A Murderer at the Age Fifteen. Shouldn’t We Be Concerned?

May 18, 2012

Asia, India



We don’t need no education

Lots of hazards in the classroom!!

-Pink Floyd


Years ago this song was banned in the US where the youth were revolting against the stringent and authoritative dictates of teachers and the stifling atmosphere in classrooms. The rejection of teachers and this kind of teaching had the threat of crippling the education system in the US back then. Years down the line whenIndiais growing at such a rapid pace, classrooms have become the mirror of these changes. The new teaching methodology, in some instances, seem to totally discard the stress these children carry on their shoulders from their homes to school everyday.


When the newspapers were bombarded with the news of a 15-year old boy stabbing his Hindi teacher to death in a classroom in Chennai’s St. Mary’sAnglo-Indian Higher Secondary Schooljust a month ago, the world talked about the goodness of Uma Maheshwari, the 41- year old woman who taught Science and Hindi for classes 9 and 10. The teacher fraternity pointed their accusing fingers at the student community and were heard saying-“Why should she be punished for trying to do the best for her students?” The boy had stabbed her first in the neck, then thrice more in the chest and abdomen. The boy had carried the knife for three days but had found his teacher alone only on that fateful day. The question on everyone’s mind was spoken aloud by one student from the same school, “I don’t understand why the boy would have such hatred for her?” To the people who knew Uma Maheshwari in her neighbourhood or who taught alongside with her in the same school, Uma was  a gentle person who kept to herself and did not speak much to others unless necessary. In fact, a Times of India article carried her neighbour’s version of how reserved she had been, and how she didn’t invite any attention to herself and that she was seldom seen outside her house. At school she had a reputation of being a dedicated teacher who took interest in keeping parents informed of their children’s progress. The teachers went on ahead with their one-sided opinion-“It seems like we cannot try to direct students on the right path anymore.”


A simple murder story or so it appears at first glance with the boy at fault. Perhaps it’s the times we live in where children are more exposed to violence, through TV and video games. When reporters reached the boy’s neighbourhood, a contrast to this was found on ground. Many of the arrested student’s school mates and neighbours could not believe that he could commit such a crime. Neighbours tell that the boy was rarely seen outside his house and had very little interaction with the outside world. “He goes to school by car and returns in the same car or sometimes in an auto rickshaw,” a neighbour laments. Workers at a small mill opposite his house said they have seen the boy a few times on the terrace of his building and that he minds his own business and steps out only with his mother. The owner of a departmental store in the locality said that the boy bought some chocolates from his shop a day before the murder- “There was no sign of aggression in him. He doesn’t fight with anyone. In fact, he doesn’t even talk to other children in the neighbourhood.”


If opinions were to be taken into account to judge a person’s ability to kill another person, the people’s opinion of the boy certainly doesn’t indicate he was a murderer. So what went wrong here? The boy told the police that he killed her because she had been strict with him. And that he was under pressure after the teacher repeatedly sent adverse remarks to his parents. The juvenile offender was worried that he would not be promoted to class 10. He was upset that his teacher kept complaining to his father about his under performance in Hindi. His father had met the teacher three days before the murder.


If the number of crime and instances of violent behaviour among school children is on rise, it’s time we take stalk of the situation and attribute it to the change in our society, not these children. Many a times it has been found that the seemingly aggressive child had been witness to domestic violence or subject to severe punishment at home. Psychiatrists report an increase in the number of children coming to them with ‘agitated depression’. Parents are so busy in our times that they fail to notice changes in their children’s behaviour. Children are no longer entitled to play time after school where they are whisked off to their lonely homes to sit in front of the TV under the paid eye of a chaperon. There is no one at home to share about their concerns and issues let alone help them solve it. With no play, no interaction with the outside world, alone to fend for themselves, exposed to the violence on TV  and media, and a young mind incapable of communicating and reaching out for help, a wavering judgement of what is right and wrong in the absence of parental guidance, a child succumbs and turns into an ‘aggressor’ effortlessly. “In most cases of violent behaviour of children in school it has been found that the problem is generated at home and children end up venting their frustration in schools,” said Dr Seema Hingorrany, a Mumbai based psychiatrist.


Perhaps this boy had very little time with his parents at home. Perhaps there was a kind of conflict at home and any reprimand from school aggravated this situation. Perhaps his parents beat him and had high academic expectations from him. Perhaps he was depressed and lived a lonely life. He could have even been suicidal. Insecure, unsure, confused, depressed, unattented, lonely. Now think about this boy going to school from this house and meets a harsh teacher who ridicules him for lagging behind in Hindi which is tough to master for any South-Indian. Think of the tension, the humiliation and the pressure he might have been subject to. Perhaps at one point he might have not even wanted to go to school thinking about what he would face everyday. Think about the loss of peace when the matter was escalated to his parents. What might have happened when he got home everyday. Whatever happened to this boy following that was big enough and major enough in his life to finally make him go and buy a knife costing Rs 20 to end his agony.


Life might have gone ahead by leaps and bounds, advancement in technology, economies and our life styles might have kept pace but our children are still unable to cope with the demands of this metamorphosis. Let us help them in this process. Let us see each disciplinary issue with a child at school as a case study and understand the underlying reasons for it. Let classrooms be a place where children would want to come everyday not for studies alone but for a kind of understanding and support they seem to no longer get from their homes.


A teacher lost her life. But the boy lost something too that day in school- his childhood, which was supposed to have been guided, educated and nurtured. It’s not easy to carry the label of a murderer, at least from a tender age of fifteen.



~Penned down by~

Urmila Chanam

E-mail- urmila.chanam@gmail.com

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