Last week, during a conversation with a senior colleague, I remembered Father Gatti, our vice-principal in the primary section in the 70s. Father Gatti was a huge man or at least in those days, seemed huge to us rat-like kids. He also had a big, fleshy hand with thick fingers, whose marks on our visages were our rite of passage – if he caught us breaking rules, he would slap us right across our faces and “brand” us. This was the one big scare that kept us in our places and we celebrated when we left the building to go to the secondary school as only kids can in their innate insularity and selfishness can.
Many of our teachers used to hit or pinch us and except for one physical training (PT) teacher who did it out of some innate sadism, the rest would use their hands only when aggravated beyond their control. And guess what…we all turned out fine despite all this so-called physical “abuse”.
Yet today, Father Gatti and other “strict” teachers could be arrested. Or the parents of the “hit” kids may stage dharnas outside the school or the principal’s office asking for action to be taken against them. And one or more newspapers might write about these “mis”deeds as well.
As a kid, I was supposed to be quite naughty and was slapped quite a few times by my parents, when I did something really out of line. I have no angst about this! Theoretically, I still believe that it is not a bad idea to whack one’s kids when they disobey or are out of control…yet when there are times that require my twins to be given a few tight ones, neither of us can bring ourselves to do so…and it is not because we fear reprisals from the authorities or the police.
From my parents and Father Gatti to us…there has been a complete generational change of attitudes…to the extent that when I showed this piece to my wife, she was worried that it might sully Father Gatti’s and the school’s reputation, while in reality, in those days, a good school was one that used whatever it took to keep students in line…and parents hardly ever interfered…on the contrary they usually agreed with the school’s disciplinary methods.
I don’t know whether this shift is for the better or for the worse. I know that child psychologists and developmental and learning experts have their theories all worked out on why physical violence is unacceptable and can scar a kid for life, etc…but there is a difference between disciplining your kid once in a while and hitting your kid regularly for no reason. Unfortunately, this line can get blurred and instead of allowing parents to intelligently figure out those boundaries for themselves, we have managed to convince ourselves as a society that adult parents do not have the brains to do so and that the best possible solution is to ensure that no one every hits a child come what may, and to then get these rules enforced with as much zero-tolerance as possible, including involving the police.
Seriously! Instead of fighting crime and controlling the non-compliance of traffic rules, the police is now bothered about people holding hands on promenades or playing cards in gymkhanas and parents and teachers slapping their children.
But I guess, if we have asked to be treated like idiots, we must now bear the cross!
PS: If anyone does know what happened to Father Gatti after the mid-70s, please do email in!