Like many other parents this morning, I dropped my kids off at school with one thought on my mind: how safe are they at school?
Images of the brutal beating of a student at Scarsdale International School in Lahore’s elite Defense Housing Society were fresh in my mind as I hugged my children a little tighter and a little longer than usual.
After the horrific tragedy at the Army Public School in 2014, Pakistani parents have had to reluctantly come to terms with the dangers inherent in having monsters living in our midst. But these monsters were, at least, recognizable by the brazenness of their inhumanity.
So when we saw the video coming out of Scarsdale International School, we were confronted with a new version of what the monsters look like – shockingly, they can look like our kids, their teammates and friends, and not just angry, violent extremists with Kalashnikovs. The images should hurt us and make us realize, if nothing else, that we as a society bear a collective responsibility for what happened to the tortured girl in the video.
The shocking nature of the incident, with the victim’s physical suffering and humiliation exacerbated by the videotaping of his ordeal, warrants deeper introspection. Most would agree that the prima facie evidence warrants a full investigation and punishment of the perpetrators – including those behind the camera whose actions seemed to ensnare the main actors.
However, there are other culprits, at least as guilty as those caught on video, not just the school itself. Where were the teachers or other staff while this was happening? How come no adults were alerted to what was happening in the school hallways? Were there no safety and protection mechanisms in place for vulnerable students? And, most damningly, how did a school whose exorbitant tuition suggests a promise not just of academic excellence but of becoming decent, compassionate members of society fail this person so completely?
As a parent, I know that when I have raised concerns with my children’s (former) elite private school about alleged bullying by other children or the school’s complete disregard for their general safety while at school, my concerns have been brushed aside – nothing must be allowed to jeopardize the school’s ability to attract elite fee-paying clients, right? – to the extent that I was forced to remove my children from such a harmful environment. But how many are able to do this and at what cost to a child’s development?
The brutality of the girls captured in the video was shocking. If you’ve read Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s masterful treatise on how “civilized” people, absent rules, can be reduced to a primitive, barbaric level, you’ll no doubt come to the conclusion that, given the right conditions , evil , is not good, it is the default human instinct – anywhere in the world, not just in Pakistan.
But, sure enough, that’s the problem. Can’t we be better than that? As a society, don’t we have a responsibility to ensure that our children grow up to be good people, empathetic towards others, especially those weaker than themselves?
The social power relations depicted in Lord of the Flies could be a blueprint for Pakistani society in general: the powerful using their influence over weaker members of society to consolidate their power is very often a pattern that runs through the lives of many Pakistanis . In a country where ‘who knows’ matters, the people of Pakistan will turn a blind eye to the manifold failures, excesses and cruelties of their supposed benefactors in order to retain their favor and support.
This is something that our children come to imbibe from an early age and like children, they imitate their elders and create their own microcosmic version of the nation they have grown up in within their own social environments – at school, on the playground, and even at home with siblings. Is this the much talked about ‘achi tarbiyat’ we are giving our children?
Unfortunately, parents rarely ask their children how their day was and whether or not they are happy and feel safe at school, but we will hype their test results and increase the pressure to make sure they achieve the perfect GPA : our mind is already calculating whether our child is an academic genius who can crack the CSS exams in the coming years.
It is important to understand that until we normalize talking with our children – to make them feel safe enough to discuss problems with those they rely on to always have their best interests at heart – they will remain vulnerable – prey to them whose instinct is to harm others in order to maintain their own position.
One can only hope that the Scarsdale incident will provide the necessary jolt needed for parents to take a greater interest in their children’s lives. Other than that, I can’t see any other positive to come out of the horrific attack the victim was subjected to.
Meanwhile, the principal, boards and administrators, whose school website lists honesty, respect, compassion, honor and responsibility as its core values, should hang their heads in disgusted shame . Because every parent will judge the school on its supposed values and come to only one conclusion: F for FAIL!