Cruelty to children is a unique mark of Indian culture. There is no reason why a school, built in the last century with the sole purpose of trying to imbue learning with joy and a sense of freedom, should not, in time, merge with the mainstream and absorb its strongest attributes. India, after all, is well-known for its eagerness to destroy the best possibilities in its heritage. So asking a child to lick up her urine in that school may even be seen as normal. What the warden did to the little girl who wet her bed in the Patha Bhavan hostel in Visva-Bharati University of course, was not just cruel but also unimaginably humiliating, designed to cause deep guilt and shame. But it is still a bit puzzling that the child’s problem, common and curable though it is, should have provoked such a barbaric response in the hostel warden. How do recruitment systems function in the school and how is the fitness for the warden’s position decided? To make the question broader, should teachers’ recruitment in West Bengal seek to introduce filters for cruelty, especially when the teachers are for youngsters?
The culture of shame and guilt thrives on enforcers. The recognition of this quality is instinctive, it even generates a secret satisfaction; that is why the warden was charged lightly at first. The additional chief judicial magistrate’s intervention has finally brought the charge against her under the Juvenile Justice Act. It was the same mindset that led to the immediate arrest of the parents. No one reassured, comforted or soothed them, or apologized to them; they were treated simply as disrupters of peace. It is a tragic moment for a school built to counter precisely the cruel and joyless power play in education that was exhibited in this incident. It is not enough to say just that. The warden’s action was also illegal by today’s standards. Corporal punishment is prohibited by law, and licking urine is perhaps one of the ugliest forms of corporal punishment that can be imagined. But insensitivity to children, to the weak and vulnerable, is not just common, but proudly displayed, in this culture of cruelty. A wise man with a wide following has come quickly to the warden’s defence, claiming that drinking urine is a cure for bed-wetting and very good for health. The smooth shift of focus once again demonstrates that so-called traditional outlooks like to support any form of coercion and cruelty.