An apology to Monali Mahala.

suicide-noteMonali is the name of the fifteen year old girl who committed suicide in Bengaluru yesterday.She chose to take such a drastic step  because she was suspended from school for inappropriate behavior. The behavior that was so labelled, included apparent PDA with a boy in school whom she was warned against earlier.

Almost every single day in my practice, I see Monalis of varying age groups and backgrounds, but brought for counseling with similar problems. That they were on varying levels of intimacy with boys of questionable reputations, and excessive usage of mobile phones. The parents are angry, defensive and would have tried everything in the book from scolding to physical abuse to emotional blackmail till nothing works and they decide to try counseling as the last resort. Schools take to vigorous punishments, strict rules, dress codes, lectures and seminars proclaiming the importance of our RICH Indian tradition which does not accept such interactions (but by the way, somehow chanced upon the kamasutra!) and many more such ‘disciplinary’ measures.

Whenever I read newspaper reports of such incidents or watch the Breaking News on prime time, I always wonder why we do not try to understand how such drastic rules came to be a part of schools in this age and time? After all, teenage crushes did not originate in this generation, and have been persisting from the time I remember going to school and probably earlier too. And handling such situations should have got better by practice and with time. Just like how we learn to deal with an irritating co worker or a pestering relative. You worry, you try but finally accept and get used to them and hopefully handle them with just the right amount of maturity. Why hasn’t that happened with such situations?

The most common answer that I get for such a question is that children now, are very precocious.That they would not think twice before taking the relationship further(by which I mean, to the physical intimacy level) and lose track of studies. True, but this again is something you have to accept,get used to and change slow and steady. With the right amount of concern and finesse. By trial and error. By guiding rather than pushing. By asking rather than assuming (the worst).Just the way we got used to any new change like the television, internet, cell phones and globalization, which we have no qualms about embracing, but needed trial and error to tell how much of it was just right. Not by bull dozing our concerns as didactic rules.

Whenever I have interacted with  teachers of children with behavioral problems, the primary emotion the most teachers express is one of fear rather than care.Fear that if something goes wrong, the responsibility will land squarely on their shoulders! The reason for this is the change in quite a few parents’ behavior whenever something is not happening as per their expectations. From issues such as not doing well in academics, to having bad friends to falling in love and elopement -all of which become the school’s responsibility. When parents do find fault, then often do it vociferously and drag the media along, who add a generous dose of sensationalism to the whole deal. And they are often looking to put the blame squarely on any one person’s shoulder. The person whom the complaint is against-which most often is the teacher or the school. I am sure, if the teacher in the above incident was asked why she/ he dealt out such an illogical or unwarranted punishment, this is probably the reason they would give you. It is NOT that I support what the school has done, but rather than just blaming the school, I think we should find out solutions so that this this does not happen again.Because after a while, Monali’s memory may fade, but the illogical rules will remain.

We live in confused times. We teach our kids to feel free to make friendships, but worry if they do make friends with the opposite sex; we teach them that they can share everything with us but become judgmental if they do share something which does not belong to our school of thought; we show them movies(and also often watch enthusiastically alongside) of how a couple goes against the world, falls in love and gets married to live happily ever after, but do not allow them the same yardstick to choose their spouse. We still do not discuss sexuality or growing up freely in our households. Instead, we spy on our children and give veiled warnings of what they would face in case of a bad grade or a bad boyfriend or both! Sex education gets a negative connotation, and hence, schools are wary of practicing it. We do not have clear cut reasoning to define why we are enforcing certain rules or the validity of it. Like why girls and boys are made to sit separately in high school or how banning girls from entering college libraries (as in Aligarh Muslim University) will prevent inappropriate behavior and increase grades!

There are hardly any school counselors whom the child can open up to, and most are worried whether discussing their love life with a counselor would actually be wise. Just this morning, an article in ‘The Hindu’, discussed the constraints students face when talking to school counselors. A girl who went to the counselor for sadness due to a fight with her boyfriend was advised by the counselor to concentrate on her studies instead. The irony of this was that, the girl had in the first place consulted the counselor because she was not able to study due to her depression!

In such a scenario, it is but natural that the schools (as in Monali’s case), parents(as in Aarushi Talwar’s case) and children themselves(scores of Monalis who grow up in confusion) over react to situations which are a part of a natural growing phase.

Until and unless  we think of a comprehensive system where we as parents, learn to communicate without inhibitions with our children; teachers and schools first respect and care for their children before becoming judgmental about them; the system and the government realize that any amount of drilling about Indian tradition would not curb hormonal development, movies stop showing unrealistic romanticized versions of teenage life and the media becomes responsible rather than sensational, we may end up losing many more Monalis for no fault of theirs.

Sorry Monali, we owe you bad! Sorry that we as a society, were so confused, that we could not save you! RIP.

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6 thoughts on “An apology to Monali Mahala.

  1. World Traveler January 24, 2015 / 12:35 pm

    Well said Preethi. I totally agree with you. The feelings of innocent mind need to be addressed sensitively. Rather than judging right or wrong parents as well as schools need to understand the consequence from emotional perspective too. Life is precious….RIP Monali.


    • preethishanbhag January 24, 2015 / 6:34 pm

      Thanks for responding. Just want kids to grow happy and grow up to be good humans!


  2. usha P.S. January 27, 2015 / 10:15 am

    Preethi, we had very hot discussions with my friends and relatives on Monalli topic.In everyone opinion the teachers were very strict, but I don’t agree with them. In school if they allowed one student behave badly the others will follow.The mistake they have done is they have not handled the situation properly.They should have informed the parents and proper counseling would have helped .I wish all the parents and teachers learn from this mistake .


    • preethishanbhag January 27, 2015 / 11:54 am

      You are right. All bad behaviors do not have the same reason. And in this case the behavior, was not even probably in the purview of wrong/bad. As you said, hope we learn from such mistakes. Thanks for responding.


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