Sunday, March 11, 2012

Here a slap, there a slap, everywhere a slap-slap

I got off lightly. I mostly suffered communal slaps. When I say ‘communal’, I mean it was a community experience. The whole class would be lined up and the principal would deliver a slap on each cheek, one after the other. Thwack! Thwack! Next, thwack!

Eventually, my mother cited CBSE rules and put a stop to thwacking once she took charge of the school. But by then, a whole generation had grown accustomed to violence, brushing it off as part of a normal schooling. So I, for one, wasn’t surprised at the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) survey, which shows 75% of students are caned and 69% slapped. An older study by Saath Charitable Trust also found that in most schools surveyed, teachers carried a stick, or kept one in plain view.

I’ve been shocked, though, at the severity of punishments as reported in newspapers. A history teacher makes three little girls hold fire. A 3rd standard girl beaten for not shutting her eyes. A principal beating up a 10th grade student for scribbling farewell messages on friends’ uniforms. Student losing his eyesight after being beaten for forgetting a book!

This isn’t discipline. It’s torture. Perhaps I’m doubly horrified now that I can see: most adults hit kids because they get away with it. Little wonder then that more vulnerable kids (6-12 years old) are punished more often. An older survey by the Educational Research Centre also showed that 50% of fathers believe corporal punishment is okay (as do 30% mothers). They also found 700-1,000 ‘severe cases’ reported, but less than 1% of the guilty teachers were punished. Which isn’t surprising given that parents hit children too and are reluctant to file cases.

Often, a child must die or be maimed before someone takes action. The La Martiniere School for Boys banned corporal punishment only after a student committed suicide. In Tamil Nadu, it took the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. The Delhi government was reluctant even after a petition was filed by the parents of a 12-year-old who lost 20% vision.

Severe cases might be accidents in the sense that the teacher didn’t mean to kill the student. But then, a drunk car driver doesn’t set out to kill either. So parents and teachers need to take equal responsibility for not protecting children. It is sad that the state should have to intervene legally, but since matters have come to that, it is best to spread the word that corporal punishment is already illegal in India.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, clearly says that “No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment.” It allows for disciplinary action against teachers. All states and union territories have not banned corporal punishment yet but they will have to, once the state adopts the NCPCR guidelines.

Read full piece here.

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