The wrong touch

Anjana Basu

Currently running to packed audiences in Bengal’s movie theatres is a film called ‘Hami’ or the childish form of ‘kiss’ in the Bengali language – it deals with the subject of inappropriate touching in schools. Ten years ago, a film like this would have been unheard of but the stories of molestation in schools have been growing by the day and the film’s popularity proves that the subject’s time has come. This is possibly because it represents a breach of trust – schools are meant to be the halls of security to which children are entrusted by their parents so they can grow in knowledge. However, the secure institutions of learning are now under threat because a phenomenon expressed as rape in the fields of rural India is now rearing its ugly head in the form of molestation.

Male teaching staff is suspect, as are the drivers of school buses and their assistants.  Children have complained of inappropriate touching in buses on the way home, or in school toilets and most of them have been aged from four up. One might wonder at the school which allows a four year old girl child to be escorted to a toilet by two men, even though both are teachers – nursery classes are supposed to have women helpers kept for that specific purpose. However, India still has to get used to the fact that children are now considered fair prey, from the ages of six weeks up.

Theories point to the fact that the female population of the country is dropping so that there are thousands of men with no outlet for sexual expression. This at one level contributes to India’s ‘rape culture’ at another it is responsible for the molestation of children who the molesters confidently expect will never be believed. Media exposure, both social as well as public has brought the issues  of rape and child molestation to the forefront  necessitating more awareness on all fronts as well as education on inappropriate touching for children.

The fall out is that male dance and art teachers are finding themselves exiled from the more prominent schools in  Calcutta while school bus  management committees are trying to ensure that women teachers are on board at all times. This scenario is not just confined to girls’ schools or to one part of India. In Delhi a 7 year old boy was murdered by a senior in the school toilet – apparently in the hope that the exams would be postponed – and what started as a molestation investigation spiraled into something far more serious.

There is a panic reaction in many cases – young working mothers fretting about daughters left at home with male tutors, despite the presence of grandparents or a celebrity singer accused of kissing a young contestant inappropriately onstage in front of an audience. At one level the panic is catching – children are being taught what kind of touch or kiss can be considered inappropriate and the result is that many are becoming  aware that even school is not a place whose safety they can take for granted, fuelled by incidents like the Kathua rape and murder. They are also realising that grandparents are blind where this is concerned since whatever was inappropriate in past times was very often covered up under the screen of social propriety.

Is there a solution to the current situation? Perhaps when the Government formulates a policy that screens personnel, backed up by hygiene factors like job creation and the eradication of poverty. Perhaps when India’s men realise that by destroying women and children they are in reality destroying themselves. Perhaps…