It was the year 2005, the second year of Don Bosco Institute, Kharghuli, Guwahati. Two classrooms on level 2 of the building served as the dormitory of the hostellers who numbered around 50. The hostellers were all students who had completed their class X or above, hailing from different states of Northeast India.
One evening, as I was in the computer lab adjacent to the dormitory, I was jolted awake from my concentration by the loud bang of a door. I took it for the carelessness of one of the hostellers. However, soon after, there was another bang, definitely a deliberate act. I immediately rushed out to the corridor from where I could hear angry shouts and much movement from the dormitory. On entering the dormitory, I saw a few boys trying to control their angry companion who was hell bent on beating up another hosteller who had insulted him. The banging of the doors was the result of his chasing the other who had realized his mistake and was trying to escape the clutches of his angry and drunk companion.
The hostellers tried to make their drunk and angry companion understand that the warden (myself) was standing in front of him. Alcohol and anger had dulled his understanding, and he kept repeating that he would finish up the other guy. On enquiry I found that they all had been sitting around, chatting, and that the intended victim had called him a name which in itself was not that insulting but, in the context of the life that that young man, was a serious insult and challenge to his dignity.
The director of the house was absent, and the responsibility fell on me to resolve the situation. There was no other choice, but to isolate the boy who had insulted the other. So, I prevailed upon the neighbouring community to shelter him for the night, since I was afraid that a murder could result if he were not immediately removed from the scene. Together with the hostel assistants (all lay people), we decided that the angry young man would be asked to leave the hostel the following day.
The next morning turned out to be a big surprise for me. The angry young man could remember absolutely nothing of what had transpired the previous evening. I had my doubts about such a statement, but it turned out to be true. The other boy was called back from the neighbouring institution, and I waited for the director who was expected back that afternoon.
“Francis, our mission is especially towards such young men, to help them out of their problems and not merely remove our problem, by sending away the boy. We shall face this challenge by getting the young man to acknowledge what is wrong with him, to apologize to his companion and to the rest of the hostellers for the serious misdemeanour, and to promise to reform himself. At the same time, we shall make the other hostellers understand the meaning and purpose of the different steps of our decision. We will also ask the boy who had insulted him to acknowledge his being responsible in causing a problem that could have mothballed into a major issue for the institute. However, we will ensure that neither of them feel humiliated in front of their companions, nor will the companions mistake our decision for a weakness.” Such was a response of the director that afternoon when I narrated to him all the events of the previous evening.
Accordingly, we called the two boys individually, explained to them our decision and what they would have to say in public in order to resolve fully the issue. Both of them understood whatever was communicated to them, and were willing to follow the directions concerning a pubic apology, etc. That evening, at the end of the evening prayers, the director instructed the hostellers about the problem and how we had planned to solve it; he clearly affirmed that there would be no losers or winners, that there would be no humiliation or sense of shame.
Once the community (hostellers and the others present) was thus prepared, both the young men came forward and apologized and were reconciled to each other, and to the community. The moment of reconciliation thus became a moment of pedagogy for everyone – the hostellers, the hostel assistants and warden, and the other members of the teaching/training staff who had already come to know about the incident of the previous evening.
Reason had prevailed because both the young people understood how quarrels begin and develop, and how they could end up destroying individuals. Loving kindness had prevailed because there was no sense of vindictiveness on the part of anyone, nor a sense of humiliation; because they understood that we were more interested in their well-being than they themselves. Religion had prevailed because we ourselves had prayed for a happy conclusion to the problem; because the moment of apology and forgiveness had been turned into also a moment of prayer by the entire community for the two young people, for the entire group of hostellers, for the institute and for young people in similar problems.
The two youngsters remained on and successfully completed their training programme. They both confided in the director about their problems and, especially the one who felt insulted shared with the director why the name-calling had turned a serious insult to him. DBI, through a concrete application of the preventive system, had shown itself faithful to its motto – building dreams and shaping lives.
Fr. Francis Fernandez sdb, Don Bosco University, Guwahati