23 May 2012

When students are tried and convicted by innuendo…

A couple of days ago a young rugby player died under tragic circumstances.  Wasim Thajudeen was just 28 years old.  His parents were naturally distraught.  His father, M. Thajudeen captured it all thus: ‘We never thought this would happen.  Now he has left us forever.  He took with him all our hopes.’ 
That’s what children are to parents.  Everything.  And this is why parents try to give their children everything possible.  They want the best for their children and are thrilled when their children come out best in whatever they do.  It is therefore tempting for parents to tweak the rules, pull a string here and there, even if only to get their child on the inside track in the matter of shining.

It’s a two-way street.  There are givers and there are takers.  It happens from Grade I, where teachers expect to be gifted and parents don’t dare refuse fearing that the ‘aggrieved’ teacher might exact retribution from their child, either through punishment or neglect.
Interference is wrong.  Promoting it is also wrong.  It hurts more than helps in the longer race called life.   And yet, we see this happening all the time, especially in sports.  It is particularly evident in the big-name schools and the glamour sports such as cricket and rugby.  Coaches are approached.  Teachers in charge are befriended and offered gifts.  When relevant, the old boys’/girls’ network is employed to obtain edge, be it in getting the child and opportunity, a place in the team or lenience during a run of poor form.

Needless to say those with the cash and the right connections have a better chance at promoting their children than those who don’t.  What is pernicious about that way of thinking and being is that if getting preferential treatment for the child fails, the focus changes to tripping his/her competitors.  That road quickly meets a destination called ‘anything is fair’ and there is no end to malice and foul play.  
The last few weeks, for example, saw a slew of ‘opinion’ pieces in several newspapers castigating a school, its authorities and rugby players for alleged misconduct.  They were all written in insinuation-language which fools no one but provides both newspaper and author a splendid cover.  If someone objects, they can say ‘well, we didn’t directly mention your school, so why are you getting upset?’  They could say ‘if the cap fits….’ and let the silence thereafter silence the objector. 

The target, let’s be open about it, was Royal College.  The reference to the school colours (blue and gold), clever play on the name of key players, pointing to of specific and identifiable rugby moments left no room for speculation on the matter.  The Lankadeepa (May 10 and 11), Mawbima (May 10 and 11), Ravaya (May 13), Daily Mirror (May 9, 11 and 15) carried author-less comments on the subject.  The accused do not have right of reply because the accusation is implied. Deliberately.  There are no reliable sources, only reference to ‘parents’ or ‘old boys’.   No tangible evidence. No effort evident in verifying the story.  The far-fetched character of the accusation has not raised eyebrows.  It’s trial and conviction by innuendo and insinuation. Trial and conviction in absentia.   Great journalism! 
I can say that all the parents of all the students in the rugby pool insisted that nothing of the kinds of incidents mentioned ever took place.  They have stated as much in an all-signed document.  End of story?  Sadly, no.

First of all, as long as editorial authorities are lax and unconcerned about the possible scars on the minds and hearts of the wrongly accused, and as long as ill-intentioned forces need to get their kicks by slinging mud from behind the solid screen of anonymity, these kinds of missives will get delivered to newspapers and will get published.
Then there is the impact.  The intended or unintended victim of slander in cases such as this is the student.  Right or wrong, the student is a minor, and for all the brawn and toughness of a rugby player, he remains a child, prone to error and indiscretion and requiring advice and compassion, even when wrong and deserving punishment.  And when blamelessness is abundantly clear the wrongdoing of these anonymous authors appears that much more pernicious and even perverse. 

Royal College is not blameless when it comes to the interference of the influential in matters such as getting a child into a team or being lenient on those guilty of indiscipline.  Few schools are, in fact.   In this case, however, the charge sheet is little better than an ill-worded, malice-ridden scurrilous pamphlet.  It is easy to tell the boys, ‘get on with the game, never mind these distractions,’ but lies have a way of acquiring lives of their own as was evident in a recent rugger match where insinuation manifested itself as a couple of prominent banners.  The movers and shakers might have got a laugh out of it, but those who helped set this nasty ball rolling should hang their heads in shame.   
Parents love their children.  They can love too much.  They can love to the point of willing bad things on those they believe are their children’s competitors.  One can only hope that these moves help mould character in the innocent victims.  One cannot think of kind things to say about the whisperers and their benefactors in newspapers.

[First published in 'The Nation,' May 20, 2012