The reality in our schools: Playful Bullying or Actual Violence?

Slide1.JPGBullying, ragging, hazing…call it what you will, but we need to look at this through a new lens and see it for what it is –violence and abuse. Bullying is seen by some as a rite-of-passage, but it can cause serious physical and psychological harm to a child. Children who are the victims of violence at school are more likely than their peers to display signs of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. What’s more, victims of bulling may suffer from low self-esteem, high anxiety and social difficulties even as adults. Victims of violence in schools are more likely to contemplate suicide, and this is particularly dangerous as parents often miss the warning signs.

So why do we underplay and normalize what really is a serious issue in schools today? We at Aangan want to understand how we can affect the way violence in schools is dealt with. But first, let’s dig deeper into what the prevalent situation is in terms of bullying in schools.

Peeling the layers on school violence

In order to better understand the ground reality of the level of violence and abuse in schools today, we did a survey of current school-going children and former school students (currently adults) from different parts of the country, on the key triggers and perpetrators of bullying.

With the caveat that this research covers only a small spectrum of elite and mid-level schools and convents, here are some of our key findings.

  1. A total of 159 incidences of ‘bullying’ that caused physical, sexual and emotional harm was reported, including 35 recurring incidents.
  2. Of this, 51% of incidents were to do with emotional abuse, 42% were physical abuse and sexual abuse at a worrying 7%.
  3. Surprisingly, it’s not just students who are the perpetrators of bullying or violence. Teachers were the perpetrators of abuse in over one-third of all incidents.
  4. Females tend to recall more emotional abuse (67%) compared to males (51%). On the other hand, males experience more physical abuse than females – with 46% reporting such incidents compared to 28% females.

The numbers only tell half the story though. Rather more informative are the actual statements of the people interviewed. For instance, one school-going girl recounts her experience of how the teacher contributed to her mental harassment.

The teacher told me to stand on the bench, saying ‘Yeh to hamari class ki model hain’. Everyone in the class made lewd gestures like they were throwing money, like I was a bar dancer. It was a humiliating experience and I’ll never forget this.

Cyber-bullying too is showing its ugly head in schools. One of our survey respondent shares:

“I know this one girl who is seventeen, and has now been in and out of depression many a times. They have WhatsApp groups for different divisions in her grade, and a few of them have lewd comments about her breasts. She has also been touched inappropriately several times by boys in her school. In her art class, she frequently draws images of shooting herself and of bloodshed.”

There are several other disturbing incidents that have emerged from the survey. Students being teased for the color of their skin, the way they talk, look or dress; students being beaten and stabbed with pens, sticks, and even knives; girls being asked by their teachers to jump up and down in class for wearing skirts ending above their knee, boys being told to remove their shirts as punishment for not having paid school fees – the list is endless.

While a few incidents from the survey do show that some teachers look to prevent bullying, they’re more often than not complicit in allowing this to happen. Can we really afford to let this continue? Should teachers and schools be allowed to continue to hold no accountability for the safety of our children?

The larger evidence pointing to violence in schools

Do our study and the academic studies we’ve looked at corroborate what happens in the real world? Unfortunately, it does. There are several media reports of young students being irreparably affected or committing suicide due to the constant physical and emotional abuse they were subjected to.

Consider just a few instances of teachers being the perpetrators of harm. This rather shocking video of a teacher slapping a student in front of the class forty times has just come to light on September 1, 2017. The presence of a CCTV indicates that this is in all likelihood an elite school. The teacher has now been suspended. In 2014, Rouvanjit Rawla, from one of India’s premier schools, La Martiniere Kolkata, had committed suicide after a ‘severe physical thrashing’  at the hands of the principal and three other teachers. In August this year, a young 8-year old girl was slapped for not cleaning a table, one which she didn’t even dirty. Her hands were tied behind her back on a chair, and her mouth was stuffed with a cloth.

