OPEN APP
Home >Opinion >Columns >As harsh winds blow across this country’s educational landscape

Dried leaves pad the path up to the village in April, a steep 30-minute climb from the bend of a stream, where the car must be left on a mud road. In September, the jungle is resplendent. Climbing up, you can’t see the villages in the distance then, as you can when the trees are denuded. In April, a hard wind billows the fallen leaves, making each step unsure. That wind has the smell of impending summer. By the end of the month, the leaves are crushed, the wind turns punishing. I have seen these changes over the seasons because I go there every year.

One April, the wind was rougher, the leaves already disintegrated, and the climb tougher. The big man walked behind me, others were ahead, visible but far. “Do you remember that dark evening without lights, when we talked about hitting children?" he asked. I remembered. “You remember how the others were arguing that without fear, children don’t learn. There were 10-12 of them. And how I defeated them?" Yes, I remembered. “Well, I just wanted to tell you that I was not really honest. I too used to hit children then. Not brutally, like many other teachers, but a slap here and there. Not much. But still quite regularly." Why are you telling me this, I asked. Something happened, he said.

She was 14. Now and then, she would giggle uncontrollably in class. But was usually silent, drawing something, not very engaged with the class. She was kind and pleasant, especially with younger children. Bullies would transform her in a flash. Most encounters would turn into fisticuffs, with teachers having to separate them. He had taught her for three years. They got along well. But her absolute unwillingness to put her mind to the books would push him over the edge, and he would slap her occasionally. Gently, but still a slap, not a pat. It didn’t seem to matter to her. She stayed away from the books and continued to like him.

One day, when he slapped her—the same gentle kind, on her back at the base of the neck—she fell down, writhing in pain. He tried to help her up, but she kept trembling, lying on her side, holding her knees. In panic, he called the sole woman teacher of the school. The class emptied out into the playground. He waited breathless just outside the room. After 10 minutes, the teacher and the girl emerged. The girl looked alright. “Aapne kuchh nahin kiya, sir," she said; you have not done anything. And then she went away. The woman told him that the girl’s upper back was all blue and black. Bruises, sparing hardly an inch.

He knew her village, though had never visited her house. After school that day, he rode his bike to the footbridge that led to that village and found her house at one edge. Two small rooms with a tin roof. The girl wasn’t there. Her mother and elder sister had gone to work at a road construction site. Her chachi, sitting at the door, was in no mood for a conversation. He went to another student’s house. The mother welcomed him with chai. Some others joined them. The girl’s was a story of common misery. The father had left a few months earlier to the city, to work as construction labour. The sister dropped out of high school, to earn. Her chacha and chachi lived with them, with no contribution to the household income. The chacha was abusive with the women, particularly with the girl, often thrashing her. Mediation within the village community had had no effect. He left after tea, to come back the next day in search of the chacha. He found him at the sole tea stall of the village, sober and sullen. He told the man that if he were to hit the girl again, he would call the police. There were five witnesses to this incident. A month passed with the girl behaving as usual in school. One day, she showed up with a gash under her ear. He left the school immediately, riding up to her village. He found the chacha at the same tea stall. “You hit her again," he said. “What is it to you? I will hit her any time I want," the chacha replied.

He had stopped walking, so I too stopped. “Blinding fury gripped me, sir," he said. “All I could see was the bruised little child. I hit him twice, once on the jaw and once in the stomach, and he fell. You can see I am very strong." Onlookers said the man deserved worse. He left on his bike, after noting that the man wasn’t hurt grievously. Not much happened after that. Her gash healed. She did her usual things at school.

He was still standing, pointing to the edge of a hill. “That is her village."

“She is gone, sir," he said. What do you mean ‘she is gone’?

Four months after that incident, she didn’t come to school for two days. The other children from the village told him that they had not seen anyone from the family for those two days. He went to her village to enquire. All that anyone could say was that they had left hurriedly; apparently, the father was ill in the city.

He was still standing. “I have tried to search, sir, and have no news." She’ll return, I said. “I hope so, sir, but then it has been 18 months." He started walking again. “I don’t hit kids anymore, sir. Not even gently. And I go to each child’s house, once in a month." There’s nothing more he could do, I reassured him.

He stopped again. “What do you think is happening with her?" It was not a question. Then he glided past me. “It’s a long hard climb up, let’s go."

Anurag Behar is CEO of Azim Premji Foundation

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Click here to read the Mint ePaperMint is now on Telegram. Join Mint channel in your Telegram and stay updated with the latest business news.

Close
×
Edit Profile
My ReadsRedeem a Gift CardLogout