Nightmare on Boyhood Street

A special note: I’d like to take a moment to thank all the readers especially those who read it from places I otherwise have no way to reach. It is a matter of great comfort that this post was read in countries — other than India, USA, Canada and U.K. — such as Austria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Spain and Thailand (and some more). I believe the cruelty and violence I described in this blog is global, and there is enough reason to believe that we are trying to find solidarity here — to stop this brutality. Thank you, readers. I hope you take a moment to share it with others. -Partha

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Nightmare on Boyhood Street

Today, I remember a day from my school life. I was thirteen at that time – an eighth grader. It was Calcutta, India. It was perhaps a late summer day.

Calcutta’s name has now changed to Kolkata. Bombay has changed to Mumbai. Madras is now Chennai. A lot has changed in India since then…a lot…especially with the invasion of new shopping malls, MTV, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut.

Has child abuse changed in India? If your answer is yes, show me how. Give me some examples. If your answer is no, tell me why not.

Here is a real story from a real life.


Bang, bang, bang…

Punch, punch…

Whack, whack, blow…

Slap, slap, kick, thud…

A stout, muscular man in his forties held a young boy by the hair. He held him down with one hand. With his other hand, he beat up the boy mercilessly. He beat him up continuously. He punched him on his head and upper body. He slapped him fiercely, repeatedly, on his tender cheeks. He pulled his hair so hard that the boy was almost airborne. He pulled his earlobes so strongly that they were blood red. The slaps made reddish pink finger marks on his cheeks.

Along with the beating, the man groaned, ground his teeth, and grunted, “Huh, huh, huh…”

The boy took the abuse…the horrible beating. But he did not fight back. And he did not cry out, or ask for mercy. He did not ask him to stop. He did not show any visible sign of pain.

That made the man even angrier. He became more violent. He forced the boy to sit in an animal position, with his palms and knees touching the floor. The man then climbed up on him, and started to hit his back with his bent elbow. He also kicked him…or did he?

The violence went on for nearly ten, fifteen, twenty minutes…maybe, half an hour. The man lost his sense of time. The boy did too. He was nearly unconscious at this point.

The entire episode happened in a classroom. It happened in front of some forty or fifty frozen, traumatized, eighth-grade students. They watched it with horror;  some covered their faces. A few of them fell sick. Another boy urinated in his pants. One of their teachers was doing this to one of their classmates: they couldn’t believe their eyes! But none of them stood up or said a word against the barbarism. They watched it in complete silence…for the entire time.

Ashu Kar, a teacher in our famous, 150-year-old, missionary Scottish Church Collegiate School, was famous for his bad temper. There were a few other teachers who were even more notorious than him. They were never known for their quality of teaching or love for the students; they were only known for their dexterity to mercilessly, violently beat the kids.

But luckily, these men would not teach us, some of the best students. Back then, Scottish had merit-based promotion; they would always place us in Section A because we topped in the final exam. The abusive teachers would not take our classes. We were privileged to get some of the phenomenal educators of Calcutta whose presence in the classroom was like a gentle breeze coming off the ocean. Shyamadas Mukherjee of Mathematics, Bijan Goswami and Amiya Roy of Bengali, Rev. Santosh Biswas and Sudhendu Deuri of English, Nitya Sengupta of Chemistry, and Tarun Datta of Biology. Then, there was our famous headmaster A. R. Roy, known for his personality and poise. They were great teachers. We learned from them as eagerly and as fast as blotting paper would soak up water or ink – through every possible capillary of our young, inquisitive minds. We’d look forward to their classes.

The horrible hangmen would get the poor, “backward” students in Section C, D or E. We’d often hear horror stories from them. Even in elementary school, in fourth grade, there was severe student abuse. And I’m not even talking about the verbal abuse that was commonplace: teachers would make personal, intrusive, insulting, snide, negative remarks, constantly on a daily basis, to students that did not do well in tests or failed to turn in the homework; particularly, students who came from underprivileged families. Indian boys and girls were used to verbal abuse. At home, they got it from their fathers, uncles or neighbors. At school, they got it from teachers. The verbal insult and undermining would dash their self-esteem once and for all.