Child perpetrators too have pushed naive young children over the edge on several occasions. This July, Raunak Bannerjee, a 14-year old from a renowned Bengaluru School committed suicide after being bullied in school. He had named his bully in his suicide note. In 2015, a 15-year-old class 10 student, R. Karthika from Chennai took her life. She experienced harassment from both girls and boys at her school, and her mother noticed physical signs of abuse on her daughter’s body. When the mother approached the headmaster of the school, she was told that her daughter had brought the mistreatment onto herself by being talkative. In 2013, 11-year old Oindrilla Das was locked in the bathroom of her school by her seniors for seven hours; she didn’t survive the trauma. Several other cases of violence abound, but are still often referenced to as ragging or bullying without the necessary gravitas.

Finally, there are cases of sexual assault and molestation which are increasingly cause for concern. Incidents comprise of rape of girls as young as 3 years old, to sexual harassment and molestation of students by school staff and older students, amongst others. Even as more incidents come to light, it is quite likely that several other sexual harassment incidents remain under wraps.

In conclusion, it is impossible to look at these incidents and then brush them away as inconsequential. So, let’s recognize it for what it really is – acts of VIOLENCE – with lifelong and often severe repercussions for the child. If we hope to protect children from harm, we can no longer excuse such violence amongst students or between staff and student, as an unavoidable aspect of schooling. There needs to be a more concerted effort from all stakeholders concerned – parents, teachers, school administration – to nip in the bud any instances of violence towards children. A lot is at stake for every time a child is teased, hit or abused, from his physical and mental well-being to his entire future. We hope that schools start looking at violence more seriously and take more responsibility in preventing it.

The author, Neeti Daftari, is the head of Knowledge and Impact, at Aangan


Hold on to that Anger

Seventy years of freedom, Independence day and more than sixty children dead because the oxygen supply was cut at the local hospital in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, or so the story goes. We know the drill well. Social media outrage, indignant press, political blame games and couch conversations about the sad state of the country. Or, in the best-case scenario a swift legal response where some culprit is brought to book.

Then, we go back to sleep, until the next nightmare jolts us awake.

It doesn’t matter if it was Baby Falak, whose bashed-in skull and injured body told a tangled story of abuse, trafficking and violence five years ago, or the two teenage girls raped and killed on their way to a toilet in an Uttar Pradesh village that brought home the truth about girl vulnerability, caste violence and police apathy – these tragic incidents turn quickly into cases for all of us. As a country we then busy ourselves with crime and punishment. We demand explanations, press for investigation, petition for arrests and lobby for resignations. Finally, when the judge delivers a tough sentence, we are redeemed, having participated in ensuring justice for victims.

But let’s not fool ourselves. The survival, health, security and safety of children growing up in districts like Gorakhpur (one of the 250 districts identified by the Government of India as eligible for India’s most backward regions grant) continue to be just as fragile as ever before. Families across India’s most vulnerable districts have lived for years battered by structural violence – their children harmed by the chronic lack of access to basic services and rights.  So much so that failures of the system or the dangerous circumstances in which children grow up are well accepted by them and to a large extent by us.

Which means that no matter how many officials are suspended or politicians are replaced– lives and childhood will continue to be lost. Thousands of children are going missing, their mothers too frightened to report to the police. Parents are being pressured to put children down as deposits for unpaid loans, unaware of laws that prohibit bonded labor. Boys from scheduled caste groups are silently suffering brutal beatings believing that nobody will help, and adolescent girls are learning to expect attacks and assault every evening on their way to the public toilet, as if this is normal.

In a survey done by Aangan with 19000 mothers across eighteen districts in five states, 58% women reported they could not access police stations, 37% had taken loans to cover medical treatment. Despite this, 75% believed they had no access to hospitals. 27% had to leave their babies (under six years) unsupervised when they went to work or to fetch water because they could not use the local aanganwadi crèches/health centers provided by the government – placing their children at risk each day.  It would be shameful to wait for another tragedy the proportion of the recent Gorakhpur incident before action is taken to make under supervised babies safer or ensure that families can trust the police. But for this, early signs of risk must be understood and action initiated quickly by families in the poorest districts.

