You don't realise how deeply you are capable of loving until you have your own child. As an adult who's seen the world that can be kind and cruel, soft and harsh, cheerful and sinister, you want to shelter them from the worst and experience the best humanity has to offer. You want their childhood to be a cherished memory and not a nightmare.
So, when you read about a boy, all of seven, allegedly killed brutally for resisting the sexual advances of a crazed man inside the safe confines of his school, your heart bleeds. You are filled with rage at the school for taking safety of your most precious so casually. You grieve for the parents who will be left with a gaping hole in their heart for the rest of their lives.
We can't possibly keep an eye on them all time. If we do, we will end up being that overbearing tree that prevents the small plants under its shade to reach their fullest potential.
But the first thought that engulfs any parent is—what if it were my own child? I was living in Brisbane and my daughter in Delhi when the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder sent chills down our spine. It also brought out my worst fears. As much as I hated myself for doing it, I would ask her to be home by evening, carry a Swiss knife with her at all times and my insides would turn into anxious jelly every time she wouldn't pick up the phone.
Every time a child gets sexually assaulted or worse killed, we are overcome with helpless rage. It was appalling to find out that Ryan International has toilet facilities shared by students and non-teaching staff, including drivers and conductors. Children are easy targets for deviants. Also it's a known fact that paedophiles seek employment/engagement in organisations where they are in close proximity with children. It's baffling that the school didn't bother with background checks before hiring non-teaching staff.
It is a colossal tragedy of our times that the sexual abuse of children is not given the importance it deserves. It is either shrouded in complicit silence or the perpetrator is let off with a reprimand. The bus conductor who murdered the little boy allegedly had a history of sexual misdemeanours. Yet the school that dismissed him just a few months back didn't think it was important to file a police complaint.
As a nation whose track record of safety for its citizens is far from exemplary, we still do not have a national database of sexual offenders. It's not as if demands for one have not been raised before but our outrage that follows reports of sexual abuse in schools has the attention span of an amoeba.
Trust them so that they have the confidence to trust their instincts and be able to differentiate between good and creepy vibes from others.
The Delhi Police has chalked out a plan of action to look into the issue of security of children in schools following the Ryan incident. I am sure the Haryana government will also come up with their own list of rules and regulations for schools to follow. But simply drafting hurriedly made rules for children's safety is not enough. If new laws and rules could keep us safe, no woman would be afraid to step out in the dark, no man would think twice before stopping to a take a bleeding accident victim to the hospital, no rapist would have the audacity to rape again and again.
Police background checks become just useless pieces of paper when you know that the police chowki will simply sign the form without any physical verification for a mere ₹500. Regulations are of no use if the school lacks the sincerity to implement them.
One single lapse is all a predator needs to slip through the safety net.
So how do we keep our children safe?
We can't possibly keep an eye on them all time. If we do, we will end up being that overbearing tree that prevents the small plants under its shade to reach their fullest potential. We can warn them to be wary of friendly uncles who offer toffees in parks. Stay away from suspicious looking adults. But then we will end up creating an adult deeply distrustful of the world.
Sadly, fears have an uncanny ability of becoming a looming shadow over our lives, blocking it off from sunshine and cheer.
We are as responsible for our children as the school we send them to, the government we vote to power and the police force that is supposed to maintain law and order.
There's no disputing the fact that we all want our children to grow into adults capable of loving, caring and nurturing. So why not make them aware that your love is not dependant on the expectations they meet? Trust them so that they have the confidence to trust their instincts and be able to differentiate between good and creepy vibes from others. Talk to them rather than talking down to them. Instead of discouraging them from arguing with adults, reason with them.
A kid who obeys blindly will never be able to stand up for himself and fight back.
Also, let us accept that we are as responsible for our children as the school we send them to, the government we vote to power and the police force that is supposed to maintain law and order. Besides telling your child about the good and bad touch, insist the school has CCTV coverage, especially around secluded spots. A school cannot cut corners when it comes to the safety of students.
Be aware that a majority of sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by people known to them. Teach them to say no if any physical contact makes them uncomfortable. Most predators are encouraged by the child's puzzled silence.
Never forget to make them feel love and cherished. Take out time every day to just hear them talk about their day, their little joys and fears.
And enrol them for martial arts. Nobody will dare mess with a child who can defend himself with a firm kick in the groin of the attacker.
So while we are busy saving rivers, trees, our great culture, cows, morality, shouldn't we also protect our kids from lust, rage, unreasonable expectations and abuse?
After all it is for them we are working towards a clean, breathable, liveable world.
Previously published on http://www.purba-ray.com/