Friday, June 17, 2011

That thing called respect

Stanley ka dabba.

While I was watching this unselfconscious movie earlier this evening, it felt like there was a substitute for every character in my own school. Not in the literal sense of “Khadoos" gunning for the student’s dabbas but in a metaphyscial sense, yes. Adults like him, who have been put in charge of young lives with a clear cut mandate to guard and protect and nurture. Instead, they crush and devaluate and diminish the young spirits placed in their care.

The casual, dismissively brutal air of the canteen guy, the Science teacher and Khadoos himself is unfortunately an accurate representation of reality. Because the children are small and vulnerable, the school peons, the bus drivers and conductors as also the guards see nothing wrong with an abrasive tone and disrespectful language.

I will never forget that day. Aqseer, who was a senior student that year, had come to meet me in the Primary Wing. She had to change out of her rehearsal clothes into the school uniform. Without giving it too much thought, I waved her towards the Junior Wing washrooms, unaware of the disaster in store. She was probably still half way through when the school peon realized that a heinous crime was afoot! A senior student was using the junior room. He went into his characteristically ballistic form. Foaming at the mouth, he launched into the kind of door banging one would normally reserve for someone about to hang themselves by the fan. With nary a thought for an adolescent’s sensitivity and awkward placement at that moment, this man literally brought the house down. Aqseer came out quietly and was accepting of this misconduct in the discussion that followed but I could never forgive that man for an attitude that clearly screamed his predominant thought:  every child is a potential criminal.

I can’t stress this enough. There has to be an air of mutual respect in a school. And it has got to be visible in every direction, vertically, laterally and diagonally. Respect begets respect. In the movie, the Principal is perceptive, magnanimous and open. It is this attitude that helps along the eventual resolution. Stanley’s world is fortunately, also peopled by Miss Rosy and Mr Zutshi, teachers who are warm and supportive and compassionate and encouraging

The school is as nuanced and layered as this disarming movie. Several forces are at play, take any given time. But the acid test of this class of institution is: to what extent are they building a child’s self-esteem? CBSE may make a daily PT period mandatory. The Principal’s report on the annual day may wax eloquent on the number of toppers and sports awards. The government may push for the inclusion of Economically Weaker Section students. These are significant components of a country’s educational anthem but above all this din is our little Stanley. Does he feel happy to be alive? Does he look forward to school every morning? Does he feel safe and appreciated? Does he think he can?

Respect. It is the answer. In every form and flavor. Self-respect, mutual respect, respect for authority as well as for the students in their care. 
Respect !

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