Building of a preventative community child safety system is urgent. Across vulnerable districts, work with families is crucial to ensure deep awareness of risks, resources, rights and services.  Child survival, health and safety are dependent on people re-imagining civic engagement – empowered to tackle intimidating factors like institutional apathy, inert officials, social hierarchies or feudal practices that have kept poor parents in accepting silence. It takes collective action to ensure that local officials are pushed to deliver better results on child health and safety. Attention, spotlight, political will and investment – this is the kind of backing needed to build child safety systems from the ground up, starting today.

It’s been less than a week since sixty children died and there are plenty of painful unanswered questions that will probably be cleared up over the next few months. But if we hold on to that anger a little longer and sustain the concern, it will also force us to engage with an even harder question: What must we do before it is too late again?

The author, Suparna Gupta, is the Founder-Director of Aangan, an Indian non-profit that works with children in dangerous situations like child trafficking, child marriage, hazardous work, and violence and abuse, to prevent and protect them from harm.

Why Children Labour: A Tangled Interwoven Web

On #WorldDayAgainstChildLabour, we are looking at ground-level data collected by 350 community-based women volunteers using Aangan’s child safety mobile app. Insights from this data provide a window into the circumstances that compels families to send their children to work – of a loan to build a house, an illness or death of an earning member. It’s an opportunity to look at this complex web in its entirely.

This June 12, we think is a good day to have a conversation on why children labour.


Building Bharosa

Patna police at a trauma informed workshop by Aangan

In our work in communities living with deep deprivation and exposed to everyday violence, we’ve supported families whose children have come to harm — children who have been sexually abused, stalked and harassed, or lured away on the pretext of work and gone missing. For many parents, coping with this ever-present threat of violence has meant forcing their daughter to stay home, drop out of school, isolated ‘for her safety’, or early marriage. We’ve seen that while many families have needed access to the police to seek protection or recourse from harm, fear, or experiences of being turned away in the past have made them reluctant. This has meant that children continue to be harmed. To live with violence or the threat of it.

Yet, when it comes down to it, the police are the first point of contact for almost anyone who needs the protection of the law. That’s where we’d go with families, sitting in police thanas to ensure that an FIR was filed for a missing child, a boy senselessly beaten at work by his maalik (employer), or a girl who had been abused. It was where we’d go when adolescent girls talked about how they are harassed everyday on their way to school, or the public toilet, afraid to tell anyone at home for fear of the repercussions. Despite decades of mistrust and fear of approaching the police, it’s where the journey would begin for a victim or survivor of harm seeking justice and protection.

That’s why we’ve started Bharosa (trust) — a program to build a bridge between the police, women and girls so that there is increased access to protection and safety. So that adolescent girls, their mothers, and families have the confidence to walk into a police station and file a complaint, or to call a police helpline number, ask for help and get a response. To know that action is taken. It’s an initiative to establish a platform for ongoing conversations and joint actions so that women and girls can be safer to live the life they choose.

In the last 10 days, on May 20 and May 28 in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the police made a commitment to build this bridge and establish Bharosa with women and girls. 65 police officers from 16 thanas in Varanasi, and 19 thanas in Patna attended workshops where they made themselves come closer to understanding a child’s experience of harm — the helplessness, terror, fear. Coming together for the first of a year-long series of Bharosa workshops, they were part of discussions and role plays on what is a trauma informed response — understanding what a child has endured, how to have a conversation with sensitivity and why that’s crucial both for the child to begin to feel safe again, as well as for them to be able to do their job well.

Making a commitment to keep girls safe – Bihar Police

Over the next year, these officers will conduct community outreach meetings to talk to families about being alert to early warning signs of child harm and about laws that exist for their protection; they will sit down with adolescent girls and listen and respond to their experiences of danger and safety.

This last week, in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar police personnel made a pledge to girls and women — to be close at hand, responsive and accountable.

