India Shaken by School Violence

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

NEW DELHI, Feb. 12 -- Two fatal shootings and a stabbing in Indian schools have rattled parents and teachers here, forcing India to confront an issue it had previously known mainly through TV news footage from the United States.

While school violence remains rare in India, three attacks since December have led to calls for increased security in schools and for broader control of the more than 32 million guns in civilian hands in India. Television images of terrified children crying in hallways after bloody student-on-student attacks have helped drive the concern.

The most recent attack occurred Monday, when an eighth-grader stabbed an 11th-grader in the shoulder and chest at Central School No. 1, a government school in New Delhi, police said.

The victim, a boy named Rahul, said he was trying to break up a fight. "Some kids were fighting and I just went there to stop them. Suddenly one of them . . . turned around and stabbed me even before I could realize," said Rahul, wrapped in gauze bandage, on the NDTV news channel. He underwent minor surgery.

In December, a 14-year-old boy was fatally shot by two other boys in a hallway of the upscale Euro International School in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi, police reported.

In a replay of that crime, a 15-year-old student at a government school in the state of Madhya Pradesh was shot dead by a 17-year-old classmate in January. Police said the assailant used a homemade handgun.

"I think we now know that this has reached a critical point and we can't wait for the next act to start helping our kids," said Sameer Malhotra, head of psychiatry at Fortis Hospital, one of the capital's best medical centers. Malhotra is starting anger management workshops in schools focusing on the difference between assertion and aggression.

"I think it's time to go deep and start talking to the students about what is disturbing them and the right way to handle it," Malhotra said. "We live in a different world today and sometimes the human touch is lacking. We are losing our empathy and need to have more moral-based education in Indian schools."

Firearms, including AK-47 assault rifles, can be purchased in Indian street markets. According to the Small Arms Survey, a research group in Geneva, civilians here possess between 32 million and 60 million firearms, second only to the United States in number.

In terms of guns per 100 people, however, India ranks far down the list -- there are at least 83 guns per 100 people in the United States, the group estimates, compared with at least three per 100 in India.

Police blame the shooting in Gurgaon on both lack of security in the school and a failure by parents and school leaders to get through to a group of eighth-grade boys who had been feuding for days.

The principal had recommended meditation and called the parents, according to media accounts. But one of the boys sneaked his father's gun into the school, wrapped in a sock.

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