Black & Blue – The Colours Of Childhood

On a recent school visit for the noble purpose of sensitizing children about child rights and empowering them with the knowledge of the responsibility they bear of fighting for themselves, I came across a frail and shy Jayprakash. He was a part of a group of children playing a customized variety of snakes and ladders. The very popular board game was in this case tweaked around to carry information on the dos and don’ts for the preservation of the rights of children. It was a non-homogenous group with four children of different age groups and hailing from dissimilar backgrounds. While the elder girls of the group “participated” enthusiastically Jayprakash silently withdrew himself unnoticed. Finding him slouching in a corner, I extended a hand of support.

Me: Why are you not playing?

Jayprakash: (turns away from me)

Me: ( pestering) Why won’t you play?

Jayprakash;( murmurs): I don’t want to play. I don’t feel like playing. (I have not seen his face, still)

Me: (changing my strategy) Do you not like this game?

Jayprakash: I have never played this game

I kept my hand on his shoulders with deep felt sympathy. He curled in a little further, head bent down throughout.

Me: Come let us go and learn it with the others. It is no problem if you do not know, we can play together.

Jayprakash: (looks at me with a grimy face) Ok.( skips)

We went to the group keenly bent over the game board. A classmate of Jayprakash started chuckling as I tried to introduce the rules of the game to a closed Jayprakash.

Me: What is the matter with you?

Classmate: He will never comprehend. He doesn’t get anything, ever.

Me: What class is he in?

Classmate: Standard Six, in my class.

Before, I could make sense of this, Jayprakash turned towards me and made quite a revelation.

Jayprakash: I cannot read, just write a little

Classmate: (interrupting) He mostly copies.

Me: But, why did you not say so earlier?

Jayprakash: I am scared

Classmate: (who can barely write his name, as I found out later): He gets beaten up in class everyday and nobody talks to him. He is slow, poor thing.

Jayprakash: (feeling encouraged with my constant patting and at having an eager audience) I have to balance bricks on my back as a punishment, because I am a slow learner.

The other children of the group also shared similar instances of corporal punishment where they would be hit by rulers or made to stand touching their toes. The punishment they shared is increased if they try to show any kind of resistance.


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The next fifteen minutes of my life were spent in coaxing Jayprakash to speak up in the next session which was to be conducted post-lunch. I told him that the session was being conducted to take a stock of the concerns and complains ailing children like him. Gaping with large wide eyes, Jayprakash seemed to be just about sufficiently convinced. The clock struck one and the group broke for lunch with great promises of ‘Get Up, Stand Up, and Fight’.

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In the backdrop of children being warned by the ‘motherly’ teachers to give (in)correct information (that all is well and good!), I looked for Jayprakash. I realised that was my last meeting with Jayprakash. I was not very surprised.

– Madhurima Mallik


About the author:

Madhurima Mallik based out of Gujarat is currently working as a Documentation Consultant with UNICEF India. She is a post-graduate in Radio Broadcasting from the Asian College of Journalism and has worked as a Media Consultant with the Government of Gujarat for three years.She has a deep interest in issues related to gender and development. She has researched on the issue of Surrogacy in India and has covered numerous stories from the field.


Epilogue:

While India prepares itself for being the youngest country in the world and reap the demographic dividend, there are millions like Jayprakash who go through the vicious cycle of being poor, labeled as stupid, beaten up ruthlessly and punished. Finally they drop out to work as child labourers, unable to break out of the poverty cycle. Some even complete the so called government elementary school education (thanks to the Right to Education Act) without learning as much as an alphabet. Most of them can barely write their names even if they have completed standard eighth. The government fails to meet the needs of its nearly 8o million children for quality primary education and being taught with dignity so they could dream, aspire and grow up to be social assets. Instead, they remain voiceless victims of poor pedagogical techniques and corporal punishment by insensitive teachers. While the RTE Act has ensured that the child enters school and teacher remains present, it does not necessarily guarantee access to the real right to education where he/she learns and is made able to give wings to their imagination. The real stories run away and remain hidden for the fear of being beaten up such as Jayprakash, replaced by government figures and those conjured, that all is well. We expect, that somehow, despite living with ridicule and violence on daily basis, these children will never attempt to inflict the same on others, will make a fine living and grow up to contribute to the idea of ‘India’, poised to be the next superpower.

– Akansha Yadav

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Post script: Research has shown that the emotional and physical effects of corporal punishment hinder children’s ability to learn, undermining the very purpose of education.  Corporal punishment interferes with the learning process and with children’s cognitive, sensory, and social emotional development.  Studies in Europe have shown that corporal punishment was the strongest predictor of current depression among children. – See more here

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