Last night a few children started a commotion in the corner of the resource room. They were looking outside at the perimeter wall, but when I went over to look I saw nothing. A few minutes later another of the children, Lokender, came back from his duty washing dishes outside to tell me that he’d seen a ‘chore’ making his escape over the back end of the perimeter wall, where it is easy to scale.
A ‘chore’ is a thief. It was one of the first words I learned, back when I was labeled a ‘chammach chore’ – a spoon thief – after I ‘stole’ some disposable plastic spoons from the trash at Mayo College to use on campus (I wrote about that incident here).
‘Chore’ seemed to be the word of the day. I’d already used it in a short exchange with some of the students on campus who are studying for a diploma in special education.
Sometimes I think we’re lucky to have a student body of young adults on campus to help out at our ‘mela’s’ and games events. Other times, I am reduced to excruciating lip-biting in order to restrain myself from expressing frustration at their behavior.
You see, I continue to have expectations that people who are studying to become special educators would have the patience, understanding, integrity, interest and concern that is crucial for effective special education. And don’t get me wrong, some of these students do express genuine decency when interacting with the children on campus, but a distasteful majority continues to put themselves first at moments that would otherwise call for the smallest of sacrifices.
Yesterday we had a ‘bal mela’ on campus, our annual childrens’ fair. It was awesome, but the day ended on a rather down note. As a surprise, we’d arranged for ice-cream for all the children who attended. We’d actually over-ordered, just in case. There were over two-hundred children at the fair from surrounding schools.
The more able kids were able to frantically scramble for ice-cream, desperate for some relief from the afternoon sun. At first, teachers and responsible students from the diploma programme distributed ice-creams to children who – because of disability or because they were unaware – were not able to get themselves ice-cream.
Sadly, less responsible diploma students were more interested in their own relief. After spending the day watching from the sidelines, they decided they were eligible for the ice-cream treat reserved for disabled children, and around twenty students helped themselves.
Inevitably, there wasn’t enough left for the remaining children. Kids crowded onto hot buses home empty handed with tears streaming down their faces, while others grappled each other for the last remaining spoonfuls of cooling vanilla goodness.
I’m quick to anger at injustice, and this scenario – where fully-able adults (in training to be special educators no less) would steal ice-cream from disabled children – was a gunpowder-keg of injustice. In my frayed Hindi I launched a tirade of abuse at the diploma students – expressing my disgust. My Hindi is best (and understood much better) when I’m angry, although I can’t deny mild English profanities may have escaped my mouth.
The teachers felt my frustration, but accepted it as an inevitability. That’s half the problem here, so much is accepted and so little is challenged.
After the ‘chore’ escaped over the perimeter wall last night I began to wonder if maybe I’m expecting too much. I’m quick to apply morality to this situation and this campus, but I also understand the invisibility that children face in India. There are many adults in India who have less, and would be quick to express their frustration that as contributing members to society they should get priority ice-cream before it is handed freely to less-deserving children.
Even Kartar, a vocational teacher here, seems to believe the TV donated to the children’s resource room is actually his. In fact, many of the resources donated to the school go mysteriously missing. I don’t doubt that the homes of many staff are lined with materials obtained from our store cupboard, and photos of staff I recently developed for a display board quickly vanished, although the culprits were easily identified by figuring out which photos (of whom) were missing.
But still, I refuse to accept that it’s okay to steal ice cream from a disabled child. And if this serves as an example that I don’t understand cultural norms and morality, then I’m fine with that.