The author, Deepika Khatri, is the Training and Impact Specialist – Government Partnerships, at Aangan

In Kalpana’s Words

Kalpana at the CII Women Exemplar Awards in Delhi, 2016
Kalpana Mistry at the CII Women Exemplar Awards in Delhi, 2016

Aangan’s very own Kalpana Mistry has been selected as one of CII Foundation’s Women Exemplars for 2016. She was felicitated today (April 4, 2016)  in New Delhi and received her award from none other than the Finance Minister at CII’s Annual Session.  It’s a great honour and achievement, and we at Aangan are incredibly proud of Kalpana.

Here’s what Kalpana has to say about what this award and her work mean to her.

In Kalpana’s Words

Today I am just so overwhelmed. I feel a whole range of emotions many of which are impossible to describe.

Most overpoweringly, I feel blessed and fortunate that everything I have struggled for, worked for, everything I believe, every hurdle I have crossed, every hardship I have borne has been recognised and acknowledged. Being acknowledged is a very empowering feeling. I did not really know how important it is before today. Like most other people, I have worked my whole life.  I have done what I thought I must, not for any reason other than that I believed it was important. Then suddenly one day Aangan nominated me for this award, and I realised that the people I work with had actually really seen me, had appreciated me, they showed me that I am valued and valuable. It was a very emotional experience. And then finally when a prestigious body like CII has given me this award because they also think that my work has been important – I can only say that it’s a great and humbling feeling!

My work here at Aangan has been a lifetime in the making. As a child I experienced a great deal of hardship and heartbreak myself. My parents had a lot of painful struggles of their own and I was estranged from them at a young age. These are not things I like to dwell on, because they are difficult still, but I do know that they have shaped me and my thinking. Honestly, it’s why I work here, it’s why I do what I do. My own thoughts and experiences make me a strong believer in the work that we do over here because I am able to personally connect with it. My work at Aangan involves keeping children safe, ensuring that young girls understand the risks they face and learn to overcome them, families learn how to make themselves more secure so that they can protect their children from harm. I don’t think that there is any work that is more compelling, more urgent and more satisfying than this. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to do this work. Here, not only have I been able to do work that has been important and rewarding, but here I have also been given the room to grow, to dig deeper into myself, not only to understand more about the children and families we serve, but also to understand more about myself, and to find peace with some of my own troubles.

I believe that a life of dignity is what we all deserve. Today, I have such a life. I work in an organisation that values this. And so now I am able to work to ensure that every child and every family that I work with can also live a life of dignity and meaning. To have the chance to be able to do that is a very special thing.

David versus Goliath

By Alexandra Birladianu, Senior Manager Communications Aangan Trust / LGT Venture Philanthropy ICats Fellow

On the 4th of November I went for the second time to the Govandi slum in Mumbai. Govandi is situated next to one of the biggest and oldest garbage dumping grounds in Mumbai. Daily, heavy trucks bring garbage, contributing to the traffic and pollution in the area.

The wall  – Photo taken by the girls

Because of its status as an illegal slum, the population has no access to key services. There is a heavy presence of local gangs and mafia. Violence is normalized.

The slum comprises a migrant population of approximately 3,000 households consisting of 18,000 people. The key livelihood option is working at the dumping ground, with families having children as young as 7 and 8 years old starting to work there; “zari” work and catering are other industries present in the area.

I think subconsciously I have avoided Govandi. The first time I went there I felt really sick for a few days after. After this visit I got rashes on my arms and fever. I think that the fumes from the huge garbage dump in the vicinity of the community combined with the Mumbai heat made me sick. And people live here. 18,000 men, women and children live in Govandi every day, a lot of them working at the dumping ground.

But my visit was a happy one. I was excited to be there, meeting 10 adolescent girls for a photography workshop. I had my iPhone and two digital cameras with me; and tips and tricks on how to take compelling photographs. Our mission was very important! Map the unsafe areas in the community, take photos and prepare for an exhibition where the local police was invited. The girls would show them the unsafe areas in the community and set a common plan of action. Because they want to go outside and play! Because they want to walk safely to school! Because they want to use the one toilet in the community without fear of sexual assault and harassment!