Now I’m talking about the more serious, inhumane, physical abuse. We the “good” boys from Section A came to know about them in middle school, since maybe, when we were in sixth or seventh grade.

Police beating a child

There were two men named Mr. Jana and Mr. Dafadar who took Section E classes only: boys who did the poorest in last year’s finals. They brought in class their own special teaching methods and tools. Every day, they’d enter the classroom, and before doing anything else, call out some students they decided the worst backbenchers. They’d line them up outside the classroom facing against the wall, with their arms all the way up, the length of the arm touching the wall, as if cops doing a shakedown on them. I’m convinced these teachers were cops or military men before they became teachers; they did it to their sixth, seventh or eighth-grade students exactly the way cops did it to suspected, frisked criminals. Or, in case of today’s India or USA, anyone the cops or military might suspect to be trouble makers.

Jana and Dafadar – I don’t remember which one was more dangerous – would then return to classroom, take attendance for the remaining students, give them some meaningless work to do – maybe, a bunch of arithmetic or English grammar problems from the textbook without showing them how to do it, and return to their “favorite” students waiting outside. Now, they’d stick out their personal, two-feet-long, wooden ruler scale or a long, bent cane, and spank the students real hard until they all cried out in pain. Some diehards would not budge; some of the kids were so used to it that they’d look the other way, and chuckle while the bad cops kept beating the others. If they’re lucky, they’re spared. If Jana and Dafadar caught them chuckling, they’d have some more special treat that day.

Some E or D students regularly cut classes. They also nicknamed the abusive teachers: Jana and Dafadar were called Jharudar or something, meaning the sweeper; alternately, it could mean the one who beats badly.

That was them. Then there was our Ashu Kar. In between, there were some more child molesters – big or small.

Why do people get so violent? Why are some people so cruel? What pleasure do some big, powerful men get out of beating young boys or girls who can’t resist or fight back?

Sigh…tears…sigh…tears…sigh…

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

Owner beating child worker at a textile factory

16 thoughts on “Nightmare on Boyhood Street

  1. I am shocked at this report. Why do things happen like this? Those people who do such things are bullies and because they have low self esteem they feel powerful by having power over someone else. I say pick on someone your own size! Most of those kind of people are cowards and if someone did the same to them they would cry like babies.
    I usually don’t hate anyone but I hate people who hurt others. I was taught to treat others as I would want to be treated.

      1. Hate is never the answer but if backed into a corner, if you can, I believe you should be able to defend yourself. Little children, women and some men are not able to do that. I taught my children to be peaceful but there are some who see this as weakness. We are not in a perfect world, I am sorry to say.. My heat breaks for the abused of this world. Those of us who had good parents and a peaceful lives as a children have no idea the terrible things going on in the world. Thank you for your report. Now what can be done about this?

  2. Really horrible and unfortunate. I had never seen such beating incidence in real life. I have seen them in the movies where the beating scenes for two minutes seem to be 15/ 30 minutes long.

    I tend to believe that the incidence of such violence and the number of victims have been going down over time and may be insignificant as compare the number of murders, killings, rapes – other kinds of physical violence.

    But that is not the point. What does make a person so violent and cruel? From where do these insticts arise in people? Is it a disease or genetical deficiency? Can this be identified in advance? Who are prone to such burts of anger and violence? Is their a cure? How could we train potential victims to escape from such situations without having to bear the torture.? How far attributes of victimes contribute or instigate such incidence. If one is serious in erdaicating physical violence, we must know answers to these. Acknowleding and feeling sad about such incidence is no longer the real issue. How could we individually contribute, in however small/ marginal measure, in a different way to help the potential victims to avoid such incidence and potential diseased to cure them?

