Punishment to children in schools must stop

Punishment to children in schools must stop

Use of violence punish children to discipline and educate them is rampant in schools all over the country. It denies a child her right to learn with dignity even after it has been banned.

It is shocking to find teachers resorting to new and creative ways to punish children as it happened in the recent incident in a school in Bangalore where class 10 students’ heads were shaved off as punishment. Is it a school or a barber shop? The moving shaven head will be a stern reminder to other students to behave themselves or face similar humiliation.

In December 2000, the Delhi High Court declared corporal punishment unconstitutional and banned it on a writ filed by the Parents’ Forum for Meaningful Education (PFME) and Right to Education Bill 2009. Yet it continues unabated in total violation of child’s constitutional rights to learn and live with dignity.

Child’s right to learn with dignity continues to be undermined callously by the state as it has failed to take required steps to prevent subjecting children to the brutal assault in the name of education and discipline in schools. Teachers get away with their illegal actions because they get protection from school, fellow teachers, staff, management and the government. Only a miniscule of what is happening in schools is reported by the media. But how many teachers or schools have been charged or booked of the crime against innocent children taking the legal course?

The PFME did actually take a legal action. In October 1997, the PFME filed a complaint in Tis Hazari Courts, Delhi against the Vice Principal, PC Gupta, GBSS School, RP Bagh, Delhi, for his barbaric act of parading a 13-year-old boy, Rakesh, naked before the entire school. After 13 long years of committed fight of P S Sharda, Gupta was held guilty on October 10, 2010. He was put on probation for 2 years and ordered to pay a sum of Rs 1 lakh to Rakesh as compensation.

To our knowledge it was the first case when a teacher was held guilty by the court for torturing and assaulting the dignity of a child in a barbaric manner and give justice to the victim.

Only one boy Amit dared to be a witness in the court and that was crucial. Rakesh and Amit had to drop out of school as a fall out. Before punishing a child, teachers or schools don’t find it important to communicate with parents of the undesirable act of a child for which he is going to be punished. Involvement of parents is not only crucial but essential.

They are the equal partners who have put their entire trust in the teacher and the system. Unexceptionally, children feel so ashamed and humiliated by punishment that they don’t share their trauma with their parents fearing that parents will also punish them as a punished child brings shame to parents. Their first reaction is to abandon school. Punishment is the biggest cause of drop outs.

If we take the legal recourse and try offending teachers, the courts will be flooded with lakhs of complaints and it will take years to deliver justice. As a complaining party, lakhs of children will be forced to abandon school and will find it difficult to get admission in other schools. A school which violates the law should lose its board affiliation. The board should have the clause in their rule of affiliation that if a school is practicing punishment, it will lose its affiliation until and unless it is rectified.

Norm, not exception

Punishment in school, including corporal punishment, is a norm rather than exception. Its widespread prevalence puts a question mark on our teacher training programmes which have failed miserably in sensitising and preparing teachers to interact with children humanely and with love and understanding. When practising teachers believe that they are unable to teach and discipline children without punishment, it points to our grossly inadequate and inefficient training programmes.

Some teachers’ belief in punishment is so deep that they justify its necessity with the example that police too beat criminals. I was shocked and numbed to hear this and stopped to think whether schools are really jails where children are treated as criminals and meted out harsh treatments by some teachers who are more like hardened policemen. Even police is punishable for their brutality on criminals and there are human rights for criminals too.

It is disturbing that the distinction between an innocent child and a criminal is totally lost on the very teachers, schools and administrators to whom children are entrusted. The child is not even given a chance to explain to the teacher who instantly judges and executes the punishment. Teachers who shape the destiny of generations are given such unlimited, unchecked power on defenceless children. Is this the unwritten agenda of our country to brutalise our young ones? How can we expect these children to grow into sensitive, rational, compassionate and thinking individuals in such repressive and inhuman conditions?

We should define child-friendly ways to maintain discipline in schools respecting dignity of the child. It is the state’s duty to provide every child in every school an able teacher who is a guiding light, who nurtures children academically and emotionally with love and care.
States should take urgent steps to train teachers for joyful teaching and learning. It should also redesign, redefine teacher trainer courses, and pre-service, in-service teacher training programmes at all levels as well as seek support of those teachers who teach and discipline children with love and respect. Parents and society must come forward to fight widespread apathy of the government and political class against children. Not a murmur was heard in the last general elections.

(The writer is President, Parents’ Forum for Meaningful Education)

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