A Home away from Home?

The author, Dr. Smita Dharmamer is the National Program Coordinator at Aangan. 

It is a popular notion that your home defines you as a person. It defines your character, personality, culture and morals. This idea is very openly acknowledged and readily appreciated. This need is a very basic one – belongingness. In the literature available many a psychologists, especially, Maslow gave a hierarchy of needs. He said that in order for human potential to grow and flourish one had to attain all the stages in the hierarchy before reaching the ultimate goal of self-actualization.

The needs in the hierarchy begin with basic physiological needs of hunger and thirst and build upwards to safety and security; love and affection; belongingness; esteem and self-dignity and finally actualization. Now imagine for a second that the most basic need in this hierarchy is withdrawn. What would you do? This is actually a question for you, about which you can do something because you have ‘freedom’. What does he do who lives without freedom? Sounds unreal?

This is the reality. Along with the technology of LCD’s and Tablets, expensive cars and cosy housing this too is reality. On my recent visit to correctional homes I was appalled by the mere sight of them. Not that I have high standards of judgement, but these homes did not even meet the barest of the minimum standards of judgement.

To begin with the infrastructure is so poor and dilapidated that living inside such a home is a hazard. With leaking roofs and broken doors the children there have not much to call it their home. They are deprived from nutrition and recreation. Two very basic needs required for the wholesome development and growth of an individual. Even in our daily life if we were to do a daily chore while we were hungry the majority of us would leave the task and first eat to satisfy our hunger. The only difference here is that this is a choice for us. Believe it or not this basic freedom does not exist in these homes.

The majority of boys living in these facilities are adolescent boys. Keeping them on a steady and rationed diet of ‘murmura’ (puffed rice) and biscuits is hardly justifiable. Apart from this they are supposed to clean and maintain hygienic environments in their bathroom and rooms. How does an individual perform manual labour without having a full stomach? I wish the story ended here, but it does not. Unfortunately for these boys there are no means of recreation in the four walls of the correction home. They are supposed to just eat and sleep and have been mechanized to robots having only these two functions.

The next inexcusable aspect of this inspection was to see that the staff and administration involved in the care of these boys was significantly undisturbed and perturbed by these conditions. They did not assume responsibility of their roles of maintaining discipline and improving these children in mind and body. The primary concern shared by the higher administration was that the boys should not run away otherwise their promotion would be at stake. Even in this they did not stop to think for one second what their position imposed on them in terms of duty and responsibility. being drunk at work, beating children, refusing responsibility, turning a blind eye to problems, delegating responsibilities to children for bribe these are just some of the unsaid rules that govern correctional homes in modern India.

Another rather serious problem the children face is that of crowding. Imagine that all you family member were to live confined to the smallest room in your house for one entire day. Sounds bizarre? But this is the truth for these young boys. They are forced to live in rooms too small to accommodate them. In one home 60 children were living together in a 10”10” room. Imagine this now. A number of studies have shown that crowding had many unfavourable psychological, physical and mental consequences. Then who is this knowledge for? If it is not going to be implemented then research should stop. It is just a waste of funds.

Coming to the idea of the learning and training these children. They are sent to these homes by law under the pretext that when they leave they would have learnt to better deal with the hardships of life and have turned a new leaf in their life. But what does someone who went from the frying pan to the fire do? The story of these children is similar. Their standard of living is so impoverished in the homes that they struggle more on the inside than when left to fend for themselves in the world.

Elaborating a little more on the learning and training aspect it becomes important to highlight Albert Bandura. His famous idea of observational learning and modelling is a widely followed and accepted concept then why do we fail to apply it to such a setting? The models these children have to teach them skills are abusive both verbally and physically. They are devoid of any real experience and wisdom. Have no teaching to impart or responsibilities to hold. Then how do we expect that these children will change when they come out and try to find a place for themselves in a society where they know they do not fit.

They only source of education for these children are through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Programmes. But the sad thing is that their teaching modules have information that suffices for primary school children. Most of the boys in these homes are educated till the 8th standard. Thus, this exercise is futile and redundant for them.

So next time one points a finger at a deviant or juvenile think about what he has had to do to survive. Malnutrition, poverty, lack of stimulation, humiliation, physical and verbal abuse – the list is endless. If one wishes to see any change in these children, changing the environment in which they live is imperative.

As I began by saying we are who are home is, think again and answer the question – coming from these places, are these children right or wrong?