  3. I have seen too many of such incidents and wrote and spoke about it for years — both in academic and non-academic forums. Then, I’ve heard of many more incidents. It’s all commonplace and sometimes so common that people don’t even find it abnormal. That’s the scary part: abnormal becomes normal the 1984 way. Night becomes day. War becomes peace.

  4. This is still a common phenomenon in Schools. Explicit violence.
    But know about Implicit Violence? Even more venomous, painful and hard to gulp?
    It is what happens to students not just in schools but colleges too. Why just that, why not workplace and in the public vehicles..
    When someone slaps you, two other people overlook the incident.But when a man quietly pinches a woman clad in a saree in a jammed public bus or when the professor in a college asks a student to come to his house for notes and then casually puts his hand on her thigh..or shoulder..
    Who sees?
    Who accounts?

    Dirtiness is within ourselves, our minds.
    We can construct laws, build mechanisms but they’ll never end this menace till we strike the Brain. How..well, thinkers gotta think!

    1. Thinkers got to think, and do’ers got to do. Priyanka, thanks for being forthright with this problem. The more we expose it, the better. I wrote about one of my personal experiences — I have many more stories to tell — and I hope you write your stories too and ask others to do the same. Expose the crime. Shame the criminals. Organize. Act. Change the minds. There is no miracle cure. It all needs to come from us.

  5. Here in New York, there’s a subway (metro) warning often reminded through an automated voice and electronic signs that touching inappropriately in a crowded train is *against the law* and punishable. Maybe, in India, you can mass-petition (take advantage of some real-life stories) and ask the people in power to implement something similar. There are many other ways to do it; this is just one example. In this story, however, I’m concentrating on child abuse and classroom violence. It must stop. Read the 2007 UNICEF report I posted in one of my comments above. Use it.

  6. I’d like to take a moment to thank all the readers especially those who read it from places I otherwise have no way to reach. It is a matter of great comfort that this post was read in countries — other than India, USA, Canada and U.K. — such as Austria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Spain and Thailand (and some more). I believe the cruelty and violence I described in this blog is global, and there is enough reason to believe that we are trying to find solidarity here — to stop this brutality. Thank you, readers. I hope you take a moment to share it with others. -Partha

  7. In most schools, you still have teachers who enter the class with a cane in their hands – the idea, they say, is to intimidate the children so that they behave…what I fail to understand is how can a child gripped with fear, ever be able to pay any attention or focus on what is being taught to him/her in class, leave alone understand. It’s time these archaic methods used by teachers is done away with and there should be stringent laws to take action against those who cater to them…recently, a boy from a very reputed school in Kolkata committed suicide because he couldn’t take the violent abuse meted out to him by his school teachers, including the principal…where serious counseling could have worked, the callous approach of the so called educators cost a young life…society needs to wake up and take action – expecting sensitivity from the powers that be is wasting every precious moment flitting by..

    1. Thanks for your comments and the information from today’s India. Unless we find strong support to stop such violence and abuse of young minds, and take serious action, they’ll never stop. Not just in India or South Asia, I know of examples from many others countries where young boys are subjected to such brutality at school, religious institutions and places they work. But I want to focus on Kolkata and India because these are places I know well and have personal experiences from — however traumatic they are. Violence and abuse of any kind, direct or indirect especially at a young age, destroy the person’s self-esteem and trust. An entire society and country become paranoid. In many cases, these young people keep lifelong hatred and look for revenge. We can talk about the political, social and economic repercussions too. We must take action and stop it.

      1. Awareness is important…a system where, perhaps, childhood dies a silent death each day, has to be condemned and done away with forthwith..

      2. True. We need to come together and work on the ground on this issue. Thanks for sharing. I also find some hope in the fact that this blog was so far read by countries such as Poland, Indonesia, Brazil, Egypt and Montenegro. It shows me people care and want to do something about it.

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