Fading flowers: The children of violence

Children are the delicate flowers of our garden. They need great deal of love , security and protection to survive. Any type of violence or bloodshed is bound to leave permanent scare on their personalities . At time they may even fade before spreading their fragrance .

    No wonder , agencies like UNICEF have shown so much concern for the legal, social, economic and political rights of the children. The recently held UN convention on the rights of the child has resolved that all children must be allowed to grow in a healthy manner in the conditions of freedom and dignity . They should be provided with satisfactory living standards , and have access to information , education , play, leisure and culture activities . They have right to express their opinions on matter which affect their well-being , and the freedom of thought , conscience and religion . The state is required to take steps to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence , neglector maltreatment.

    However , millions of children in Punjab ( and other such disturbed states ) have been deprived of their basic rights to food , vaccines and education . They are the orphans , the homeless , and the hungry . It is incorrect to imagine that our children are unaware o of the prevailing situation or even to think that they would escape its evil effects. Recent interaction with them show the depth of their knowledge and concern.

    Simmarnjeet Singh , a 12 year old, asks, "How would a child in his teens react if a person is put to death in m front of his eyes ? All the time he feels fear and terror . Do you think  the child will have faith in the police and government ?" Amar Preet Kaur of class VII wants to know from the militants " Why are you killing innocent people ? What wrong had they done to you? Aren't human beings? Don't you have hearts ?"

    Children are unhappy at the loss of their freedom to play under the blue heavens and sleep under the starry skies. They arte sad that while earlier in Punjab mothers  used to send their children to war with pride, these they hide them at dusk behind closed doors .  Worry is writ large on their parents' faces if they come home late.

    The effect of the situation on the minds of the children is reflected in their art . Their recent paintings show militants' encounters with police; militants firing from behind the trees ; dead bodies on the  roads; house, shops and streets on fire ; people running from bullets; and shooting of women and children by lining them against the walls of their houses.

    Sumedha , eight, depicts a man with horns on his head and a gun in his hands. He is aiming at a child who stands with folded hands begging for mercy . She has titled her painting "Don't kill me". Her massage that man is becoming more and more demon like is loud and clear , and her own feelings of insecurity come out forcefully . Some children use religious symbols in their paintings. Jasmine , 10 has written " Om on each leaf of the tree she has drawn . Others has painted doves - the well -known symbol of peace. How ever in general , the dominating  colors are red  and black . The paintings express the children fear of weapons corpses , bullets, guns , bombs, and  bloodshed.

    The children as much offended by the government as they are by militants . They very much doubt the sincerity of the government to resolve the Punjab problem. Gagan 13 addressing the Prime Minister, comes down heavily on suppressing the news of killings in the media and express great sorrow over house killed in fake encounters.

    Manjeet Kaur , 13 refers to the greatness of India depicted in her text books , but feels that she has discovered the real India now . " The  people of   India do not have even meal to eat. They do not have to clothes to cover their bodies. In the cold weather the children of the poor people suffer..." "Is this our India ?" She exhorts the political leaders to stop making speeches and take some solid steps for the general well-being .

    Some may say that the children's thinking has been influenced by what they have been told by their parents , mass media and politicians , but the children are also experiencing much of what they have expressed, written or depicted .For example Ashu Jain 14, writing about ineffectiveness of the people force in Punjab, comments, "I feel if the police assist, a lot can be achieved. Today the police force, itself, is scared. Take the case of my district. If there is sound of bullets being fired , the police man on duty hide themselves. If this is the condition of the police , what will an ordinary man do?" The children also complain of corruption and nepotism in police.

    While some children blame authorities , others blames God. Gurnam Singh 13 , has this to to God ," I am very sorry to inform you that this beautiful earth made by you has some bad people too who cheat and kill good persons. I want to know why you made such persons . They enjoy themselves and are not caught .Why don't you punish such people?" Many children superimpose their fear on their God .Ravnit Singh ,11, advise Sri Guru Gobind Singh not to reappear because he might be labeled a militant by the government when he raises his voice against tyranny . Bhavna , of class IX , conveys her bitter feelings to God in these words , " I hope you are well , but you are not at all worried about what is taking place on earth. You keep sleeping  the whole day.. I  cannot tolerate it any longer. I want you to take out hatred from the hearts of people and instead develop a feeling of brotherhood."

    Strikingly , the children fear  is over riding concern . Even when they are given general topics in their classes to discuss and write upon , they invariably mention militancy . This is not totally unexpected . Deprivation , rejection and violence cast a gloomy shadow of children . They become spiritually  and mentally handicapped , leave alone academically .Their growth is stunted . Boredom and isolation set in . They became self centered , and experience humiliation and frustration . Eventually , they might get angry and join the general violence and mayhem around. 

    Ms Rama Rattan of the Punjab University Textbook Board has worked with children in Chandigarh and Punjab for the past many years organizing various literary and art competition for them. She feels that the children are deeply hurt and they need our immediate care. Giving the analogy of a bomb blast , she suggests the remedy: "When one bomb blast , hundreds perhaps thousands, are hurt. But when the wounds have to be cleaned and attended to, each wound requires so much care and attention to heal . It is the same with the children affected by militancy . Parents , teachers , relatives and elders should speak to them on different topics . Political games won't help much , but politicians can".

    The prevention of violence is no doubt a multi-dimensional process which requires individuals ,familial and societal changes of substantial proportions. Unfortunately most people accept the notion that violence is an evil aspect of the reality of man. Looking more closely at the genesis of violence , however , we find greed , self-centeredness, prejudice or ignorance as common denominators. Today countless children in Punjab are growing in the circumstances which deny them potential for productive enterprise. By choosing to ignore this human tragedy ,we will be sowing the seeds of even greater tragedy tomorrow.

    Now is the time to act . Each child needs to be given individual attention . Efforts should made to boost the development of children theater , games and other entertainment activities . The parents role in this regard is of crucial importance.           

                                                                                                      By   Anil Sarwal.