One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced while in India has been navigating intervening when I see something I consider wrong happening. I am, by nature, a very outspoken and opinionated person. Usually this label tends to carry a negative connotation, especially for women. I am respectful in all cases, but I tend to feel overwhelmingly obligated to stand up for what is right when I stare wrong right in the face.
This has been an especially prevalent issue in my apprenticeship. Like all India fellows, my apprenticeship is working as a teaching assistant with Teach for India. My experience teaching second standard has so far has been extremely rewarding and exhausting, but most importantly it has made me face one of the issues I am most outspoken about – child abuse. Smacks to slaps, it doesn’t matter, hitting a child is absolutely not okay. In general, I believe physical violence is never the answer, but it seems insane to me that it is a normalized practice to hit a children in schools and in homes. In the United States, I faced child abuse on a personal level but always imagined corporal punishment a thing of the past. Here, however, despite the federal laws in place, it seems taboo not to hit a child.
Although it is against the Teach for India rules to hit the children in class, that doesn’t stop some from doing it and TFI’s policy also prohibits forcing schools to stop hitting kids. This meant that for me on the second day of my apprenticeship I was shocked beyond belief when my class’ Marathi teacher (not the TFI teacher) smacked the kids. What was I supposed to do? I had always imagined that in that situation I would tell the teacher to stop it immediately but by the time it happened it was always too late and I was overwhelmed with the reality that I was an outsider. My message may come across as judgmental, in turn creating a different reaction than hoped for. By the end of the week, I decided to slip a note into my Marathi teacher’s bag asking why she hit the children and if there was a different, nonviolent approach she could take to disciplining the children. I made clear that I truly respected her but also that it seemed strange to teach the kids not to hit each other but then go ahead and hit them herself. At first I thought I had achieved success. The next class she didn’t hit a single kid, but soon she started to hit again. Yes, she hits less now, but less isn’t acceptable when it comes to child abuse. One day when I was left alone with the class the students got very loud and wouldn’t listen to me. She rushed in and said, “This is why you should hit them”. I responded, “I will never hit them, it doesn’t work and no one should be hit, there are better ways”. She continues to hit but each encounter we have leads to her gaining more respect for my position and me.
Child abuse is something I am deeply emotionally tied to and plan to continue doing a lot of research on while here. I would like to make my community project about it and get involved in NGO’s here regarding the issue. I clearly need to dedicate a lot of time and effort to this in order to make any sort of change for the kids I care about so much and for the children I will never have the privilege of meeting. This experience so far has also guided me in the direction of working with NGO’s in the near and distant future regarding world wide treatment of children in schools and in their homes with a voice and reputation that holds weight. This issues spans cultures and the world and one that is not one that I cannot change overnight no matter how badly I want it to be.