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Raveen Thukral
State of Affairs

What you don’t know can hurt you

The government must ensure that it reshuffles the top bureaucracy immediately. It will disrupt some of the continuity.

hew, what a fortnight of depressing news! The senseless killing of 296 passengers of MH17 on the Ukraine-Russia border, the rape of a six-year-old girl in a private school, VIBGYOR, in Bangalore, the inhuman treatment meted out to visually challenged minor children by a teacher in a residential school in Andhra Pradesh, the brutal beating of a child by a home tutor in Kolkata and the sheer hooliganism of Shiv Sena MPs at Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi. One can only wish that these sad events had never happened.

In fact all these were avoidable and need not have happened. While I would not like to go into the MH17 shooting, the four events at home are a result of our (read Indians') inherent callous and casual approach to life and our attitude of accepting whatever happens in our lives as our destinies.

Not a believer of statements like "even God cannot stop rapes and crimes", I strongly feel that precaution and care can certainly prevent many such incidents. Had caution been exercised while recruiting teachers at the Bangalore and the Andhra schools and the home tutor in Kolkata, these ugly incidents wouldn't have happened.

The investigations into the Bangalore rape case have revealed that the prime suspect, the skating instructor, is a known paedophile with a shady past. According to the police, they have information that the suspect used to click photographs of children and would also show them obscene videos of children in Whitefield school, from where he was sacked in 2011.

As it turns out, the instructor was hired again at VIBGYOR without any background checks or verifications. I am sure that teachers at the residential school for the visually impaired in Andhra and the home tutor in Kolkata would too have been hired without any checks or verification.

While in India we give little or practically no importance to background checks, they are of utmost importance while hiring people in the West and all organisations follow this. It is said, "When it comes to hiring the right employee, what you don't know can hurt you."

Just to give you an example of how things work there, my younger son, who is studying in Waterloo University in Canada, recently applied for the voluntary mentorship of a Robotics team of a local high school. Even though the work was voluntary and he had all the credentials for being the team mentor, the school conducted his background checks since he was going to spend time with schoolchildren four-five years younger to him.

The background checks included interviews with references provided by him in his application and criminal record verification conducted by the police. It was only after he received the necessary clearances, that he was able to join the Robotics team as its mentor. Incidentally, he had to pay the required fee of $12 for the police verification process from his own pocket.

Similarly, I had to undergo police verification, with my fingerprints being sent to Ottawa for criminal background checks, when I opted for voluntary community service in Caledon (Ontario), where I stayed till recently. In fact, all these checks are mandatory when one's job/work involves dealing with children and the aged. Nothing is left to chance and all possible precautions are taken.

Sadly, in India we do not have any system for effective background verification of individuals. Although, police verification is mandatory for passport applicants, servants and tenants, we all know how these are conducted and how worthwhile they are.

The only possible way to prevent crimes like these is to have an effective system for background checks and verifications and making them mandatory especially for jobs that require dealing with children, aged and the disabled. All recruitments in schools should entail stringent background checks and those dealing with the disabled should even be evaluated psychologically to ascertain their psyche, capabilities and thresholds.

And lastly, we as a society should have zero tolerance to physical violence of any sorts. We don't have to just speak against corporal punishment in schools but practise the same at our homes. We must understand that physical violence is unacceptable in any civilised society and we must raise our voices against it. The day we start believing and practising this, people like the rowdy Shiv Sena MPs will have no excuses to justify their acts of physical abuse.

 
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