Nothing is worth giving up your life for
Zeenat apa and Hasna Hena apa -- both direct teachers of mine -- did not deserve the disrespect and punishment they’d been subjected to just because they went by the books to implement what is clearly stated in the rules.
The world is now questioning their decision, asking why they weren’t kinder, why they didn’t know that Aritry must have been going through a hard time. But how many are asking whether it is physically possible for a teacher to know every single student out of a class size of 80 on a one-to-one basis? How was Hasna Hena to know that Aritry was in a vulnerable state when her own parents had no anticipation of what was going through the little girl’s mind?
If this incident leads to silencing teachers, making them afraid to teach, we should be worried. In our society, teachers don’t get the respect they deserve, as is. If bad experiences with teachers make abusive teachers take a step back to contemplate their own personalities, then that is, of course, a win. But if it leads to generalizations and quick judgments, then that is a dangerous turn.
If students with bad experiences are bringing all our teachers under the microscope, it’s the responsibility of us lucky ones to step up for the teachers who helped shape who we are today.
The scariest thing is that there really are truly cruel teachers out there, teachers who are abusive and teachers who do not deserve to be teachers. They are the ones we should be filtering out, to make sure that they don’t get to harm our children anymore. Our stand should be against them, not against teachers like Hasna Hena.
We’re all responsible, each and every one of us. We are to blame when we silently watch our parents scold our little siblings for not getting as good grades as us. We are to blame when we, as mothers or fathers, sit silently when the neighbour woman asks our child why he or she is not doing anything, not getting a job, not giving BCS.
Aritry’s identity isn’t that she killed herself, it isn’t that she cheated. She was a victim of the pressure that we have put on little girls and boys since forever. If we are to start looking for who to blame for that pressure robbing these kids of their childhoods, then most parents, teachers, almost all of us, would be behind bars. Aritry shouldn’t have had to give her life for us to become concerned.
But if all this ends in everyone bullying another ninth grader because of wanting to have a voice in electing the head of her school, then Aritry has died in vain. If, however, we think about constructive ways to change the horror our children go through, then Aritry will be a name all of us will remember through time for awakening a society.
Go to your child and tell them that getting full marks isn’t the most important thing, that submitting an empty script is better than trying to cheat to get marks, that honesty is more important than academic excellence. There are steps we can take in the here and now.
Nobody else has to know except for the student, the teacher, and the parents. When a child fails, instead of reprimanding them, let’s help them overcome the barriers to his/her learning. Let’s give teachers the scope and platform to invest more time in struggling children, and let’s hold a teacher as accountable as the student when the student fails.
Most importantly, let’s make sure that children don’t think their only worth is when they are doing well in their studies.
Somehow, I feel that Aritry wasn’t only thinking about the insult of her parents when she decided to take her life. She must have felt like she had no other way out, like what she had done would make her less of a daughter to her parents, less of a student to her teachers. I don’t know, of course. All I know is that it is now more important than ever that we teach our children to value their life over anything and everything.
The world is a harsh place. We’ve got to make sure our children know that nobody can say anything or do anything that will make their life not worth living. Counselling, school counsellors, are all good ideas, but I worry about how effective these steps will be unless we first change our mindsets.
Don’t let Aritry’s death be in vain.
This is a follow-up to the op-ed “Minding our mindset” published in the Dhaka Tribune on December 26, 2018.
Rubaiya Murshed is a lecturer for the Department of Economics at the University of Dhaka.