By Ananya S Guha
One thought that strikes my mind is that in violent situations, such as ethnic strife, what happens to children, who are supposed to be in schools. How do they react to violent situations, hearing about people being killed or actually being a witness to violence and brutal killings? How do they lead lives devoid of play grounds and classrooms? The school is the starting point, the take off point, as it were in one’s life. But what happens when part of this sunshine of life is rudely snatched away, and violence impinges on infantile minds like seething disaster, killing, maiming, setting houses on fire, you name it. Children having to live under terror, or in refugee camps, day by day are the ones who suffer the most, in terms of victims of ignorance, policing and crime.
Undoubtedly adults also bear intense sufferance, but when innocence is tarnished at a tender age, I think nothing could be more criminal and vile than this. It is sinister in every way, as laughter gets subdued in muffled tones.A child is a natural being, expresses naturally and thinks naturally, but violence corrupts the soul, and leads a child from innocence to bitter experience. That is the tragedy of life.
And this is true not only in terms of racial or ethnic violence; it is true in times of earthquakes and floods. What do children do then, especially poor children, unwanted orphaned children?
I have said earlier that the school is the take off point in one’s life. That is why we always remember the school or schools, or the teachers who have made an impressionable imprint on our minds. Selectively we remember a few teachers. The school is the second home where friendships are made, and these friendships can be very lasting. I always look forward to my school alumni meets, where memories and trivial incidents impinge upon the mind like a grand story or a myth which I can re-tell to my children.
I think this aspect of education that is addressing children’s needs mental and emotional when they are not in school due to violence or natural disaster is something which educators must seriously ponder upon. It is a crucial aspect of education, outside the classroom education and has elements of continuing education such as memories which we carry with ourselves.
Look at the situation in Irag, Iran, Afghanistan, the Gaza strip, and more recently in Syria, Egypt and the Middle East. What were and are children doing in these ravaged and war torn situations? How do they lead their daily lives which in reality should be laughter and fun filled? How does the deafening noise of bombs and warfare attack sensitive minds. Is there fear only or is there anger as well? Or is it a minute to minute survival? I remember watching a television programme three decades back where it was shown that in Northern Ireland which was at that time prone to civil unrest, children there were violent in nature because they were so used to violence being the culture of life. They were aggressive children. Similarly, one of my friends who is a peace crusader in one of the North East Indian States said that once he saw that in an art competition children were drawing things like guns and AK-47.
These issues have to be addressed by the academia and teachers otherwise we will kill the sensitivity of children, where they will be products of a brutal and animal culture. Such ferocity will make them throughout life pugnacious creatures. That is the pity of it. We have to adapt our classroom situations to such aberrations in a culture of peace to obviate any form of violence. And during violence prone times when the child is the most vulnerable person then governments in different countries must keep in provision remedial homes where children can at least watch their favourite TV Cartoon Serials. I remember reading about a situation in an online discussion forum, where it was mentioned that children in Bangladesh during floods were taken to boats which had televisions fitted so that they could at least watch Mickey Mouse Cartoons. Otherwise, such children were vulnerable to different forms of exploitation like manual labour etc.
And now my mind veers to the troubled situation in North East India especially in Assam. What are children doing in refugee camps, and what are their counterparts in different parts of the country thinking about them? Are they sensitized to do this by their own teachers?
I know of an NGO in Delhi by the name of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Foundation which brings out a tabloid for children all over the world on the issue of peace. It is called Peace Gong and it is edited and written by children all over the world including countries such as Pakistan. Its first issue was supported by the United Nations Volunteers and its second issue on the theme of disability will be sponsored by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI), at the same time there will be a supplementary issue on slogans for peace, write ups on peace during conflict situations, as well as messages by children to their brethren in Assam. I think this is a grand initiative and such activities should go into the school curricula. Children who are witness to violence may also be propelled towards creative urges, such as writing, painting and sensitizing on issues related to war and conflict situations.