Nothing is more shocking than the violence of children. For any society, children are the embodiment of innocence, free from the wiles and lies of the corrupt, adult world they are yet to enter. Not surprisingly, the murder of a school teacher by a 15-year-old boy in Chennai who was angry at being reprimanded for his poor performance in class has thrown up deeply disquieting questions on parenting, teaching, and social and cultural mores. By all accounts, the teacher did nothing beyond the ordinary routine. After the boy fared badly in the subject she taught, Hindi, she made notes in his school diary to draw the attention of his parents. Students in similar situations do tend to nurse a grudge against the teacher but, in this case, the boy went much further, planning the killing and waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Clearly, the murder was an extraordinary fallout of an everyday situation. What might otherwise have ended in a commonplace student prank against the teacher triggered a shocking, inexplicable act. This is what makes the task of guarding against the recurrence of such violence almost impossible.

Many factors are at play, some of them at larger societal levels that are not easily controllable. Blaming parenting is easy, but this is no more than a way of absolving the rest of society of all responsibility. There is nothing to suggest the boy was brought up in abnormal circumstances; all his siblings have done well for themselves. By locating the murder in the specificity of the circumstances, other problematic issues are brushed under the carpet. Of course, parents bear a greater share of the responsibility for the behaviour of their children, but bad parenting cannot explain all deviant behaviour. While several things are wrong with our education system, including the processes of examination and evaluation, these cannot be understood as major contributors to the violence in schools. Films and other forms of popular culture also have an impact on young minds, but then again, it would be simplistic to relate them directly to real-life violence. The fact is children do not occupy an innocent world of their own; they are very much a part of the nasty, adult universe. At one level, then, the teacher's murder is indicative of a collective failure of society — our schools cannot remain untouched when the world outside is not peaceful, fair and just. But we need also to pursue remedies at the school level itself, including counselling and other early warning systems that can help children cope with the stress and strain of learning.

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