Friday, May 22, 2009

Requiem for Shanno Khan

Last month, 11-year-old Shanno Khan died in Delhi, India after falling into a coma following an episode where her school teacher made her stand outside in the hot Indian summer sun with bricks on her shoulders after she had failed to recite the alphabets properly. 

Here, an onlooker's reflections on the 'seven bricks' carried by poor children in India.

Since I read about you this morning, I see your eyes everywhere, even when I look at my own two little boys. It feels like I know you. Perhaps I only know the fear that I see in your eyes. But I do know the bricks. I definitely know the seven bricks that were placed on your back while you crouched in the murga position for those two hours under that burning sun. In fact, I see those bricks everyday. I see them everyday when I talk to people, when I read the newspaper and when I watch television. 
The first brick is the parents who are keener on their children learning discipline than learning fun. The second brick is your schoolmates who have learned to stare at injustice but not to act against it. The third brick is your teachers who do not realize that they can learn more from a child in one day than they will ever be able to teach. The fourth brick is the politician who calls a bandh for every tiny issue that is in his party’s interest, but not when a child gets tortured to death at a Delhi school because she wasn’t able to recite the alphabet. The fifth brick is the police that will not call a teacher’s corporal punishment a crime, simply because they themselves believe in violence. The sixth brick is the Indian upper class, who, since India’s independence, have seen the poor as the main problem for the nation (and not the poor children’s school). I hate to tell you what the last brick is, little Shanno. But I think I recognize the seventh one too. That brick is your guardian angel, who gave you the strength to endure all this, but not the courage to walk away. You must have been afraid that worse would happen to you. You never imagined your obedience would kill you.
Dear Shanno, I feel so sorry about your death, so sad that you had to die for the stupidity of grown-ups.
John Bates Bedford, 'Elijah and the widow of Zarephath - and Elijah took the child, and bought him out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him unto his mother: and Elijah said, see Thy son liveth', oil on canvas, 1862, 44" X 29"

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