Are we turning our children into ‘touch me nots’? All in the name of protection, preservation of social ethics and cultural conduct. Beti Bachao but are we turning out beti into a parrot inside a cage. Children follow instructions and some children don’t follow. If they follow then they are accepted but if they don’t then destroy them in the name of honour, caste, religion and social gender. Every child needs attention, care, love, affection and support during their growing up years. But somewhere in the rush to make the kids grow up faster, there seems to be a lack of human emotions. Children are bombarded with an overload of information, gimmicks, technology and tricks. Parents find ways to engage their children with video games, artificial foods, television and fast-moving vehicles in cities and towns. Whether it is due to family pressures, livelihood struggles or high-flying lifestyles, children in every social class seems to remain very vulnerable within their limited spaces. Children learn from their surroundings. Their memories are their biggest assets which influence their choices and preferences.
There are many children who aspire to find fame at a young age. Some get it also with the glittering world of media, television, films and very recently through cyberspace as well. Be it The Secret Superstar or Youth Ki Awaaz. Young people are making themselves heard. In the virtual world, touch is actually a matter of right or left swipe. It is no longer a touch of blessing, pain or pleasure. Human touch is as fragile as glass but as rejuvenating as fresh air which can be life-saving at times. If a boy touches a girl without her consent it becomes abuse, if a girl touches a boy without consent it becomes consent. There are diverse touches in the world, glamour touch of the make-up artist, healing touch of the doctor, measuring touch of the tailor, social touch of the guests, families and friends, blessing touch of the revered, painful touch of the physical trainer, loving touch of the parent, disciplined touch of the teacher, accidental touch of public in transport and the sensuous touch of the intimate partner. Now children are tutored to understand all these touches in one single language of aversion. Such practices make children extremely insensitive and vulnerable. They do not understand the value of growing up as actual human beings. They are already fed by artificial intelligence and gadgets which feed them with causes, effects and possible consequences. These days’ parents teach their children to give flying kisses. Some kids do learn to shake hands while most of them can barely give half a smile when they meet people for the first time.
I remember being bitten by a boy in my childhood who was forced by his parents to give me a peck on my cheek as a farewell gesture. I was 5 years old and the boy was probably 3 years and then I had to be rushed to the hospital for tetanus injections. Somehow people find it quite amusing to touch, feel, kiss and squeeze children out of love, compassion, affection and vengeance for their parents, relatives, siblings or friends. I remember another nightmare in my childhood of being thrown up in the air by an adult whom I barely know and the thrill they find when I cry aloud. In another memorable incident I remember one male adult in a children’s party way back in the 1980s. He would particularly stand next to young boys who were unaware and pull their elastic shorts down in front of everyone. While all the children would laugh at the act the poor boy would be ashamed for life. Such incidents do remind us of how vulnerable our children are. In recent times, touch has become a big misnomer to build or break fiduciary relationships. There are many such relationships which needs very close scrutiny.
People are making big noise about Papon’s kiss during a student teacher session where everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. I am critical about deep affection between mentors and students in a professional space as it would create a lot of expectations and aspirations from either the student or the teacher. In one of the summer school programmes outside the country, I learnt that sense of touch is used by mentors to break the hierarchies of class, race, religion and gender as well. Forced touch between two unequal people like a child and an adult in a position of power, an employer and an employee, a student and teacher, a doctor and patient, a customer and care-giver does create very critical consequences. Here touching for support, saving a life and with mutual consent holds important relevance but any form of abuse and exploitation cannot be justified.
Our bodies are intricately connected with touch both good and bad. When a good touch can heal and create joy for us, a bad one can ruin our essence and identities for life. In fact the story of touch doesn’t end with one celebrity case of abuse and accusation but many more are in the threshold in regular mundane lives of common people. Every time one gets into a crowded bus, travels alone at night, goes out with or without friends in public events, markets, malls and movies, gets in the middle of a riot, protest rally or any festive occasion, there is always a threat of touch.
This International Women’s Day and Month, let us resolve to ensure that every touch we give and we feel is towards hope not fear. ‘Time is now’ to stand in solidarity with all activists across diverse intersections to rebuild the power of human touch to end abuse.