June 05, 2005

Right to whack

Atanu Dey's anger about a kid being beaten up, and Annie Zaidi's (yes, Annie again) first-hand account of another such, brought back memories for me too.

And if more memories are stimulated elsewhere, maybe this will be a meme by itself.

One night a few years ago, I needed to make a long-distance call. So I strolled down to my friendly neighbourhood phone booth. Since it wasn't exactly a black-tie dinner at the Taj that I was going to, since it was late anyway, and since I just didn't feel energetic enough, I went dressed as I had been while lounging at home all evening: in shorts and a shirt I had not tucked in. (I swear this sartorial comment has relevance to what happened that night. Bear with me).

Done with my call, I was on my way home. In the next-door compound, a burly man was whacking a skinny boy with a thick stick. The boy's hands were tied, and he was weeping for mercy. I told the man to stop. He shouted: "I have every right to hit him, he is from my village! He stole my money!" I couldn't see how the village conferred a right to assault, but I let that be. Instead, I suggested that he take the boy to the nearby police station.

At this, the man advanced menacingly on me and yelled in my face: "It's people like you who are ruining the country! We should cut off these fellow's hands ourselves, and you want to take them to the police!"

He continued in this vein for a while, soon joined by his wife. She proclaimed loudly that I was a drunkard and therefore not worth talking to; she actually urged her husband, pulling at him insistently, to return to thrashing the boy.

But before he went back to wielding his stick, he had one final barb to fling at me. "Look at you, ruining the country! Look at the way you're dressed!"

True. In shorts, my legs were -- shame! -- mostly bare. As were my forearms. My neck. My head. Yes indeed, I was ruining the country. What that had to do with beating the boy, I don't know. But I let that be as well. For my purpose here -- stopping the beating -- was served. By now, enough others had gathered around that the man could not easily continue with his brutality; and just maybe, the man and wife were at least slightly chastened by my protest.

With an angry look at me, they sent the boy off into the night. I watched him go, wondering about Indian culture.

Is beating up children in public, even petty criminals, our culture? Is taking the law into your own hands an ancient Indian tradition? If my clothes meant ruin for the country, did thrashing a boy bring glory to India in some way that escapes me?

But never mind! Of course I was ruining the country. In two ways: by protesting the assault on a boy, and by shamefully displaying my bare legs. Atanu and Annie, please note.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, and what happens when fathers beat up teenage sons like that? Yes, in 'good' homes...

Sourin Rao said...

Its quite a common phenomenon in India, trashing up kids that is. On my business trips to India, I haveseen wel-to-do parents do this to their kids, at the slightest provocation. Every where, at airports, in restaurants and shopping complexes across the country, and at homes where kids get employed for menial housework when they should really be in schoolgrounds and playfields.
Maybe its all that pent-up frustration, or just misdirected aggression or just some perverse sense of contol over something that prople intrinsically consider their personal whiping post, I cant really place my finger on. Its really shameful that we are indeed a nation of child abusers who still strongly believe in 'Spare the rod....

Anonymous said...

Dilip, is this any different from slavery? Children won't be treated this way unless people think of them as their property rather than human beings.

On the other hand, I don't know how much handing the kid to the police will help. It will only ensure that the child will grow up to be a criminal.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Niket, you have a point about handing over the kid to the police. My attempt that night was merely to stop these creeps lashing the boy with their stick, and I tried everything I knew to achieve that. Including suggesting handing him to the police.

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Dilip
I quite agree, this man had absolutely no right to hit this boy. He should have taken him to his parents and demanded that they compensate him for the theft and they punish the boy.

Anonymous said...

Accessing your blog after some time and hence the delayed post. I faced a similar experience that unfortunately took place at a friends house where I had been invited for dinner. One of the children threw a tantrum and his father brought out a cane and caned him in public in full view of all guests. Now mind you the father was educated and a professional in a top Indian company and not the uneducated people that you experienced. Since being a guest and not wishing to offend the host, I could only faintly request the father to go easy on the child.
Later one of the guests commented to me in private that this was a good way to discipline a child.
If this is the attitude of the educated well placed segment of society, why do we need to expect anything better from lesser mortals.
Sending the boy to the police would definitely have made things worse.