Saturday, February 23, 2013

Social Evils: Adventures of Krishna Mehta in USA

"Bhaiya, my tuition teacher complains that you don't teach everything from the school textbook. He asks: why are you teaching about female infanticide and dowry?"
"My dear child, what's the use knowing about social reformers in your textbook if you don't know understand what social evils are in the first place?"

The Adventures of Krishna Mehta in USA
This is the title that my students wrote in their notebooks at the beginning of the history period. I had initially planned on naming the character as Krishnamurthy Iyer. However, Shruti, (my co-teacher) being South Indian, took offence and I had to think quickly to be in her good books again. It's fictional and any resemblance is purely coincidental.
Krishna Mehta is a conservative Indian who has grown up believing all the social evils like caste system, female infanticide and dowry. He gets a job in America and goes abroad for the first time in his life where his views are challenged through different incidents.

I thought of using a different narrative to make the kids look at these issues from a different perspective without me making any judgement calls on the these practices directly. The plot unfolds like this -
Late on a cold night,  Krishna is lost and stranded. A helpful stranger (NRI) offers to help him out but Krishna refuses and insults him when he finds out that the stranger is from a low caste.
He survives and goes on to fall for a pretty girl. However, his marriage proposal along with his demand for dowry is met with complete shock, anger and insult. He is forced to contemplate about his ideas. He changes himself slightly to return again. However, he is turned down again when he outlines his expectations for a male child and describes female infanticide. Such events only lead to him coming back to India, single and disappointed.

The story is extremely simplified. However, even these ideas were novel. I needed to get the message across to the 5th graders surrounded by superstition and blind beliefs, even in their own homes. Parents of one of the students took him to see the 'mata' because he is extremely weak in studies. Maybe 'mata ke darshan' will change his report card.

What made me extremely angry were the parents of a couple of girls who were made to miss school for 10 days because they started on their menstrual cycle. One mother told me that she had fever (she probably phrased it that way because of my gender – god forbid males should know about menstruation!). Only later did we discover that the girls were ostracized in their own homes. They were kept on a cot in the corner and surrounded by curtains. They ate out of separate plates and couldn't be touched by anyone for a week until some religious ceremony was held. Is this what one would do to a scared, uninformed 11-12 year old who is experiencing something completely natural similar to half of the world? I wanted to storm into the house, defy their conventions and comfort the (possibly) scared little girl. (Fortunately) my co-teachers restrained me. I had a talk with them when they returned. One of them was pretty mature about it and understood the ignorance. For all our teachings, I hope we can ensure that the following generations don't suffer this.

1 comment:

redheadinmumbai said...

Thanks for posting. More importantly, thank you for shining light the best you can in the face of ignorance, both there and for those on the other side of the world.