The fatal push


While we may laud young children doing well in competitions, whether singing, swimming, speaking, acting, we are blind to the enormous pressure brought to bear on them by their parents. This has to qualify as violence and serious abuse, avers Shoma A. Chatterji, as she dissects the depressingly large number of cases of parental abuse.

All stories on domestic violence are focused on girls and women. All issues related to child labour are directed to employers who employ them. What happens when parents, turn into exploiters, abusers and killers? When you next see a child breaking into dimples when she sees her mother walk out of the bathroom and tells her in her lisp that her mother “looks like a little girl”, – “Mummy, aap bilkul little girl lagti ho”, or the advertisement in which two little girls gift their beautiful mother with hair dye, spend a minute to think that at that very minute, given a choice, these children might have been playing with their friends or engaging in naughty pranks instead of sweating under studio lights and missing both school and play.

How long will their song last?
On November 19, 2006, six-year-old Sania of Bhikangaon, Khandwa, created a record by singing continuously for 64 hours to get into the Limca Book of Records. She broke a record set by Indore resident Akanksha Jachak, who sang for 61 hours at a stretch. She sang around 745 songs including devotional and film songs. When asked what drove her to this feat, she said that it was her “strong desire to do something different.” Can a six-year-old think like this?

Indore’s Deepak Gupta sang for 101 hours in Coimbatore, breaking the record that was broken the day before by Sania from Khandwa. Indore’s 15-year-old Akanksha broke this record soon after. Qadir then vowed to reclaim the title by singing for 125 hours. Are they speaking in their own ‘voice’? Or are they pushed by their parents to say all this? Most of these parents wish to glow in the reflected glory of their kids’ performance, with TV cameras flashing on them 24/7. One girl fainted after rolling hundreds of chapattis at one go for umpteen hours and much of this was telecast on a Hindi news channel nationally. Was she an exhibit for the viewers? She had to be hospitalised for the exertion. What parental culpability makes children faint under the pressure of what appears to be ‘voluntary’ performance, but is actually coercion? What is the point in trying to set a dubious record which will be broken weeks later by some other kid forced by his parents to follow suit?

Daisy Irani, once the highest-paid child star in Bollywood, related the terrible experience of her stardom. “My mother would pinch me to make me cry for a scene during a shoot. I was taken out of school after the first two years and never went back. I never saw my money nor did my parents buy me a chocolate bar. The studio hands spoilt me with chocolates to make me face the camera when I turned moody. My mother hardly cared because all she was interested in was the money. Marriage to a much older man gave me the freedom denied to me. I never forced my three kids do something they did not wish to,” she said. The late Baby Naaz, who shot to fame for her brilliant performance in Raj Kapoor’s Boot Polish, said her parents were forever fighting over who was entitled to the money she earned. She went hungry after a gruelling day, which ended at ten or eleven at night. Meena Kumari made her film debut at six, Sridevi at four. Were they old enough to take such decisions? If this is not child abuse by pushy parents, one really does not know what is.

Biswadip Bhattacharjee, a tragic victim of his own father’s abuse

Biswadip Bhattacharjee, a tragic victim of his own father’s abuse

Biswadip Bhattacharjee, 14, collapsed and died on the terrace of his house in a Kolkata suburb while practicing table tennis with his father on January 8, 2007. A week later, Sampali Midya, 20, committed suicide at Bengaluru by jumping off a running train at Tumkur station. Debabrata Roy, 13, a Class VII pupil of Rose Bud School in Ghusury, Howrah, West Bengal, ran away from home after his father scolded and beat him up for spending more time on cricket than on studies.

These three cases are just the tip of a massive iceberg, because many such deaths and abuses go unreported or are sensationalised at that point and then forgotten. Besides, they are representative of a single state – West Bengal. The rest of the country is no exception. The family unit in India is conditioned to keep up pretenses of togetherness, often at the cost of the children. So, no mother of a child being tortured by the father will report it at the local police station. Nor will she approach a counsellor to counsel the entire family that is placed under pressure when one of them is being tortured. The legal statutes offer no provision in our country to protect children from parental pressure, cruelty and abuse.

The tragic stories
Biswadip played table tennis since the age of five and represented the state at various levels. But he failed to satisfy his father, Dipak Bhattacharjee. On the day he died, Biswadip came home after practice at 6.00 in the morning. After a quick breakfast, he was pushed into further practice with his sister Neha, till 10.30. Following this, he was forced to practice with his father. When he missed a return serve, his father threw a plastic object at him. But he continued to play. He fell unconscious at 12.30 pm and by the time they took him to Bangur Hospital, he was dead. The post mortem report revealed a blood clot that could have been caused by an injury from a blunt object or from a rain of blows from the father. Biswadip’s mother Papiya filed a F.I.R. (First Information Report) after the incident based on which, the police arrested Dipak the next day.

Sampali, daughter of a science teacher at Kurmul School in Burdwan, was a student of computer science at Bengaluru’s Alpha Engineering College. She was not doing well in her exams and took her own life because she felt she was failing to meet her father’s expectations. It was her father who wanted her to study engineering and she felt she was not up to it. She explained her failure to rise to her father’s expectations in her suicide note. Debabrata’s father, Rambahadur, a milkman who runs a cowshed in Belur near Kolkata, had high aspirations for his son and wanted him to become a vet one day. He got the son admitted to an English medium school. Asit Sen, inspector-in-charge of Bally police station, said that they had discovered that Debabrata had left home once when he was in Class V. The police said that he ran away now because he wished to avoid pressure from his father.

In their detailed study, The Madness of Modern Families, Meg Sanders and Annie Ashworth have classified pushy parents under different categories, trying to lighten a very serious problem as follows: (a) the Helicopter Mummy who hovers constantly by her child’s side, not allowing him/her out of her sight; (b) the Touchline Dad who is forever nagging his reluctant son to keep working at his football. (c) the Touchline Mom sits by the swimming pool timing the child’s backstroke laps on the stopwatch on her mobile phone; (d) The Eco Mummy keeps herself in a state of constant worry over feeding the kids on “biodynamic falafel and organic mushroom pate; and (e) The Craft Mummy carefully hands her kid a collage of leaves and grasses, not exactly dry, drilling the child to create something aesthetic and utilitarian at the same time.

They have put forth other data that are scary. They add that even normally sensible, well-educated British middle-class parents are resorting to insane measures to outdo other families and give their children an edge over the rest. “From mothers who secretly train at home for the grown-ups’ egg-and-spoon race on school sports day, to those who follow the school bus on its trip to France in case any harm might come to their offspring, parents are taking it to the extreme,” write Sanders and Ashworth. There are parents who play foreign radio stations in the bedrooms of their children so they can learn languages in their sleep. These are not pushy parents. They are violent parents.


Shoma A. Chatterji

Shoma A. Chatterji is a freelance journalist, film scholar and author. She has authored 17 published titles and won the National Award for Best Writing on Cinema, twice. She won the UNFPA-Laadli Media Award, 2010 for ‘commitment to addressing and analysing gender issues’ among many awards. She is currently Senior Research Fellow, ICSSR, Delhi, researching the politics of presentation of working women in post-colonial Bengali cinema 1950 to 2003.

Shoma A. Chatterji