The Ryan International School Tragedy: The Rot is within us

Ryan International School in Gurugram

The Ryan International School tragedy has shocked the entire nation, and generated diverse responses. One important response that has come primarily from the mainstream media and anxiety -ridden parents is that it is because of lapses in safety /security measures like installation of CCTV cameras at appropriate places, separating children’s washrooms from those for the Class IV staff and building of higher walls across the school compound that have collectively led to the tragedy.

While one understands the need for safety and security, it is equally important to ask a series of deeper and penetrating questions relating to the changing cultural landscape of society, the meanings attached to schools as sites of knowledge, and the significance of the learning community of teachers, parents, students and supporting staff. The New Leam believes that for a proper understanding of this tragedy we have to ask these critical questions, look at ourselves, the rot within us and the society that we have been creating through our everyday practices.  


Ryan International School in Gurugram . /Image : PTI

To begin with, let us contextualise the entire incident in a specific politico-historic setting. The Ryan International School is a leading high cost private school catering to the needs of the metropolitan/professional/affluent middle class in a place like Gurugram. In a way, Gurugram symbolises a pocket of affluence with its own symbols of exclusion- lavish glass buildings of corporate houses, skyscrapers, gated communities, malls, fancy cars and impersonal expressways. It exists in a society that is otherwise filled with rural peasantry, traditional farming community with a multitude of feudal values and the entire brigade of migrant labourers. It is a city which because of its very nature emits violence: physical as well as symbolic. The affluence of the rich and the marginalisation of the poor- it is a society that seems to have lost the channels of communication that transcend class boundaries. Anger, psychic aggression, hatred, envy and jealousy are in the air. The question we are asking is whether the murder of a seven year old school child by a school staff has got something to do with this polluted environment that breeds violence, broken communication and psychic perversions. If we do not reflect on the emergent culture that has emerged because of India’s uneven development trajectory and consequent polarisation of the classes we would miss the point.


Factory model of education system

It is also important to see whether a school like Ryan International can really succeed in building a learning community with a shared public space filled with teachers, parents, local communities, children and supporting staff. The tragedy is that this kind of marketized, profit- oriented private school is seldom interested in creating, nurturing and sustaining a learning community.  Instead, in an unequal society in which the state retreats from social responsibilities and private educational institutions begin to function like attractive shops, education begins to resemble a commodity. It generates absolutely utilitarian relationships between the buyers and the sellers. So the aspiring middle class parents seek to buy for their children ‘secure career prospects’, and these fancy education shops with their CEOs and ‘networking’ principals showcase their products through the externalities of the institution. Under these circumstances, no meaningful communitarian relationship takes place between the parents and the school or between the school and the larger society. So even though a school of this kind may have everything-great infrastructure, good CBSE results, lavish annual functions, paid reportage in newspapers and television channels, it misses one thing- the ecstasy of human warmth and connection of human souls.  Most of the time, children do not know the name of the security guard who opens the gate of the school. The driver of the school bus remains just a driver, the peon remains merely a Class IV staff or even the principal remains mysterious, distant and inaccessible. They have no names, no shared humaneness, and no unique identities. Growing up in in an environment with this sort of anonymity and impersonality prepares the ground for indifference, callousness and resultant violence.


India is one of the biggest contributors and consumers of child abuse content A pornographic video is created in India ‘every 40 seconds’ and up to 38 per cent of porn uploaded is deemed to be child abuse

Thirdly, as we see child abuse, sexual violence and even murder, one thing strikes us and that is whether the everydayness of our culture through its popular music, YouTube products, advertisement mythologies and other visual representations has already popularised an aggressive, perverted, pornographic mind-set. The sexual objectification of human bodies, the obsessive pleasure with the fulfilment of instinctive desires, the normalisation of aggression- these practices are seen across castes and classes. Neither the subaltern nor the privileged is free from this all-pervading perversion. Take, for instance, the way we have also destroyed the innocence of the child in a television reality show. When a six year old child sings an item song and we as adult judges celebrate it we have already reduced this small child into a mini sexualized body.  The recurrence of a practice of this kind has generated a rot in society. The relationships among children, the violence among school kids, the story of bullying, the entry of drugs and above all the easy access to money and technological gadgets- everything indicates that we need to rethink the way our children are growing up.


Cameras in classroom / Image: Getty Images

When we take into account these three central issues we do realise that the responses to the Ryan International School tragedy should not remain limited to the demand for more CCTV cameras only. One thing we ought to state categorically is that technology does not and cannot heal human wounds. The CCTV camera cannot end criminality, even though it may identify the criminal. However, there is no empirical proof that demonstrates that with the installation of CCTV cameras society has become less violent and more peaceful. Instead, it is high time we realised that the very ideology of these cameras has further stimulated the growth of a society based on fear and mistrust ; it has reduced all of us into potential criminals, we are all suspect and hence we are under perpetual surveillance. The more we see ourselves as potential criminals the more we negate the possibility of creating a community of trust worthy friends and colleagues. It destroys human effort; it privileges the eyes of a detective and undermines the love of a compassionate friend.

So you can send your child to a lavish private school, spend lot of money and they can tell you that they have hired a specialised private security force and every corner of the school has a CCTV camera and you may feel ensured. However, very soon you would realise that nothing has changed, and there is another murder, another child abuse, another form of corporal punishment, another rape. The New Leam believes that we need a more mature response to the crisis .

This article has been written by The New Leam Staff.

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