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Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

There is such a deluge of ‘shocking’ news these days that we have stopped being shocked by most such news. But this one is in a category all its own. Forced by his elder sister against his will to go to school, a Class IX student in Mayurbhanj district shut himself up in a room, poured kerosene and set himself on fire this morning. He died of his severe burn injuries while in the hospital. If this mind-numbing incident does not stir the conscience of those in charge of school education in the state, nothing will.

Preliminary reports suggest there was no pressure from the school authorities. Nor was there a love angle, not uncommon among today’s teenagers, to the suicide. His sister says the boy was never keen to go to school and always had to be persuaded, cajoled or forced to go. He simply dreaded school.

Have our authorities ever pondered over the question as to why school has become such a dreaded place for our children, especially in tribal areas? Why students have to be forced against their will to go to school despite all the reforms aimed at ensuring that it is a place of fun and not a nightmare? The fear of corporal punishment obviously can’t be a reason since we have banned it long ago - though doubts remain whether the ‘punishment free zone’ rule is being followed in letter and spirit in schools in remote places.)

Corporal punishment was very much a part of the ’curriculum’ when I was in school at various remote places in tribal Odisha. I remember we had a teacher from somewhere in Puri district, who used to bring back a rich collection of ‘betas’ (supple sticks) every time he went home to break on our backs on his return. He would actually apply mustard oil on them before use for greater impact! I managed to escape punishment more often than not since I was a reasonably good student. But there were occasions when the wrath of the teacher did fall on me like a ton of bricks. On one such occasion, he beat me up black and blue for something I had done or not done (I don’t quite remember). While bathing me before school the next morning, my mother was aghast to see the deep, blue marks that the teacher’s ‘beta’ had left on my back and duly complained to my father. “I will tell the teacher the next time he commits a mistake, he should beat him even harder but spare his eyes,” he said laconically. I was furious with my father, normally a very quiet and loving person. But I don’t remember me – or any of my class fellows - ever dreading school or hating the teacher for that.

It is possible today’s children think and react to situations differently than children of my generation. They are under the kind of pressure - from peers, teachers and parents – that our generation never knew of. Under tremendous pressure from all quarters to ‘perform’, numerous students commit suicide every year after failing in examinations or getting poor grades. To their young, impressionable minds, failure in exams appears to be the end of life. Whose duty is it to convince these tender minds, with love and patience, that there is always a next time and that life is too precious to be lost for failure in a mere examination? Family members, teachers or society at large? I think the greatest responsibility is on the family. They must deal with their wards with love, care and understanding, encourage them to share their worries, anxieties and fears with them and not burden them with their expectations. There is a need to delve deep into the mind of the child to know if anything is bothering him/her. Everyone should realize that not every child can be good at studies. If a child is not good at studies, the parents and teachers must try to find out what s/he is good at and encourage them to pursue it while making efforts to find ways to make studies interesting for them. They need to be told about the numerous examples of great men who were not good students in school.

These “Taare Zameen Par” are too precious to be lost before time!

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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