As always on a weekday at about 2.30 pm this Monday I received a call from O, my 12-year-old. It’s a routine, we talk about school and homework and the latest gossip from her friends. This Monday however, she sounded embarrassed.
She whispered into the phone: “I want to tell you something…”
And at a decibel level so low I had to strain to hear her, she recounted how during music class she heard two boys sitting behind her discussing whether they should ‘touch her ass’ and who should. She didn’t realise who the ‘her’ was till she felt a hand graze her bottom.
She left the class of 40 students and 1 male music teacher, crying, seeking out a female teacher she was comfortable speaking to. She found two who were extremely supportive, consoled her, and made it very clear to her that this was nothing she needs to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. They then escalated it to the Assistant Principal (Mr J), which is when, this story gets really sickening.
What follows is reported from meetings with Mr J the following day, and from what O what O told us.
The teacher called the 3 boys in, all of whom ‘testified’ (sic) that one of their elbows brushed against her ‘by mistake’. So Mr J told O, that ‘these things don’t happen in school’ and it was all just a mistake and she should forget about it.
What upset O, more than the incident, was that she was told she should not complain and fuss. Both by the Assistant Principal and by the other boys in her class.
The two teachers and the girls in her class were all supportive. Twelve-year-old girls standing by each other, because they are so aware of personal space, and so aware of the discomfort when someone violates it.
While I was emotional, and losing my cool, R kept a sane head on his shoulder, and firmly (and angrily) put Mr J in place. Mr J apologised for not handling this better.
But that’s not good enough. O hasn’t received an apology. Which we will insist on. Just as we have insisted that the parents of the boys be informed of this.
Against my better judgement, I am generalising and putting this down as an ‘Indian’ thing. More Indian than anything else. Where little pricks are kings, and girls are expected to shut up. Where girls shouldn’t fuss. Shouldn’t complain. Where something like this is dismissed off as a ‘mistake’. Where the girl’s word counts to naught, and all that the boys had to say was ‘by mistake’.
Today, at 2.30 pm she called again. We chatted about school. I didn’t go into the details of the morning meeting. And as she said bye, she asked me: “Amma, did I do the right thing by complaining? Should I have kept quiet?”
It broke my heart. And my resolve not to blog about this broke too… No, not keeping quiet.
PS: We have a follow-up meeting tomorrow to see what action was taken. Expect more angry rants.