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ROOM WITH A VIEW

How ‘normal’ is ‘abnormal’? That may be one way of summarizing the myriad questions prompted by the CCTV record of a private tutor bashing up a three-and-a-half-year-old boy behind closed doors. The tutor, who has fled the scene, must have a psychological problem, or so commentators now agree. That is, everyone is saying she is what politically incorrect people would call ‘abnormal’. Yet the disconcerting fact is that the woman is reported to have been teaching children for quite a while, although one parent of a former student has said that she pulled out her child when he complained of being beaten. But calling the tutor a ‘serial offender’ is not enough. How has she got away with it for so long? Have the other children she may have beaten up remained quiet or have their parents not believed them? Or did the parents think they needed the ‘disciplining’? After all, it is not very ‘normal’ either, in purely common sense terms, to have private tutors for three-year-olds. What may have saved the tutor’s latest victim from further damage was the CCTV. Maybe the other houses did not have CCTV coverage in their bedrooms. Is that going to become a compulsory part of ‘normal’ life too?

There is a strangely feverish, unreal quality to the incident that is probably the reflection of a regular dimension of everyday life today. The violence at home has at its periphery the demands of the school, which may have forced parents of primary schoolchildren to get private tutors. There is obviously something very wrong with an education system that makes toddlers get private tuition. There was, till recently, incidents of astonishing and heartless violence in schools in the name of corporal punishment. These have been controlled to some extent by the law against it. There is talk of extending this law to include violence towards children outside the school as well. But can law correct attitudes and tendencies? A class monitor, who had complained to the teacher about the unruliness of one of his classmates, was beaten up by his classmate’s mother. Violence is easy, as if simmering just beneath the surface of social interaction. Child labourers have always been beaten up and abused in India, no law — against child labour or against violence towards children — has changed that. But it seems now that violence towards children cuts across all classes, even after corporal punishment in schools has been declared illegal.

The tutor in question may be ‘abnormal’, but the question has perhaps to be reframed. How ‘abnormal’ is today’s ‘normal’? The beatings of children are one aspect of the total pressure they are subject to, a pressure that demands that even children in primary classes go through rigorous home-training with extra money laid out in order to conform to the expectations of an ambitious society. If that is ‘normal’, then very little can be called ‘abnormal’ after all.