or relatives.
Flush with cash or rental income, locals seek the same power—purchasing and political—as the newcomers, observes Sanjay Sharma, who runs a real estate company and the portal, Gurgaon Scoop. They shop in the same malls, attend the same resident welfare association meetings and send their children to the same schools.
But they are not the same.
“There is a struggle between people who are here and people who have come from outside,” says Sharma, a returnee from the US. His attempt to videotape a community meeting in his sector recently resulted in a brawl and seven stitches on his upper lip. “Locals here are quite bottled up. They have money but they are not well read.”
Locals concede as much, pinning their hopes on education as equalizer.
Satinder Grewal, an advocate, traces generations back to Bijwasan village on the Delhi-Haryana border. Some land has been sold, while more— about Rs50 crore, he estimates—remains in the family’s possession.
“A new awareness is coming to Gurgaon and locals, we want our kids to learn English,” says Grewal.
By virtue of shunning government schools, the families of the three boys involved in the shooting seem to hold this aspiration. Media outlets reported that the family of the victim, Abhishek Tyagi, moved into Gurgaon city from their nearby village so he and his sister could attend Euro International.
“They hoped their children would get a better education,” a neighbour told The Indian Express.
Despite its international label, the school’s website says it follows the Indian Schools Certificate Examinations. Misleading name aside, I wonder what role coveted private schools play in bridging the places such youth come from—and their methods of conflict resolution—with the global exposure they promise. School officials did not return calls, emails or text messages.
Police say the gun came from one suspect’s father, a property dealer. Why so many in Gurgaon feel they even need a gun is a question as loaded as the weapon. Status symbol, yes. A response to the general lawlessness outside gated compounds, indeed. Police also say real estate agents brandish guns because so many transactions are a combination of cheque and cash (translation: illegal).
As Katherine Newman articulated in her book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, shootings occur only when many factors converge, all necessary, but none sufficient on its own. In the suburb these teens called home, not much more seems needed to create a hotbed of conflict and confusion.
As he heard of the shootings this week, Sharma asked himself and his neighbours: How far have we come?
“Civilization comes into the picture when you restrain yourself from violence,” he pronounces. “Gurgaon is getting worse.”
Of course, clashes—by class, caste, profession—now mark countless cities and towns developing their geographical and metaphorical fringes. On a corner of Sharma’s desk, for example, sat this week’s Outlook magazine, its cover depicting two women smoking and dancing. The headline: “Why Bangalore hates the IT culture.”
Yet, it is naïve to say India’s social ills are borrowed from the West; sex, drugs and violence have been a reality of life here for decades. We would better serve our youth by wiping the grime of corrupt, dishonest ways off the mirror. One teen’s death warrants at least one clean, hard look at ourselves.
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