Need for new lessons in Tackling campus violence

S Madhusudhana Rao

Schools, parents and guardians: It’s time to keep a close watch on children’s behavior in schools. Friendly fights in and outside school premises, classroom brawls and angry encounters have the potential of turning ugly and deadly. An example is a fight between two boys in a Hyderabad school on Wednesday.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

A fisticuff between two Class X students of a private school on its campus over a petty issue resulted in the death of one. The blow given by the accused, a 14-year-old, to the other boy, also 14, could be unintentional. But it was powerful enough to send the victim reeling on the cement floor and later to death in a local hospital. The incident, both unfortunate and tragic, has brought to the fore, once again, little discussed in academic circles but often reported in the press, an unchecked trend of aggressive and violent student behavior on campuses.

It’s a fact that school violence in urban areas in the country has been on the rise in the form of bullying, ragging and physical attacks. Since such behavior, often harmless, is considered part of the growing process to establish an identity and supremacy among peers, school authorities tend to pay little attention or play down such incidents.

Since campus fights among kids don’t reach their parents, they will never come to know about their wards’ behavior in schools or outside of their homes. A strong reason for glossing over students’ belligerence is a majority of their perceived hostile acts is seen as a temporary phenomenon and they are done on the spur of the moment. A clash of interests or some other personal issue can lead to fisticuffs and both the sides make amends later. But the view such behavior is part and parcel of school life looks outdated in the changing campus scenario.

The number of daily news reports coming from across the country about cases and incidents of teen and adolescent violence in schools and colleges is alarmingly high. A spurt in the incidence of campus violence makes us wonder whether we are going the American way. In the US, campus violence that includes classroom shootings is a serious problem. Parents and educationists blame gun culture and the abundant availability of firearms for violent crimes even in prep schools. Fortunately, such trigger-happy trend has not set in here. But it is no consolation since campus violence of a different sort has been increasing exponentially throughout the country.

The ‘crimes’ can be broadly classified into physical fights among students; attacks on them by outsiders; students beating school staff and vice versa; physical and mental abuse and ragging of extreme nature that drives sensitive students into acts of suicide. Sexual violence too is a serious concern, but is dealt with separately.

Some of the school incidents reported from various states read like replays of violence in American educational institutions. The only difference is the rampant gun culture we witness in the US is rare in this country, although a few stray incidents of students bringing sharp weapons and fire arms to classrooms had been reported.

Listing the number of homicides and suicides and more than a million non-fatal victimizations in American schools, the National Center for Education Statistics report for the year 2014, says: “Our nation’s schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning free of crime and violence. Any instance of crime or violence at school not only affects the individuals involved but also may disrupt the educational process and affect bystanders, the school itself, and the surrounding community.”

The statement holds well in the Indian context also. Parents should not start worrying about their kids once they leave for school. Their behavior, positive or negative, is the collective responsibility of school authorities and parents. It is also their moral responsibility to see students’ aggressive nature doesn’t degenerate into violence. How it can be achieved is in the hands of parents and schools. At the same time, it is worth looking at some of the factors that contribute to unruly student behavior.

Films that glorify violence are often blamed for campus mayhem. Fighting is the forte of a majority of movies produced in India and elsewhere. India is one of the biggest markets for such films and we find their copycat versions in regional languages. Audiences worldwide love to watch the boom-boom without realizing how much does it impact on impressionable minds. Children imitate in real life what they see on the TV and cinema screen. Films may not be provocateurs of violent behavior but they can act as triggers on sub-conscious minds of children whose discerning ability is minimal. While the influence of films –whether they are good or bad or ugly – on social behavior is debatable without an end, what’s desirable is counseling at home and school.

In fact, that is the key for effectively implementing measures which should include weekly moral classes to guide students on a proper path. Laws and official rules and regulations can hardly deal with the juvenile behavior or tackle aggressiveness in schools. Take, for example, ragging in engineering and medical colleges. Despite banning the practice by seniors and strict monitoring by college staff, ragging is still going on. In this week alone, an engineering student in Warangal committed suicide alleging ragging by seniors and another from Hyderabad complained to police accusing two seniors of harassing him.

Meanwhile, the Andhra Pradesh government is mulling stern action against those indulging in ragging of fresher’s. As a first step, it has decided to blacklist students who had harassed an architecture student at Nagarjuna University. Their ragging was blamed for the student’s suicide in Guntur last week.

While stringent steps may help check teenage and adolescent behavior on the campus, a cautious and perceptive approach is needed to deal with young children. The onus in guiding and shaping them up is on parents, guardians and school managements.

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