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K is for kindness
PETA is teaching young students a thing or two about compassion towards animals. With studies recognising the link between animal abuse and violence, it's a step in the right direction, say psychologists.
Ryan, 10, pelts stray dogs with stones on his walk back ome from school. The main reason - fear, for he doesn't want these dogs to come near him.
Childish curiosity drives nine-yearold Sunita to rob eggs from bird's nests while holidaying in her grandparent's village in Kerala.
Neither Ryan nor Sunita realise that they are inflicting pain on another living creature. And the scary part is that children who are allowed to be violent towards animals often grow up to be violent towards both animals and people, warn sociologists and psychologists.
Puja Mahajan, senior education co-ordinator for PETA (India), says. "In the US, where much of the research into this issue has been conducted, the FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appear in the records of rapists and murderers, " explains PETA-India's 'Compassionate Citizen' program is the India-specific version of PETA's internationally recognised humane-education program - 'Share the World'. Targeted at school children aged 8-12 years, the Compassionate Citizen program is increasingly gaining momentum. The CBSE has recently sent a notification to more than 10, 000 CBSE affiliated schools asking them to integrate this program into the school curricula. It can be integrated in various subjects such as science, social science, environmental studies and moral education or undertaken as stand-alone activities.
Schools have been asked to approach PETA directly for the program material and within days of the notification, as many as 300 CBSE affiliated schools have made these requests. "Teacher Training workshops will soon be planned along with CBSE in the coming year, " adds Mahajan.
The program is not restricted to CBSE schools alone. PETA continues to push the respective State education boards and textbook boards to integrate its program with the curricula. The organisation also works with NGOs such as the Parikrama Humanity Foundation and Akanksha Foundation.
Schools that have already adopted the program are reporting positive results. L. R & S. M. Vissanji Academy, in suburban Mumbai, is affiliated to the ICSE Board. The Compassionate Citizen program was rolled out in 2012, via a workshop followed by regular discussions in the classroom. Shamal Merchant, a teacher, says lessons like not using glass-coated manjhas (kite thread) during Makar Sankranti season are something even 1st and 2nd graders can relate too. "Children are more aware on what to do when they come across an injured bird, " she says.
Class-based activities such as poster contests, skits, talks by guest speakers together with out-of-class initiatives are part and parcel of teaching compassion at D. Y. Patil International, an IB school in Mumbai. A faculty member associated with the Primary Year's Program (PYP) team at this school, says: "We have seen positive changes in students;they brainstorm and evolve strategies for dealing with various issues. " Funds were collected by these students for contributing to an NGO associated with protecting endangered animals. In addition, the faculty acts as role models and staff with parents organised their own collection drive for funding another initiative towards animal welfare.
"Children are aware they are dependent on others and are vulnerable. Thus, they are able to identify themselves with the needs of helpless animals including strays. Teaching compassion, beginning with empathy towards animals proves very effective, " observes a parent.
At Delhi's RK Puram, Delhi Public School, Vithika Rahul, head of psychology department, with her colleagues launched a club Voice Against Animal Mistreatment (VAAM). Students actively participate and have become more sensitive.
Hyderabad-based Prachi Sharma, consultant psychologist (Child rehabilitation ), Lotus Children Hospital, sees compassion lessons as a step in the right direction: "Given today's lifestyle, a person doesn't have the time to stop and empathise with the pain of another - be it another human being or an animal. Grandparents aren't around to inculcate values in children;parents barely have time to spare.
"Thus teaching compassion to school children will help improve their personality. "
Srividya Rajaram, Psychologist, ADIVA Healthcare, Delhi, agrees, but adds a word of caution: "Teaching compassion can help, but a child also learns by observation. Thus, if a child observes domestic violence or sees domestic help being ill-treated, then compassion oriented lessons will lose their impact. "
(Names of children have been changed to protect identities)
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