Many years ago, as part of Darpana’s Centre For Non-violence Through the Arts we ran school pilot projects to understand how children perceived of violence. We worked with two age groups, five year olds and fifteen year olds, both in coeducational schools. For the young ones we created a loop made of various cartoons like Tweety and Silvester and Laurel and Hardy. We showed it to them several times and the children rolled on the floor with laughter every time. We then divided the class into two requesting one lot to say OUCH every time someone hit someone and the other to say “funny” whenever they thought it was. Soon the children noticed that the two words coincided every time. They seemed perplexed. Is it funny when you are hit, we asked them. No, was the unanimous response. Then why was it funny when someone hit someone else? They didn’t have an answer. But it did get them thinking. Our next exercise with them was to have them lie on the floor with their eyes shut listening to different kinds of music that we played and then to draw whatever came to their mind. Our music was eclectic, from Bhimsen Joshi to Bach and from head banging and heavy metal to Madonna. The drawings fell into two distinct categories – the gentler classical music lead to curvaceous and rounded lines; the heavier beats and harsher music to jagged lines. The kids too started noticing the pattern of their own doodles. So music could affect their mood they realised. It could make you feel angry or good.
With the older group we had a discussion on their understanding of violence. Boys and girls came up with very different answers. How did the girls feel about boys whistling at them? They felt aggressed and violated. The boys were astounded. They thought the girls should feel complimented. Well they didn’t, in fact they felt their personal space violated. At the end of several days of discussions and probing, we asked each youngster to keep a 24 hour diary noting down each time they felt violent or violated. Their own diaries were a surprise to them – banging a thali down on the table or floor was suddenly seen for what it was, an act of aggression. Similarly banging a door in someone’s face, being stared at, being rude to someone, all took on a new light. Their understanding that violence didn’t have to be physical grew, as did their own understanding of which of their actions showed a violence that they may not be aware of, or a general sense of aggression.
These memories come to the fore for two reasons. The first of course is that today is our New Year. And day before yesterday was Diwali, the festival of the victory of right over wrong, of good over evil. Does today merit an introspection of the darkness which lies in each of us, and should not this new year begin with an awareness of the need to shed inner light on the inner darkness? Is violence in our hearts not one of the most corrupting and cancerous emotions?
The other reason is the imminent passing of the bill on sexual violence and harassment at the work place. While the bill has good intentions (don’t most of them?) in leaving out domestic workers from its orbit, it is missing the most vulnerable section of women. From pouring hot oil on a girl’s feet for breaking a cup, to raping her every night, to being beaten and starved, domestic help gets it all. So while trying to dominate the asura in each of us vis a vis this, perhaps the government also needs to see the asuras for the poor maids and amend the bill before it becomes law. Other wise it will be violence as usual.