Three aspects to the death of a 13-year-old in Mumbai, who ended up hanging himself, demand immediate attention. The first is the knee-jerk reaction of the parent community to Gaurang Dalvi’s ‘suicide’. Local media and online reports went on an overdrive linking the death to Gaurang’s low academic scores. From private tuitions to the ‘System’, all were blamed. The second point is the same community’s reaction to the disclosure that Gaurang had been involved with a group of boys trying out a ‘choking game’ — a stunt that chokes the oxygen supply to the brain and provides a ‘temporary high — with instructions picked up from the internet. Parents panicked as this was a realm they were completely unaware of. And the school community almost heaved a sigh of relief that it could absolve itself of all blame. The third point is the ‘lesson’ that Gaurang’s death provides — something that all the stakeholders in our children’s futures must understand so as to avoid such accidents.
These are tricky times that demand deft and confident parenting, not to mention alert and responsive schooling. The internet is all pervasive. The death had nothing to do with grades — or the ‘System’. It is unreasonable to blame internet surfing or feel the need to curtail a child’s inquisitiveness by imposing censorship rules. Gaurang’s parents want other parents to know about such games. But society is more worried about children being exposed to the two standard bugbears, pornography and drugs, than it is about the seeming inability of teenagers to appreciate the risks involved in such ‘experimentation’. The need of the hour is to invest children with the steel that can ensure that they can measure the consequences of their actions and behaviour.
While Gaurang did hang himself, he didn’t commit suicide. The blurring of reality is one of the pitfalls of virtual existence and that is what seems to have led Gaurang to his death. Parents don’t need to know about all the sites their child visits. But they do need to gauge their child’s ability to disengage from the virtual ‘cool’ quotient. That is where the challenge to parenthood and schooling lies.