Does anybody remember the case of Rouvanjit Rawla, the child who committed suicide in February 2010 after being caned and publicly humiliated in one of Kolkata’s most prestigious schools, La Martinière for Boys? Or that in 2011 there were two more reports of shocking violence from St. James’ school and Sarvodaya Hindi High School, both once again from Kolkata. Public memory is short-lived; we tend to move on and life gets back to ‘normal’ within days of an atrocity committed. However, incidents of horrific corporal punishment to youngsters don’t seem to cease despite government bans and activists screaming hoarse against violation of child rights. A couple of weeks ago, I was horrified to see a report on TV about a Class V school-girl being made to drink her own urine as ‘’punishment” for bed-wetting. I was doubly ashamed as, being a Bengali, I tend to hold anything to do with Tagore’s Shantiniketan as sacred and beyond reproach and this incident had been reported from Vishva Bharati University.
However, days later I realized that it has nothing to do in particular with my State, when this year on June 28, there were reports about a little girl being made to stand for 5 hours in the hot Hyderabad sun for making mistakes in mathematics and again on July 21, a similar incident of child abuse like the one from Shantiniketan, was being aired on TV, this time from a school in Tamil Nadu, where the Principal of the school was defending the act saying that it was done to cure the boy student of his tobacco chewing habits!
Rawla’s death had provoked an angry debate on the issue of corporal punishment in schools. The principal who caned Rawla, Sunirmal Chakravarthi, said he was not aware that caning was illegal. Likewise many in this country woke up to the fact that even a child has rights! That the State machinery is equipped to step in and wield the proverbial iron rod to bring to task the abusive adult who thinks he/ she has the right or moral duty to teach an erring child a lesson. If you take a look at the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPRC) page, you will see that legislation in this sector is a very recent phenomenon as most are still in the stages of a ‘bill’, far yet from becoming an ‘act’ or a ‘law’.
However these are extreme cases that make their way into the media. On the other hand there is rampant child abuse going on inside homes, by parents, relatives, caregivers, that never get reported. The hostel warden of Vishva Bharti University who allegedly forced the little girl to drink her own urine has claimed that she meted out the punishment at the instance of the student’s mother! I have heard my own colleagues speak out in favor of strict punishment for unruly children in schools. A child and a pet animal are similar in that they both are soft targets for stressed parents to displace their frustrations, anger and negativity under the pretext of parenting/ care-giving. I am not going into issues of sexual abuse of children at all in this article since that is another whole domain that requires a separate forum. Teachers are like Gods to little children; therefore disapproval from the teacher, extreme forms of it that comes under the purview of abuse, can and do leave indelible marks on a child’s psyche. Unwittingly, a teacher may be instrumental in creating either a wreck or even a criminal.
As a parent I am well aware that dealing with a kid, her tantrums, her unreasonable ways are far from easy. I agree with all other parents that and parent-figures like teachers that kids must be told that there are boundaries that they cannot cross and if they do there are consequences just like there are consequences for everything in adult life. However, they do trespass and they do stretch the limits of our patience. At such times it becomes difficult to remember our own boundaries. But that is where the difference lies between being a child and being an adult. As a parent I prefer taking away privileges, to teachers I urge that they look at alternative methods of communicating to the child about what is and what isn’t acceptable, like the detention hour, restricting the sports or other activity hour, talking to parents, even suspending the child for some time in extreme cases and so on. The message must be sent across from the School Management to the teaching staff that physical or verbal abuse IS NOT AN OPTION. If school authorities lay down the ground rules well, there would not be any instances where the State Machinery, the police, the judiciary etc, have to step in.
But it is not as easy as it sounds. The problem may have deeper roots than apparent at first sight. I am not aware of other countries, but in India at least in the last couple of decades or so the general perception of teaching as a career option has deteriorated to say the least. Teaching is considered the least coveted of jobs, especially since it is the lowest paid vocation despite the revisions proposed by successive Pay Commissions and their recommendations which in any case are not mandatory on unaided institutions. In certain cases teachers are willing to take up a position for a salary as low as Rs. 2000 to 5000. Many sign up without clear job descriptions and end up doing day in and day out what may not be strictly a teacher’s role. Therefore, for all of the teacher’s frustrations regarding his/ her extenuating circumstances, the soft target may just become a student playing truant on a particular day, or one that has been trying his/ her patience for some time.
So what is a more holistic cure? Or is there even one in a country with hundreds and thousands of schools? I am not competent enough to know what the permanent cure is, that is why I am broaching the subject on a forum like this so that discussions can ensue. Apart from having strong laws, may be teachers can be made to undergo training in Child Psychology, may be their conditions of work can be drastically improved, may be parents can be roped in for more active roles in schools – the possibilities are endless. The question is whether we are ready or willing to make the effort.
Dear NRI readers why not connect with us on the following social media platforms.