Parents, teachers, neighbours. The child is surrounded by ‘enemies’, and its innocence is under threat
Increasing reports of parents assaulting their children, sexually tormenting them or deploying them for illicit activities, paint a grim picture. Little Falak, who suffered multiple injuries at the hands of traffickers, before three heart attacks quashed her feeble life in March this year, is a case in point. Her mother Munni, after being abandoned by her husband, remarried and parted with her three children. Falak changed many hands before landing up at AIIMS, where she died. Shaurya is another battered child, whose father Lalit Balhara and stepmother starved and tortured him till his maternal grandparents moved court for his custody in 2005. Justice has at last been delivered. Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat pronounced the couple guilty of violence and intent to kill the child. Shaurya, now 13, will require much care if he is to grow up into a psychologically whole adult.
At the other extreme are parents, who project their own ambitions into their offspring as they so attempt to enjoy life vicariously and worst rivals. Acute competitiveness claims many victims every year. The underprivileged, forced by financial constraints to work in lowly jobs, remain where they were — in the doldrums, despite assurances of the Right to Education Act 2009. Or desperation may spur them to take to crime.
Indeed, concerted attempts to legalise prostitution, aberrant sex, pornography and sex toys serves to consign poor children to darkness forever. For they are the biggest victims of sexual trafficking, with domestic labour certainly being the lesser evil.
Late philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, survivor of a nervous breakdown that was induced by examination-linked stress, went on to propagate a holistic approach to education and career via the schools that were set up by his foundation. His ideas, possibly derived from the ancient gurukul system, emphasised the flowering of personality rather than just technical excellence, money and prestige. But it has all been washed away by the tide of arid utilitarianism. The race for berths in institutes of technology, medicine and business management, most valued as ladders to success, with political parties vying with each other to introduce quotas for selected vote banks, has completely obscured a balanced perspective. Instead, parents have become more manic in their pursuit of success for their progeny.
Child abuse has emerged as a deeply disturbing reality of present-day India. Even more appalling is the growing incidence of abuse within the family, with fathers or other elders reported to molest or rape girls, sometimes with complicity of the family’s women; and the progeny being routinely humiliated and battered into submission, insanity or death. This psychotic trend cuts across lines of caste, class and religion, contrasting strangely with the phenomenon of honour killings, when sons and daughters, seen to have sullied family and community pride by forging relationships in contravention of social curbs, are killed by relatives or clan members. For a people, possessed by its posterity, this bodes ill. And the rampant disregard for children’s sentiments and rights clouds the nation’s future since, to recall the words of the English poet William Wordsworth, “The child is father of the man”.
The contradictory impulses that mould our attitudes to children mirror the rot that afflicts society. On the one hand, obsession with marriage hinges on the perceived joys bestowed by family life, and on the other, the dysfunctional approach to rearing them poses the real danger of their growing up to become dysfunctional individuals, even if they are professionally successful. Aberrant conduct, at home or outside; addictions; bullying, violence and criminal proclivities are symptoms of unnatural development, commonly blamed by psychiatrists on bad parenting and maladjustment. A recent American Academy of Paediatrics report confirms the harmful impact of psychological abuse.
Disharmony at home and elders providing bad role models or parents using children as punching bags to vent frustrations, may later induce disruptive behaviour in the latter. In feudal milieus, conditions are even more agonising, with custom charting out the future course of life. For females, if allowed to survive at all, it is first bondage to the natal family; then, marriage, children and abject subservience to the marital family, till life’s termination. And males too are forced to tread the rut — acting as the elders ordain, and perpetuating family fortunes and family line. While this might seem the most normal course, especially for health of society, the complete denial of freedom to progeny, even those grown up, to make a choice is an inherent flaw. The sophisticated milieu at least acknowledges the virtue of independence.
It would be edifying to recall Lebanese poet, Khalil Gibran’s view of children as
“the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself,
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday…”