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Business Standard: Confessions in catharsis

Most ideas espouse violence. Students want vigilante justice, not the usual parade of the law, to amend for the brutal crime in Delhi at the close of last year. None of them refer to issues of law and justice

Master of Business Administration (MBA) entrance exams are divided into the written (objective-type math and English questions) and the personality assessment stages (group discussion and personal interview). The Xavier aptitude test (XAT), the admission test for Xavier Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur, has an additional essay component in the written exam. This changes the dynamic somewhat because, students exclaim embarrassingly, the last time they wrote anything longer than a sentence was in school.

The essay’s duration is 20 minutes during which one has to write some 300 words on a moral conundrum, this being a Catholic institution. Past topics indicate a strong stress on sustainable living (“Economic growth without environmental damage – mirage or reality”) and the moral life (“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed”).

Today’s class is for essay preparation. In spite of the furrowed brows, students have little choice but to write something – anything – on the topic: “India: No country for women”. I tell them not to worry about the essay structure, but simply put to paper what comes to mind. The embellishing can come later.

They get to work. This is a fiery subject and holds special resonance for them. This particular batch consists of students from the same commerce college, and it is hard work on most days to get them to put aside their fabulous rapport and concentrate on what’s being taught. On more than one occasion, I have found them giggling over some shared secret or confabulation on the next college event as my eye was turned elsewhere.

But today, they are deep into the exercise. They rub their faces and run fingers through their hair, bringing forth the full weight of their anger to bear upon the words that are forming before them. They write furiously, the ideas forming on their lips before they are committed to paper.

After they are done, I ask them to read their pieces one by one. One girl begins: “India is our motherland yet we treat her women with the most shocking disrespect...” Later, a boy reads: “Is there a serious problem with Indian men that they look at women as objects for consumption?” Another one says: “I wish I could do something with my own hands to the rapists who violate a woman’s dignity.”

Most ideas espouse violence. Students want vigilante justice, not the usual parade of the law, to amend for the brutal crime in Delhi at the close of last year. None of them refer to issues of law and justice. To them, any foray into such matters is a breach of the solemn pledge not to back down.

I ask them to relax. I say I understand why they are angry but they must maintain perspective. I am preparing them for an essay, and it is important for them to look at every aspect of the topic. If they refrain from looking at the larger social, legal and punitive factors, their essays will be incomplete, even though they will be deeply felt.

One girl who has been raising her hand repeatedly to get a chance to speak, asks to read her essay. She says: “What happened in Delhi defies all tenets of society. Any rape is wrong, but when it is perpetrated by someone known to the victim, at least there is a connection, something, and therefore, it is easier to achieve closure. But what those monsters did to an innocent girl on that night is inexplicable, and reaches the deepest pit of all possible evil...”

She breaks down. The tears flow fast but she refuses to budge. She is visibly anguished but she does not stop: “I wish for once I were in a country where the darned law wasn’t so deliberative...” Her anguish transfixes us. Her friend puts a hand on her shoulder but she does not relent. She reads on, her words turning bitter and more furious.

We all look at her shocked not because she continues reading in spite of the tears, but because her pain is so obvious and personal. This is a moment of truth. As an instructor, it is incumbent upon me to conduct the class, so that matters proceed in a certain direction, viz, improving my students’ chances at cracking the MBA entrance test. Even when I see anger and pain, I must maintain a calm exterior and critique their writing for what it lacks.

But today I cannot. I can’t bring myself to ask my student, this young girl almost the same age as the Delhi gang-rape victim, to stop. The moment is beyond me, beyond all of us, beyond even she who is uttering her words with sturdy determination. It’s beyond coming out tops in an exam or improving one’s writing skills. It’s a moment that must live itself out, in the hope that it will issue clarity to us and help us, strangers to the one who lost her life, reach a degree of catharsis.

The author has switched too many jobs in the past and hopes he can hold down this one

First Published: Fri, February 22 2013. 21:38 IST