We talked for an hour about what makes a good photo, about using natural light, framing, breaking patterns, natural lines, focus and all the other things I could think to share from my experience as an amateur photographer. The most important advice though was to stay safe and try to have fun.

Community – Photo taken by the girls

People in Govandi don’t like to be photographed and it is “forbidden” to take any photos close to the garbage dump. The girls had to be very careful. It was glaringly obvious that I was a foreigner so our mission wasn’t easy. I sneaked a few photos with my phone while my Shakti girls walked boldly to places that scare them at night, in the evenings and every time they have to walk by them. Together they took around 400 photographs. We walked from more than an hour around the community.

I witnessed child labour, pollution, sexual harassment, thinking all the time that child protection is a David versus Goliath battle. There was nothing I could do immediately to stop the child I saw doing “zari” work but I knew Aangan through its Shakti, Chauraha and PACT programs is fighting a big battle every day to make a difference, stop child labour, child marriage, trafficking, harm and abuse. It is a long hard fight!

The dumping ground – Photo taken by the girls

When I got home and started going through all the photographs I got even more excited. My girls paid a lot of attention during the workshop and they are extremely talented. It was hard to just choose 20 photos. But we did it, together with Deepika, our Strategy and Advocacy Coordinator, Nishaat, our Program Associate and Divya, our National Coordinator. After minor editing the photos were ready for print.

The exhibition took place the following Sunday. Still sick, I could not attend. My colleagues told me about its impact. The girls talked with the police officers, parents and other members of their community, showcased their work and explained why those specific areas are unsafe. They talked about how their life is affected, how it makes it difficult for them to attend school, play, walk around, go to the store or use the toilet. And everyone listened. In a community deeply affected by sexism, everyone listened to the 10 adolescent girls who took action.

Now they have a connection with the police, they are not afraid to approach them with their issues or complaints. Hopefully they will feel safer in Govandi, go to school and live a normal life.

Working on the ground with Aangan has been the highlight of my fellowship. Women and girls empowerment in India has many faces and Aangan is doing a wonderful work fighting this battle.

My Shakti Girls

This post was originally published on November 19th on the LGT Venture Philanthropy ICats Blog.

About Aangan:

Aangan is a child protection organization that promotes safe communities for children with a focus on children in dangerous or difficult situations and environments. These are children imperiled by their exposure or vulnerability to isolation, neglect, violence, hazardous or exploitative work, early marriage, juvenile offending, trafficking and abuse. We enable safe communities where children, adults and governments work together to prevent and respond to the harm that these children face.

Follow Aangan on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, regular people child protection stories, and more.

About Alexandra:

I am an ICats  Fellow with the Aangan Trust in Mumbai, India. As part of LGT Venture Philanthropy‘s support to scale proven local solutions, the ICats Program was established to provide additional know-how to social organizations. The program connects social organizations in need of professional know-how, and experts with the desire to apply their knowledge in a meaningful way, thus acting as “Impact Catalysts”.

Mumbai’s transformers

By Team Mirror

Mumbai Heroes honoured by the city’s who’s who at a starry show.

Mumbai Heroes_Wadala
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal felicitating Vasanti from PACT

On Saturday evening, Mumbai came out in great numbers to celebrate the achievements of its five heroes, whose quiet, yet formidable achievements had until recently gone unsung. In a ceremony held on the expansive lawns of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), prominent Mumbaikars from all walks of life helped celebrate the efforts of five individuals, who together are transforming the city and positively impacting the lives of its citizens in ways both overt and implicit.

The evening kicked off in earnest at 7 pm with Indicus, a two-member group comprising Anuraag Dhoundeyal and Karan Chitra Deshmukh, enthralling the gathering with their various Sufi renditions. The weather, as Mirror columnist Mahinder Watsa noted, remained thankfully pleasant, and by the time our heroes and guests took to their chairs, the atmosphere at the museum was already marked by a sense of convivial anticipation.

Read the full story on Mumbai Mirror. Originally published on .