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A horrific incident in a school in Ranipokhari, Dehradun involving the brutal torture and murder of a child is painfully telling of the apathy, disrespect, and callousness that we as a society have become capable of.
Trigger warning: This post contains some descriptions of violence against children that some readers may find hard to read.
On March 10, 2019, a twelve-year-old boy was bullied by two of his seniors who made him wrap his limbs around a pipe as they thrashed him with bats and stumps, force-fed him biscuits and kurkure, before forcing him to drink a bucket full of dirty water. The child passed away – but not without screaming for help and going unheard. The school hastily buried the body to do away with the evidence.
Even as the two young men who tortured and murdered the child as well as the hostel staff who were on duty that day have been arrested, this incident holds up a mirror to society and the image is a chilling monstrosity: one that shows our incapacity as bystanders, one that shows the dark underbelly of bullying, and one that shows the pressing need for empathy and peace education.
Imagine sitting in a room and going about your business. Imagine hearing the cries of a child, begging for help, wailing, and possibly shrieking in pain. How often have you heard this? How often have you gotten up to go check, to intervene, and to question? We walk by violent environments around us, and victims of those violent environments remain hidden in plain sight. Our incapacity to intervene enables and abets this brazen display of violence one too many times. For most of us, the intention to help definitely exists: but accompanying that is the “bystander effect.”
Simply put, bystander inertia or the bystander effect allows one to sit back under the assumption that someone else will intervene. This decision can come from anything from fear and ignorance on what to do, to a general state of “why do I need this headache” and “I have my own problems to deal with.”
Arguably, these are dangerous situations involving violence and one is probably justified in worrying about interfering head on and physically – lest the violence target them. But direct intervention is really just one way to intervene. You have the option of distracting, disrupting, diverting, delaying, and even, of course, directly intervening.
Most households, schools, hostels, and public spaces have the propensity to lend themselves as arenas of violence – but how successful these spaces are in seeing that violence through till completion is a function of the others that occupy it.
If so much as one person had heard the child’s cries enough to act on it – rather than to dismiss it, ignore it, or refuse to acknowledge it – we wouldn’t have had a murder at all, and the torture itself could have been nipped in the bud.
Bullying is a power game: be that in a high school corridor or across diplomatic arenas. In the Ranipokhari case, the two young men had decided that the young boy needed to be taught a lesson for allegedly stealing a packet of biscuits. Their attempt at what seemingly comes across as vigilante justice is less about justice and more about the power dynamics: a twelve-year-old could be warned, given a stern lecture on the downside of stealing, and behavioural correction for stealing – had it been proved that he had stolen, in the first place – instead of being beaten up. Violence is often a means of claiming power, of reclaiming power, of affirming power, and of reaffirming power.
There is simply no excuse for violence.
While overt violence like this cost three futures – one, the child who was beaten to death, and two, the two young men whose futures may have been full of potential, only to have walked down the hardened path of crime, instead. Today’s bully breaks two people: himself, and the bullied. He may never change and become worse. The bullied may become a bully himself, or, may turn docile and become vulnerable to more bullying, as well.
It may seem hard to understand how children normalize violence, how they resort to violence as if it were the natural (read: only) choice in response to situations around them. But the truth is, children are growing up with environments around them that normalize violence, and are constantly filled with adults who don’t care who is watching before reaching out for what they believe is theirs, using violence.
Be it at home where feuding families, spousal and domestic violence, verbal abuse, and emotional blackmail are common sights to mass media which is sailing on a painful and heady high of normalizing violence and abusive behaviour, influences are far too many to count.
Generations of students before you and me, along with you and me, and now, after you and me, have grown up, are growing up, and will grow up without learning the most important values of life: of empathy, of choosing peace and compassion over hatred and violence, of choosing equality, tolerance and respect for one’s identity as they are instead of pushing constant agendas of ideals and non-conformism attracting mistreatment.
What if we taught non-violent communication while teaching rules of grammar, syntax and semantics? What if we taught history with the right telling, and with the agenda to prevent repetition of history’s egregious failings? What if we taught geography against the landscape of actual equality – where we learned lessons from the earth’s diversity and imbibed it as positive lessons for peace? What if we taught practical ways to use numbers in a way that had practical solutions to deter from conflict and choose peace instead?
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Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.
Rajshri Deshpande as the protagonist in ‘Trial by Fire’, the recent Netflix show has received raving reviews along with the show itself for its sensitive portrayal of the Uphaar Cinema Hall fire tragedy, 1997 and its aftermath.
The limited series is based on the book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children in the tragedy. We got an opportunity to interview Rajshri Deshpande who played Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the woman who has been relentlessly crusading in the court for holding the owners responsible for the sheer negligence.
Rajshri Deshpande is more than an actor. She is also a social warrior, the rare celebrity from the film industry who has also gone back to her roots to give to poverty struck farming villages in her native Marathwada, with her NGO Nabhangan Foundation. Of course a chance to speak with her one on one was a must!
“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman."
The arrays of workstations were occupied by people peering into their computer screens. The clicks of keyboard keys were punctuated by the occasional footsteps moving around to brainstorm or collaborate with colleagues in their cubicles. Most employees went about their tasks without looking at the person seated on either side of their workstation. Meenakshi was one of them.
The thirty-one-year-old marketing manager in a leading eCommerce company in India sat straight in her seat, her eyes on the screen, her fingers punching furiously into the keys. She was in a flow and wanted to finish the report while the thoughts and words were coming effortlessly into her mind.
Natu-Natu. The mellifluous ringtone interrupted her thoughts. She frowned at her mobile phone with half a mind to keep it ringing until she noticed the caller’s name on the screen, making her pick up the phone immediately.
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