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Spare The Rod

Spare The Rod

August 03, 2012

Incidents of horrific corporal punishment to youngsters don’t seem to cease despite government bans.

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.


  • Nikhil
    26.09.12 12:26 AM
    I think that in today's fast paced life, the attitude of people is turning individualistic, to the extent that parents wanting to seek privacy from their own kids. This is the major source of frustration which eventually goes out on someone who would not come back to you - Children.
    It is part of our social responsibility that we must understand & remember what we felt when we were kids. Corporal punishment is nothing less than an attempt to murder. So why does government need so much time to think & act upon it.
  • Rajpriya
    13.08.12 01:46 PM
    Using all those restrictions you are talking of is worse than using the rod. You could see the result of restricting people's freedom. There is war everywhere fighting against such restrictions. Unfortunately children can not start wars against the parent their so feeble and donot have the brute strength of adults.

    I enjoy fighting against any disciplining by parents restricting their children in any form. If there is a wil there are better ways if one is creative. Of course I enjoy commenting lady I am you sorry you don't.
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    Deepa Duraisamy
    13.08.12 01:27 PM
    Where are you getting your information from lady? In any of my comments, have I ever justified the use of the rod? You've got to be kidding me! Enjoy your commenting!
  • Rajpriya
    13.08.12 01:24 PM
    If a child does not have to be a tiger let the child be a child. An adult does not have use force to make the child do anything he does not want to.

    You have the right to your comment. I know you are he'll bent on using the rod and you would never know what goes on in a child's mind when you do it. Go ahead and because to you there is no other side of any story.

    You want to shut people up who are against your theory. Use your rod as much as you need and justify your joy in doing it for whatever reason.

    May be you can exercise using the Rod if in India where there are no laws against child cruelty. Even animals enjoy better freedom in the west.
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    Deepa Duraisamy
    13.08.12 01:03 PM
    1. There are millions of children who also do not know the meaning of education or good food. Doesn't mean my child should be the same.

    2. So I received pocket money. So its a western trend. Doesn't make it wrong? I know many families today who dole out pocket money or as an appreciation for chores. What's so wrong with that?

    3. Sometimes, the child doesn't want to be a Tiger. Just needs to fit in.

    4. To each his own. We all have our ideas about parenting. Creative or not. You can't go on a crusade against all parents. They do have the child's best interests at heart.

    Sometimes arguments are just that. For the sake of arguments. Not healthy discussions anymore. Hence, I rest my case.
  • Rajpriya
    13.08.12 12:55 PM
    There are millions of children who do not know the meaning of pocket money. You have been a very good child. I am not talking of any particular child that I know of stealing pocket money. If you have been in the habit of being given pocket money that is essentially a western habit. It is certainly not common in India and I have never heard of it done in middle and lower class families.

    You can do anything to your child you want but if you can't make a Tiger out of your child by Sparing the Rod you are running out on your creativity a failure of human faculties.
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    Deepa Duraisamy
    13.08.12 11:13 AM
    Restricting is not the same as banning. My folks used to restrict my pocket money and I knew what I was doing was wrong enough to make them do that, I do not remember stealing from them. Somewhere, somehow the right values need to be inculcated in the child right from their childhood. Restricting playtime does not mean completely stopping the child from play. Any child will want to play and will agree to the parent's terms and conditions to get their playtime. If you got to spare the rod too completely, not yell at them, not scare them, not punish them, not use any alternative restrictions then what's to say that they wont grow up uncontrolled?
  • Supratik SEN
    Supratik SEN
    04.08.12 02:18 PM
    Very relevant subject expressed through care and concern for all stakeholders. If we have to bring about any change, we do need a holistic perspective without blaming anyone involved. Teachers are the architects of society and it is time we understand our boundaries for creating more and more responsible citizens of the world.
  • Rajnish
    04.08.12 01:28 PM
    Great post. It is the parent and teachers association who will change the scenario but more concrete steps can be taken by the administration. Because I feel laws are in place.
  • Rajpriya
    04.08.12 11:47 AM
    Restricting pocket money will only make a child steal it. Resrticting TV maybe OK, but resricting play time is depriving a child it's childhood.

