Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Limping towards Columbine?

The incident in Gurgaon, where two teenage boys shot dead a third, has set everyone on edge. Here we've been talking about how wonderful our way of life is compared to the US or the UK--no illegitimate teenage pregnancy waves, no violence, very little sex (evidently someone is NOT looking at the Indian birthrate!) and all due to the influence of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) as the saas-bahu serials would have us believe. And yet, two schoolboys shoot dead a third who was boarding the bus to go home. All three protagonists--the victim as well as the perpetrators--belonged to upwardly mobile families who wanted them to do well in the world. Evidently, the victim was a bully and the perpetrators were avenging themselves on him. And it appears, from newspaper reports, that the father of one of the perpetrators showed the boy how to use the gun. Justice, Amitabh Bacchan style, in real life?

Bullying and ragging appear to be two faces of the same coin. I've often heard from my father that a bully is really a coward, who cannot face the world without forcing it to accept things the way he or she would have them. The only way to stand up to a bully is to stand firm and not give in. However, that's easier said than done when the bully and the bullied are schoolkids.

For some reason, schoolchildren prefer a cookie-cutter world, in which they, their homes and their families are just like everyone else's. It's very difficult to explain to a child that it is OK to be different, that being just like everyone else is stultifying. Only an adult can appreciate this reasoning--a child, never. Because the child's aim is to fit in, to belong.

People get bullied or ragged because they stand out from the crowd. A boy is closer to the girl students in his class than to the boys. A girl would rather play football than play with dolls. It doesn't matter that the bully or the ragger probably has the same tendencies lurking in his or her unconscious--he or she has to stand up for the cookie-cutter conformist world, come what may.

This insistence on having a conformist society, where everyone is like everyone else, reminds me very much of the fundamentalist mindset, whether Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Jewish or communist. Each of these fundamentalisms would differ in their details, but they would want a certain dull sameness in their lives.

Teachers will have their work cut out for them, with attempts to curb bullying, and to make children work together as a group by accepting and celebrating their differences. For it is only when we accept the fact that we are all different (thank whichever God you worship for that) and each of us is unique that we appreciate what life is really all about.

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I work as a freelance editor and writer in New Delhi. 


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