Bangalore: Whichever way you look at it, neither the Chief Minister nor the beat policeman is going to stop the paedophiliacs who prey on our children unless we all start thinking very differently.
The schools have been lax. They have been caught napping. They have not seen or recognised the predator in their midst. But they are not the enemy. The paedophile is.
Let’s not lose focus on who matters here, Mr. Chief Minister. Our children, whom we entrust nervously, one must admit for a few hours to complete strangers. It is they who should be our priority.
Which parent doesn’t remember that sinking feeling when you say goodbye to your child on her first day at school, and wait for the child to return on the school bus, trying to figure out whether it would be a grimace or a grin that will greet you.
If you must implement a plan that ensures our school-going children girls and boys, both no knee-jerk reaction that alienates the very schools you need on your side, will work to our advantage.
The hypocrisy of most educationists who see schools and colleges as cash cows, a business, rather than high-minded educational institutions, is an open secret. As is the other that every one of the schools has a former politician, or a former corporator or a former government servant or the friend, brother, or significant other, at the helm.
You cannot tar everyone with the same brush, of course. But, while one shares Siddaramaiah’s frustration at the manner in which the majority of the school managements are dragging their feet on meeting the new requirements that the police want implemented, he must throw the weight of his office at the schools, rather than indulge in a verbal attack.
The schools are clearly hoping that just as they were able to pay their way out of inspections that would have shown up their so-called affiliations with national school boards as bogus, this time too, a sea of grease would do the trick.
Except, they can’t slip slide their way out of this one. The world is watching. This isn’t and shouldn’t be about school boards and syllabi, and the great fudge about running English medium schools when you only have permission to teach in Kannada.
(When is the chief minister going to check who has become extremely wealthy signing off on those clearance certificates!) But, tackling paedophilia, as old as time, is a wholly different battle that must be kept separate from going after the corrupt.
Lets face it it’s not going to go away. In our highly rigid rural societies where men and women are largely segregated, the shift to urban milieus unleashes the voyeur and the perv.
Unless there’s an awareness campaign that informs young men about the lines they cannot cross, and that everything they see on television and radio isn’t real life, the battle against the rapist cannot even begin.
Siddaramaiah cannot let down his guard. Not now, not for the length of his tenure as chief minister. This isn’t a battle he can fight alone, or with just the help of a police force, who are not only stretched, but whose club-footed insensitivity when young women come into police stations to report cases of sexual assault and battery is, to say the least, legendary.
Thankfully, whether it’s because of the sheer scale and depth of public anger across the city or not, they seem a lot more alive to the damage that paedophiliacs wreak on a child’s psyche, acting swiftly to nab the pervs whom the child victim identifies; even, if as in the case of the Orchids International, the child, not yet 5, wasn’t as clear about the rapist as this six-year-old Cambridge school kid was.
Posting policemen in and outside every school is not the answer. That’s two policemen for each of the 8,000 schools in the city. Can two people check every classroom, look under every desk, watch every locker, every loo, every gym. Why add to the fear psychosis? And hasn’t anyone heard of men in mufti?
CCTVs? Not the answer. Not the deterrent that you imagine it will be. There wouldn’t be enough CCTVs to monitor everything that happens in the schools across the city. Every wannabe George Clooney knows how to Ocean’s Eleven his way out of that one.
And installing it in government schools, when it hasn’t prevented the weirdos preying on our children in the far better run private schools? What purpose will that serve? Humanint, as any spook will tell you, is a far better pre-emptive tool. It works far better than any camera, which can provide clinching proof but cannot prevent the crime.
What Mr. Siddaramaiah needs to do, therefore, is not just stop being defensive he is no longer in the opposition, he’s in the hot seat but realize that as chief minister, he is the father figure, the paterfamilias, of the entire state.
He needs to accept that he will be the universal punching bag. Get the bouquet on a good day. And brickbats when the s*** hits the fan. That, Mr. Chief Minister, goes with the territory. All the ills of the state will be laid at his door.
(Now, why does the KPCC president even want to be in the CM’s shoes?) Far smarter to show you sympathise with the plight of parents, who have their hearts in their mouths until their daughters return home safely.
That niggling worry, until your daughter comes home, let me tell you, never goes away, no matter how old she gets.
So, instead of blaming the schools for their negligence, let’s start by involving the schools. Let’s make them the stakeholders, part of the solution, not the problem. Hold them to account.
A committee with every school principal on it should be set up, a high council of greybeards to oversee the functioning of all schools government and private. The onus is on them to find a solution; if there is one.
Look what the IT companies and the cab drivers and the police did when Pratibha Srikanthmurthy was raped and murdered by a taxi driver. They came together and ensured that no lone woman would ever be in a cab alone.
The glaring necessity therefore is to start by thoroughly vetting all potential employees teaching staff, attenders, gym instructors, music teachers, guards, part-time staff, bus attendants, bus drivers. In short, anyone and everyone who has anything to do with kids. Every school employee should have an identity card, and his/her history, a psychological profile, on file.
Think of the school as a bank, and the children as our assets. No-one should be allowed to go in or out of the school, unless he or she has been cleared.
The police must get a data-base on all the pervs. Granted, many of the “uncles” who feel you up when you are little, may slip through the cracks but let us look for the out-of-towners, the loners, anyone who stands out. Put out the message that rape is a crime punishable by death.
We need a task force. It may be four months too late. Siddaramaiah should have set up such a Task Force four months ago when the first child rape was reported, and when that hapless young woman in Fraser Town was gang-raped on busy Mosque Road. But better late than never. The time has come for all schools and all parents to jointly step up, and throw a security ring around our children.
Let’s have the talk with the young under our care. Warn them, educate them on what it means to be touched inappropriately, when your personal space is invaded, when someone who is not your mother, or a female care-giver, forces you to take your clothes off. And that there should be absolutely no shame, no fear in reporting such incidents immediately, the very first time that it happens.
And, while this is not to demonise the many caring, wonderful male teachers who have taught us over the years, employing only women to take care of little children is a good starting point.
One of the tests of good leadership is to see the problem, long before it becomes one, and not treat every problem as if it were a nail that has to be hammered into the ground.
Time to get new tools. Time, maybe, to even borrow from the Taliban court of justice. An eye for an eye, and a ….