Why the Crying Girl Video Haunted Me

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Why the Crying Girl Video Haunted Me

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

M

y mother’s fascination with the cane started when I was about 11 years old. She first laid her hands on one courtesy a generous Catholic neighbour aunty who seemed to have found a solution to all of her son’s antics in the cane. “Arré, just give them a whack of the cane, men,” she told my mother. “All their masti will go in one minute. See Dominic na. Go to the Bandra Fair, nice ones they have re.” Suddenly, the fair didn’t seem as much fun.

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From there on, I was caned for climbing up trees, playing with the boys, coming home late, answering back, fighting with my brother, messing up the house. Basically I was caned pretty much every day. And the cane was just a choice on bad days. On good days, my brother and I got beaten by the broom, chappal, combs, and even cooking ladles that happened to be in the vicinity.

I’ve grown up believing that sparing the rod is spoiling the child and that the politically correct nonsense of “talking through issues with your child patiently” is just a whole lot of bunkum. So when I saw everyone on my timeline posting a video of a crying girl being whacked while being taught maths, accompanied by a 😂 emoji or captions like “Hahahaha” and “Cute AF”, I clicked play. If a bratty kid deserved a good caning, I was all in.

But as the video played, I felt my stomach curl up in fear. By the time I reached the end, I was speechless. I watched it again to see if I’d missed something. Why the fuck were people sharing this? How the fuck was it cute?

In the video, a four-year-old girl, tears streaming down her face, is begging a woman to let her be. The woman, who appears to be her mother, is intent on teaching her numbers. She pleads that she has a headache and an earache, and that she can’t do this but her pleas go unheard. The fear shines on her face. Her response to that fear is to clench her teeth and ramble out the numbers her mother wants to hear. She even begs her mother to be kind when she says, “Pyaar se padhaiye”. But the mother doesn’t listen. There is a slap in between somewhere. The video ends with the child clenching her teeth in frustration and repeating the numbers.

The video of the angry girl didn’t remind me of the beatings of my childhood, but the raw fear on that child’s face reminded me of another time I was hit.

I’ve made my peace with the fact that the internet introduces us to a new low every day. In the name of virality, anything goes, and nothing goes more than cute children gone rogue. We loved the cute little guy who went “Linda, Honey, Listen” with his mother; we loved tiny Noel who accused Batman of messing up his mother’s mirror. And now, we love this video of the crying girl because she looks cute AF in her anger. And we absolutely love everything cute AF on the internet, even if the cute is delivered on the back of debilitating fear or cruelty.  

In nearly 11 years of being caned by my mother I never once felt this kind of fear. What I felt was pain, a smidgen of amusement, and even a bit of sympathy for driving the poor woman up the wall, but I never felt fear. Her caning was never psychological abuse. It just reminded us not to be naughty, to behave ourselves, or justice would be done. In fact my fondest memory of her is one where she’s standing below a wild almond tree, cane in hand and screeching at me, and I’m taunting her in front of my friends, threatening to jump off the tree a la Dharmendra from Sholay. I deserved a caning and I got it.

The video of the angry girl didn’t remind me of the beatings of my childhood, but the raw fear on that child’s face reminded me of another time I was hit. I once forgot my cell phone in the rickshaw, and when I told my husband about it, the casual interrogation started. What were you doing? Were you talking to someone? Did you meet someone? How can you be so lost and careless?

I tried explaining that I obviously hadn’t done it on purpose and didn’t mean to lose my phone. All this while I was preparing breakfast and lunch because I had to leave for work. With every question, his tone started getting angrier and I was trying to wrap my head around two things: One, being stressed about losing my phone, and two, being late for work. When I couldn’t take the questions anymore, I told him politely, that it’s okay, I’ll manage without a phone for a couple of days and will file a police complaint on my way to work. It wasn’t such a big deal.

And just like that, he slapped me. I told him again that it’s not such a big deal and I didn’t deserve being slapped for it. So he slapped me again. And then he dragged me by the hair to the bedroom and punched me in the face.

I didn’t understand where I’d faulted. I didn’t know what was happening but I kept getting hit. After a point I was ready to say whatever he wanted me to say, in whatever tone he wanted it just so the beating would cease.

Every subsequent time that I was hit – because this sort of thing never appears as an isolated incident – I probably had the same fearful and pleading expression that I saw on the face of the crying girl. When she barks out the numbers and agrees with whatever her mother is saying, all she wants is for the torture to stop. Yes that is a 3. That is whatever you want it to be. Just stop doing this to me.

The upside of being an adult, though, is that you can speak for yourself and ask for help. I did too. When it happened to me, I reached out and asked for help. It was my mother who saved me.  

When does corporal punishment go from an act of disciplining to a gross violation of a child’s rights? The answer is when fear is being perpetuated, not love. The crying girl video brought back hurtful memories of my domestic violence episodes as an adult. The frustration of the mother upon not getting a desired answer reminded me of a tone I’ve taken years to forget.

I feel anxious each time someone shares the video on my timeline because what they’re doing is condoning this fear and validating its existence. So what if the child is scared? It’s only her mother doing the beating, isn’t it?

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