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“We will respect girls, didi”

It was in January last year, 2016, when I took this session for grade 2, on Gender Equality. Wonder why such a topic for grade 2? Such little kids, and what can they possibly understand?!And why will they even discriminate at this tender age? Here’s what I witnessed:

One fine morning, after our morning meeting, Aisha, my student, came to me, and said, “Didi, I want to share something…”. She looked tensed.

Engrossed in notebook corrections, I said, “Yes, Aisha, tell me”

“Didi, this new boy, who has come in our class, touches me.”

In my head, I was like, What?Let me confirm it’s not what I’m thinking. I asked casually,turning towards her, “Where does he touch you, Aisha?”

Innocently she responded, “Down there, didi”. She showed me with actions.  My eyes widened. Iqra, who was listening from a little far, joined in and said, “Didi, didi, yes didi, he pulls my skirt also” I saw the innocence in their eyes.

I called the boy and told him not to do such things again. He apologized. I saw the innocence in his eyes. He didn’t even know what he was doing was wrong. He apologized to the girls. The matter dissolved.

A week later, I started hearing giggles in the classroom, while I was writing on the board. With a mischievous look on my face, I turned around, in a sing song manner, “Whoooooooo is it?”. All of us had a momentary giggle, and we all got back to work and our math class ended with math worksheets. In the break time, I saw Laxmi sitting in the corner and crying. Few of her friends surrounded her, one of them came to me and reported. I went to ask what happened.

“Didi, everyone was teasing me.”

“With what? Why are they teasing you?”

“With Sahil. They are teasing me with Sahil. In math class. I was sad”

For a moment, I thought, this kid is very innocent. These things happen in school. I was amused. For the reason she was crying, and that it affected her math class, I thought, I should address and ask what’s the matter and how these things are coming up.

I inquired further, “Who is teasing you?”

“Mushahid”

I called him up, and scolded him, for not doing such things and keeping in limits. The same day, I got one more complaint at closing meeting time; Iqra came and said, “Didi, you know what? I will tell you something. But I will tell you only if you don’t tell anybody.”

I was curious. “Yes, Iqra. Promise. Tell me.”

“Didi, some people are saying, Jahnvi loves Mushahid.” I wasn’t shocked. Although I was taken aback. My cofellow was right there. We exchanged an amused look.

I wondered where was all this coming from?

I overheard boys in the break saying, “Aye, ja, ched mat use.”, “Hahaha, didi, woh isko ched raha hai”

CHED RAHA HAI??!!! This caught my nerve.

This was fun for them.

One day, Zoya’s mother comes to school, “Madam, yeh bachche kaisi baten kar rahe hain? I love you I love you abhi se?” Iqra’s mother joined in, “Kaun hai yeh ladka jo aisi baten kar raha hai? Abhi se yeh baten toh bade hoke kya karenge?”

Damn! It struck me then. We are talking about grade 2 kids! 7-8 year old brains ! They are NOT supposed to be talking about such things casually. Even for fun. They are like fresh clay. Impressionable minds. And what they learn now, will stick forever! Back in those days, when I was kid at school, such topics emerged only in later stages of school. I don’t remember even talking or listening such things in grade 2. We were very innocent. Then where are these kids learning these things from?

I assured the parents this matter will be dealt with. I acknowledged that I was unaware that these things were widespread in our class. It wasn’t just Aisha, Iqra, Zoya, Laxmi, but now something about Jahnvi too. Maybe many more stories, untold.

So,

I decided to address this in the classroom. I thought to myself, Sorry Iqra, didi has to break your promise to set things right. You will thank me some day later.

The following morning meeting, I conducted a session on the topic: Are girls and boys different?

“Alright class. Everyone in smart positions with their hands folded. All eyes on didi. Today, didi wants to talk about something veeerrry important(singsong manner). And you, will listen and raise your hands when didi asks you to share. Today didi has a question for you : Are girls and boys different?”

