Poisonous Pedagogy: Cruelty in the Name of Love

Sibte Hasan  

“The main psychological mechanism that operates in all child abuse involves using children as what I have termed poison containers … the parent injects his or her bad feelings into the child and uses it to cleanse his or herself of depression and anger. ”(De-Meuse, the author of ‘History of Childhood’)  

This is a true story of a girl. She was nine years old. Her name was Zara. She was frail and looked quite younger for her age because of mal-nutrition. She looked pale but had delicate features. Just one look at her would give you a feeling that she was very sensitive, and intelligent. She would always speak less.

One day, she had the hallucinations of a ghost. While sitting with her family she watched this ghost sitting in a corner and staring at her. She started screaming and ran for shelter. This would happen twice or thrice in a week. Her father was a carpenter. He left going out for work. If he was not around, she would scream and run out of her home. In this state of dread, she would not allow her mother to even touch her. Her family took her to soul healers to exorcise evil eye and spirit, but to no avail.

After this experience, she had become quiet. Earlier, she was a normal child; very naughty and full of life. Now, she would stay aloof from her brothers and sisters. She never felt comfortable at home or at school. She always preferred staying at her maternal grandmother’s home. Her maternal grandmother was very loving and always kind to her.

Changes in Zara’s life started after her mother pushed her to do domestic work when she was hardly five. She would get up early in the morning. After saying morning prayers, she helped her mother. After school, she would go to a lady to learn sewing. Being the elder sister, she had to look after the needs of her brother. Her brother always behaved with her as if she was his slave. If she complained, her mother would always defend her son and cursed her instead. Her mother aspired to make her a dutiful daughter and ultimately a dutiful wife. Her mother was all the time after her and instructing her to dress properly to maintain her modesty even at that tender age.

At school, in the early classes, the teacher was very nice to her and Zara would always present a flower to her in the morning from wherever she could find. After taking the flower, the teacher would give her a big hug and give her a kiss on forehead. When she was in class III, a new teacher started teaching her. This teacher was very rude to children, including her. She always tried to humiliate students on one pretext or the other. Zara felt helpless and started behaving submissively, to avoid any punishment.

After a few months, Zara started having nightmares again.

Two ugly women had started appearing in her dreams. They were wearing black clothes and chasing her. She tried to flee but these women always got hold of her. One woman would bring Zara’s face closer to her face. Zara would become numb with fear, and scream in a loud hoarse voice. This shriek would escape her dream and her father would also listen to this, lying beside her. Zara would be shivering and bathed in perspiration. Sometimes these ugly faces would follow her. She would run desperately in one direction and after sometime would look back to ensure that she was safe.  And she would find these faces right in front of her and their bodies had been stretched to the place where she started running.

After few weeks, she had stopped seeing ugly women in her dreams. Then, a headless spectre dressed in female clothes, holding a big shining dagger in one hand had started appearing in her dreams. Spectre would follow her in dreams. She would run from one room to another to save her life. At last she would fall down. The spectre would approach her and would try to kill her. She would drag herself into a corner and felt helpless. She would shiver like a dry leaf and a dreadful scream would come out of her throat as if she was being slaughtered.

Zara’s dread represents her suppressing environment in which two women, her mother and her second teacher are the main players. In reality, both are the unpleasant characters in her life, though she was not allowed to utter it publicly.  These women have shattered her being to the core by inflicting emotional pains. Whatever these women are doing is fully in line with the socially accepted norms, rather they are fulfilling their traditional role by making her a dutiful daughter and a submissive wife. Zara did retaliate with anger and questioned whatever was meted out to her in real life before these two perpetrators of pains. Nobody took it seriously and brushed it aside thinking that both her mother and teacher had undergone the same process of humiliation when they were brought up by their mothers. They themselves also retaliated but their mothers silenced them by saying that after all this was ultimately in their good and they would sail comfortably with their in-laws and in the life prescribed for them. When pains of Zara were not heeded to, these were repressed unto her unconscious. Then, her tormentors had started appearing in hallucination or in dreams. In the beginning of this trauma, two ugly women were tormenting her and then the perpetrator became headless. This shift happened because earlier she could identify her tormentors but later on when this trauma went deeper and completely possessed her, she could not identify her tormentors. Identity needs a face. Identifying perpetrators also requires a face but if it becomes overwhelmingly mysterious then face is not required. Perpetrator becomes faceless.

There is no doubt that Zara has the potentialities to become a bright human being but she is being crushed into a social mould ruthlessly by inflicting violence by none other than her own mother and her teacher. Once mothers and teachers were victims of their tradition, now being in commanding position, they themselves have become perpetrators of the same violence inflicted upon them. The traditional relationship between mother and daughter does not contribute into making them both independent beings. Mother in this perspective is an agent of trans-generational agenda of producing dutiful daughters and sexual slaves as wives. Hence, home becomes a place of oppression and production of ‘suitable individuals’. Mothers and daughter are at the same time victims of this oppression. If a daughter slightly deviates from this agenda by trying to assert her will, she would brutally be killed by her own mother. So this superstructure of oppression does not tolerate any deviation and through an in-built system of self-preservation, it gets rid of its deviants by the people whom the victim considers his/her loved ones. This trans-generational cruelty is perpetrated in the name of love by the ‘loved ones’.

[This is a true story. Zara lives in Lahore and she is now sixteen. She does not like mingling with people and remains all the time to herself. Still, whenever she watches something shining or black, she feels frightened. Still, she does not feel comfortable in the presence of her mother.]

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