THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When a higher secondary teacher of a government school in north Kerala was reading out an excerpt from Infosys Foundation chairperson Sudha Murty's anecdote, 'Horegallu', she had no inkling of the mental turmoil that one of her students was going through.
The anecdote, included in the Plus-Two English textbook, narrates how Sudha's grandfather used to listen patiently to the daily life experiences of travellers who took rest on a 'horegallu' (stone bench) on the roadside.
While a brief rest on the stone bench under the banyan tree eased their physical exhaustion, a compassionate ear to their stories refreshed their minds as well. The anecdote also mentions Sudha’s former co-worker, Ratna, who used to listen to the woes of her colleagues but would never reveal any of their secrets to others.
"I hear them out with sympathy and without any judgement. When a person in trouble or under a lot of strain finds an outlet for his worries, it relieves half his burden," Sudha quotes Ratna as saying.
A day after the chapter was taught, the 17-year-old student came to meet the teacher in the staff room and broke down before her. "At first, I could not figure out what he was saying, in between sobs. Then I realised he was trying to narrate a very unpleasant experience in his life," the teacher told The New Indian Express.
Slowly, it emerged that the boy was being sexually abused by a neighbour and the ordeal was slowly taking a toll on his mental wellbeing. "The assault had been going on for many years. The boy had suffered in silence but a point came when he could not suffer any more. Perhaps, the references in the English chapter gave him the courage to ease his mental trauma," the teacher added.
The school authorities quickly alerted the psychosocial counsellor assigned to the institution by the Women and Child Development Department. After a series of counselling sessions and emotional support, the boy revealed the ordeal in detail and also the name of the perpetrator.
Since the boy was found to be in a very disturbed state of mind, arrangements were also made to provide psychiatric sessions for him. "We contacted his parents, who were aware of the incident, but were trying to hush it up. We convinced them of the seriousness of the matter. We then approached the police as it involves sexual abuse and that too of a minor," the District Child Protection Unit officer concerned told The New Indian Express.
She added that an FIR has been lodged and the perpetrator booked under Pocso Act. Dr Jayaprakash R, child psychiatrist at SAT Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram, said it is crucial to instil help-seeking behaviour in adolescents and encourage them to share their experiences with a person whom they trust.
"Not only should such life skills be an integral part of the curriculum, teachers should also be trained in making the initial intervention when adolescents report a problem to them," he added.
(No names have been used nor the school identified in the report to protect the identity of the student)