To hear Indians speak of family values and morality, anyone would think that we invented the concepts. But are we really all that much of a caring society? Definitely not, going by the recent spate of abuses of children and other vulnerable members of our society. The horrific gangrape of two little girls in New Delhi and the rape of a young boy shocked most people as did the brutal murder of a visually impaired couple and their children. There have been similar cases of heinous rapes and murders reported from across the country. It is true that in the past such incidents may not have got the prominence they do now. But all this suggests that there are an increasing number of predators among us.
The natural human instinct on seeing a child is that of protectiveness and affection. But now it would seem that for an increasing number of people, the instinct is to harm. In several cases, we see that people do not hesitate to take another’s life for the most trivial of reasons. Similarly, we pride ourselves in the fact that our elderly can fall back on their families and not have to be shunted into an old age home. But underneath this idyllic Hum Aapke Hain Kaun sort of projection lies the ugly truth. Most people are extremely dismissive and cruel to the elderly. All this suggests that somewhere along the way we have lost our moral compass. To an extent, these are due to the pulls and pressures of a modernising society where it is every man for himself. But there is something vile and unnatural about preying on defenceless children. The most worrying part is that at least 70 per cent of child abuse cases are at the hands of someone the child knows. In other words, the friendly neighbour or the relative to whom you would gladly entrust your child could be the person who will harm your child.
The fact that such incidents are increasing does not mean that we throw up our hands in despair. Much more can be done to sensitise parents, educators and society about what is appropriate behaviour. If a child was in an enabling atmosphere where she could speak up without fear of reprisal, perhaps some of this abuse could be curbed. Teachers who have a significant influence on children should also not hesitate to speak openly about the kinds of adult behaviour that is not acceptable when it comes to dealing with children. Change may be long in coming but we need to make a beginning somewhere if we claim to be a civilised society.