Some said yes, some said no.

Yes, girls and boys are different. We look different. Yes or no?”

Yes” In unison.

“But, does that mean I can hit a boy, because he is a boy, or say, don’t come to school, because she is a girl. Or love someone more because that person is a boy. Or love someone because that person is a girl? Should didi do that? Should didi treat boys and girls differently? “

One raised hand, and said, “No didi, we all are same

I kept anonymity and addressed what Aisha and Iqra told me about touching. I made the class close their eyes, “Imagine, your mother is going to the market to buy onions, and a man, who is drinking(they have witnessed such people) passes comments(galis) and comes and hits her or touches her. How would you feel?” Ten seconds of silence. “Now, let’s share.”

They said : “Didi I feel sad.”, “Angry”, “Very angry.” “Very sad”.

“Now,” I continued, “Is it okay to behave like that with someone? With a girl? Your mother? Your sister?” That’s where I lay emphasis.

“No.” Everyone shook their heads. Boys who were laughing before, didn’t seem to laugh, but had a sad look on their faces.

“Class, it is not okay to treat anyone like that. Boys!” I made all the boys stand,” You must respect girls! No pulling of skirts, no touching. All the girls here are your friends. Yes or no?”

Yes didi

“Do you think they will like it if you touch them or pull skirts? Good manners or bad manner? Respect or no respect?”

“Bad manners didi. That is no respect.”

When asked to do a recap of this part, Ashwin and Mushahid came forward in front of the class and said, “We promise, we will respect girls, no pulling skirt, no pulling hair, no hitting” . I felt proud. I just hoped what they said made sense to them.

Next, I addressed what Laxmi and Iqra told about teasing.

“I’m hearing a lot of complaints about I love you I love you.” The whole class broke into innocent giggles. I had a smile on my face. I let them think that it was fun. And suddenly, with a bang on the table with the duster, and my face becoming serious, with a loud voice, I said, “NO! This is WRONG!”

The whole class fell silent. They weren’t expecting this. They looked at me perplexed.

“You are small. No I LOVE YOU business. NO! It is WRONG! You are small bachchas. You should talk about FRIENDS and GAMES and READING. Why all this?! DO you see this in your community?”

With utmost agreement and shyness and the whole class bustling, looking at one another and then at me, “Yes didi!!!!”

Few boys spoke up and told they have seen older boys touch girls and tease girl. Men drink and pass comments. They used bad language.

Ah, I thought. This is where these things are coming from. The teasing, the touching, the nonsense giggles.

We winded up that session with a small recap that we need to show respect to everyone. A Girl or a Boy. And always to respect any girl. Friend or a sister and not tease. I reminded them that out there, bad people do exist, that doesn’t mean we learnt bad things. Soon after that recap, I told the class, “Such things, you can share with didi anytime. If you feel shy, you can come and tell didi in her ears”

Then this is what happened. I had a lot more kids coming up with similar stories. I learn’t that kids have seen couples making out, girls being eve-teased, people drinking and smoking and hurling comments on anyone. It took some courage for them to open up on this sensitive matter, but they did come and tell me; on assuring that it will remain with me. Iqra didn’t seem to mind whatever I addressed. She still chose to come and tell me more stories.

I realized, they never had any outlet for these thoughts. They were simply absorbing things that they saw and replicated it in class. They were unaware about the right and the wrong. I was proud to see boys of my class coming up to me and telling me that girls are teased in their communities, not with a giggle, but with anger on their faces this time.

I learnt something very important. We often assume kids don’t know much. They do a lot more than we think they do. I never thought this topic could be relevant to my kids. Until this. And it is very important to open up on such topics. Very important. You never know what they might be learning if they are kept in dark.

With time, these things finally settled.

One year hence, I have heard no such complaints after that time.And now, they are aware, of what is right, and what must be done, and what is wrong, and what must not be done. I believe, if they can identify that, and come and report that, they have come a long way!

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