Stripped off All Respect

On March 15th, the morning of their Board exam, two fifteen year old girls from a state-run school in Madhya Pradesh were forcefully stripped in front of their entire co-ed class by their invigilators, in the name of an anti-cheating inspection.

Later, they were forced to endure the sniggers and lewd remarks of their peers. It was only after nine days that the two gathered the courage to mention the shocking incident to their parents, who in turn reported it to the district administration. The administration ordered an inquiry into the matter, yet no substantial action has been taken so far.

More recently, a young schoolgirl in Kolkata was stripped of her skirt by her teacher in the presence of her class for wearing incorrect uniform. Her family complained to the police, yet the only thing that came out of the complaint was that the teacher in question agreed to not repeat such an action.

Outrageous as they may seem, these two incidents are not exactly aberrations–the stripping of students in India is not as uncommon as one would like to think.

Last year in Orissa, a female student was accused of stealing money by her teacher, and when she denied the claims of theft she was stripped in front of her classmates; the same thing happened to a girl in Kerala just a few weeks ago.

In Faridabad, a teacher stripped a girl of her shirt because her parents had forgotten to pay a fee, while a teacher in Vijayawada did the same to a girl because she wasn’t speaking in English.

In New Delhi, a girl was forced to stand naked on a desk and suffer the teasing of her classmates because she hadn’t done her homework.

There are cases like these from all parts of the country, and in almost all of them, the victims happen to be Dalit females. These victimized students have the double misfortune of being members and in turn, women of the lower castes in a country where both these groups are discriminated against.

While child abuse and abuse of power and authority undoubtedly occur all over the world, I am absolutely appalled that such incidents take place so frequently and so openly in India.

Where are the news reports decrying such cruelty? Where are the women’s organizations and other social groups demanding respect and preservation of dignity? Where are the punishments for the perpetrators of such atrocious deeds?

The lack of outrage implies to me, and I am sure to many others as well, that the stripping of lower caste female students in public is okay. It implies to me that such humiliation and maltreatment is acceptable, and that Indians in fact have no objection to it.

I’m pretty sure that if such whimsical incidents happened with children of wealthier, more influential families, serious action would be taken against the teachers.

I am also sure that if such incidents took place in another country, Indians would express their horror and distaste.

These unfortunate happenings are reflective of the deep prejudices many Indians still hold against girls and Dalits They reiterate the decade old mentality that was enforced upon us. But that’s not the shocking revelation. Almost all of the teachers mentioned above were women–if educated women disrespect other females, then how can we expect men to respect them?

Schools are meant to harbour an atmosphere that facilitates learning and empowers the value of education but that is imposibble if students are disgraced and made to feel uncomfortable.

There already exist a number of issues in our country with regard to the education of women; those from lower class families have fewer chances of getting an education as compared to a woman from a middle class or upper class family.

Today, the female literacy rate in the country is 65.46%, whereas the male literacy rate is 82.14%. Public humiliation like this can have serious psychological effects on children, like lowering self esteem levels and increasing anxiety levels and only adds to the whole host of hurdles that are preventing women from achieving a good education.

People need to be made aware of these incidents, and what’s more, they need to take a stand against them. They need to learn to respect girls and Dalits as people, and understand that each person has a right to dignity and to modesty.

We are all human, whether we are teachers or students, males or females, upper castes or lower castes; we are more similar than we are different. Only when that is universally understood can we all enjoy equality and respect.

Ayushi Vig

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