Kolhapur’s image is that of a reckless and exciting town, where profanity and devotional chants go hand in hand. Children growing up here cannot but be influenced by their surroundings – and it’s not too surprising that profanity attracts them more. It is important that young people receive some guidance, as an unintentional slip could have far-reaching consequences.
The presence of the ‘Meena Raju Manch’ in Kolhapur, and of sensible schoolteachers, has, however, ensured that young students find a strong anchor when it is most needed.
The Meena Raju Manch tries, through its programmes, to impart values of equality and gender-parity among schoolchildren in the 5th to 7th std. These programmes have been running in all government schools in Maharashtra. The Manch and its activities are separate from the stipulated school curriculum, giving as they do a space to adolescent girls and boys that encourages informal and friendly relations between teachers and students. This enhances communication, often helping bring about positive changes in student behaviour – including a sense of responsibility.
The transformation of Hanif is a case in point. In 2015, Hanif was in the 5th std at the Comrade Govind Pansare school in Kolhapur. Most students in the Kolhapur municipal schools of the Primary School Education Board come from poor families. Though he had only recently entered secondary school, Hanif, unlike other children in his class, was neither timid nor shy. In fact, he was a bully, often picking fights, and generally up to mischief. He would bully classmates into doing his school work. Even his teachers found it difficult to deal with him.
His class teacher, Deepali Kumbhar ‘Madam’, knew that Hanif’s behaviour had to change. She decided to try to understand the reasons for his acting up. Soon enough, she discovered a host of factors: poverty; a lack of love and nurturing at home; the language barrier created by the use of Urdu and Hindi at home as against Marathi in school. She saw these as causing a sense of frustration that manifested itself through problem behaviour. But Kumbhar ‘Madam’ was equally quick to notice that Hanif had strong leadership qualities, and so decided to enrol him in the Meena Raju Manch and get him to participate in its activities.
Without scolding, she tried to point out his mistakes, and gradually turned him around. So successful was she, that by the time he reached the 6th std he was unanimously elected class secretary. His schoolteachers encouraged his participation in games so that his excess energy coule be expended in worthwhile pursuits.
Today, Hanif has gained a reputation as a successful sportsperson. He has won many awards in different sporting competitions – running, shuttle relay, cricket, kabbadi, to name a few. This has also won him many new friends, who help him with his school work. Since the 6th std, Hanif has been an ‘A’ student.
In 2016, UNICEF published a report on ‘The State of the World’s Children’ in which a special mention was made of seven students who had shown positive changes in behaviour as a result of encouraging guidance from their teachers. Hanif was one of these students, and was a special invitee at a function attended by the Governor of Maharashtra. Surprisingly, all seven students were from Kolhapur district. UNICEF also produced a documentary chronicling the positive changes in these young boys – from displaying contempt for women and girls, holding them in low esteem, indulging in harassment and using abusive language in school to leading fruitful lives thanks to the combined efforts of the Meena Raju Manch, their schoolteachers and their parents.
Suresh Jadhav (name changed) was another such student. He, too, studies in a Kolhapur school. His father has passed away, and his mother works as a domestic help. Suresh’s older brother does odd jobs, earning a bit of money on and off. His grandmother looks after Suresh. Needless to say, the family is poor. Suresh was enrolled in school later than usual, and was around 14 or 15 when he reached the 6th std.
Since Suresh was older than his classmates, he had few friends. He was quiet, and kept mostly to himself. Unfortunately, he fell in with a gang of boys that lived in the same neighborhood. He enjoyed their company, and soon began to spend all his time and watching pornographic films. He grew increasingly inattentive in school and towards his school work. Once, at a school picnic near Rankala lake, his teachers caught him with his mobile. Not only does the school have a strict policy against students carrying mobile phones to school, the teachers were shocked to discover several pornographic clips on his phone. They lectured him on the ill effects of watching porn and playing endless mobile games at his age, and ordered him to return the mobile immediately to the friend who actually owned it.
Kavita Bambale ‘Madam’ was one of the teachers present that day. She was well aware that hormonal changes during puberty lead to heightened sexual feelings and urges. This incident only served to strengthen her belief that it was necessary to impart sex education formally rather than allowing young people to acquire all the wrong ideas about sex and sexual desire by watching pornography. With this in mind, she decided to hold a session on ‘My Body, My Right’. Bambale ‘Madam’ also happened to be the coordinator of the school’s Meena Raju Manch. Since it was an all boys’ school, she decided to hold a joint session for all students, from the 1st std onwards.
During these sessions, students are asked to identify body parts on a sketch of a human figure, by colouring these with chalk. They are asked to use a specific colour for the parts they feel awkward touching. Bambale ‘Madam’ had brought along flowers of different colours. She scientifically explained puberty, and discussed the naturalness of sexual attraction. She then asked the students to place flowers on (rather than chalk in) those areas of the sketch that corresponded to parts of the body they would not want others to touch without their consent. Suresh, too, was listening to everything intently.
Bambale ‘Madam’ was taken aback when students from the 1st and 2nd std placed flowers on the chest and the penis. She told them, “Some of our body parts are private, and nobody has a right to touch those without our permission. I am glad you have understood this point. And remember that if anyone tries to touch you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you can always come to me or tell any of the teachers in school. Do not feel afraid and continue to suffer in silence.” The students all assented and, once the session was over, got busy with other activities.
The very next day, some of the younger children came to meet ‘Madam’ and complained about Suresh. They said, “Suresh dada often calls us to the school toilet, makes us remove our clothes, and touches and harasses us.” Bambale ‘Madam’ was left speechless. She had not expected Suresh to move so swiftly from watching porn to sexually abusing smaller children. She discussed the problem with her colleagues, and they decided to have Suresh come and meet them.
Once he arrived, they reprimanded Suresh, and said they would tell his family. “We have come to know that you are abusing young boys. It is a crime to touch the private parts of someone without their permission. So now we have to inform your family.” Suresh started crying, and begged the teachers, “Please don’t do that. My mother and my grandmother will beat me. I promise I will never behave in this manner again. Please forgive me!” He fell at their feet. Then he admitted his behaviour was the result of the company that he kept. The teachers admonished him again and said, “Each person has complete right over her body and it is wrong to touch them without their permission. It is natural to feel sexual attraction and urges at your age. But that cannot be your sole focus. You must pay attention to your studies in order to help you family.”
After that day, Suresh was a transformed boy. He has not fully understood what was wrong with his behaviour, but he has gradually became more involved in his studies and sports. He no longer harasses younger children; instead, if anyone has any questions or curiosity related to sexual behaviour, he tries to educate them by providing accurate and scientific information.
The transformation of children like Suresh is amazing. In the films produced by UNICEF, we shall soon be able to see the journey that has brought about this positive change in these students. Let us hope that their stories would inspire others.
The names have been changed to protect the identity of the boys.
Blog: Sarita Sutar, Gender Coordinator, Department of Education, Kolhapur Municipal Corporation
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team