    Indians returning from US turn thoroughbred Indians the moment they are over the Atlantic. They come back into observing Indian law. One can only force a child to do what it won't as long as the child still a child.

    Once they grow up they would be their real self what he or she was not allowed to be as a child.
  • Sabyasachi Patra | Tales from Wild India
    Sabyasachi Patra | Tales from Wild India
    04.08.12 11:17 AM
    We don't have patience. Children by nature will try to rebel. However, by beating them we are trying to crush their spirit. Beating someone is the worst kind of punishment that can be inflicted. This has to be dealt with severely.

    Many parents beat their child. We have to have a law to punish such parents as well. Most of the people are interested in having kids whereas they don't have patience or time for their kids. It is a sad state of affairs.
  • Deepa
    04.08.12 11:12 AM
    There is a very fine line between disciplining a child and abusing a child. Unfortunately, in this case, I feel adults need to be educated about the difference first. I remember people making jokes about a colleague of mine in the US who was returning from the US to India and how on crossing the Atlantic he would start inflicting blows on his child for every tantrum that the kid threw while in the US. Yes, his child would have been difficult but corporal punishment is hardly going to help. As you say, restriction is the key. Find out what the kid enjoys most. Start restricting that. Pocket money, TV time, play time. I am no judge as to how a parent should raise his/her child, I am sure they have the child's best interests at heart, but they also need to remember that the psychological scars of rigorous punishment will stay with the child forever.
  • indu chhibber
    indu chhibber
    04.08.12 10:12 AM
    You have raised a very potent issue& it needs reforms.i think every principal should be held responsible for such outrages in her school;this will motivate her to be strict & vigilant where such acts are concerned.

    You can read posts about child sexual abuse at my blog.
    03.08.12 10:28 PM
    @ Susmita

    I think teaching is very tough profession in any society. The number of assaults have increased in double digits in UK in past few years. Despite being well paid in UK, people are still reluctant to take it.

    The reasons are it requres individual with patience of steel and personal record cleaner then any other member of community. To have all these characteristics in a person with a teaching ability is almost nill. If you load up the teaching profession with all the conditions you stated in the article, you will not find anybody that will be able to do this job, which is very tough at best of times.

    There are circumstances that dictates the use of the punishment in school, but I still think it should be private in headmasters office like it used to be in UK before out law of the whole use of it. In the cases of the above circumstances, I think it should be out lawed and I don't agree with the use of it in the event you stated in the aricle.

    I think they should have clear written rules as a guide made for teachers, what should be allowed and what shouldn't be.

    I also think that there should be a code of conduct contracts book made for all the candidates and their parents to sign, So that each side know what is acceptable behaviour and what isn't in any case.

    I don't think there is a black and white answers / solutions to this problems and to expect one is fallacy. The only thing that we can do now is best with what we have in our hands and no more.

  • Prasanna Raghavan
    Prasanna Raghavan
    03.08.12 09:57 PM
    Hi this is an issue perhaps all over the world. More and more efforts are needed to educate our adults. They are confused between punishment and disciplining the child. The traditional ways of discipling through punishment is so much ingrained in their mind.

    it is a very nice post
  • Khadija Ejaz
    Khadija Ejaz
    03.08.12 02:57 PM
    "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 agree, I agree.
  • Rajpriya
    03.08.12 10:47 AM
    A very detailed description of tortured children of India.

    The question is whether India is ready or willing to make the effort. There are a just a handful of people who are forever ready and willing like you and me to make an effort to change but the majority are readily willing not to make the slightest effort to change all that is bad in our Indian society to make it better.

    The long list of things that need to change starting from equal rights for women, rape, abolishing dowry system, bribery, and corruption, chewed paan-spitting in public and the similar are endless. It’s time child psychology is made the most important subject for every aspiring parent and every teacher in India or for that matter for all Indians to know there are different ways to cure a truant child.

    In UK or the US it’s a different story. The trend is that students have started assaulting teachers. The law catches up with a teacher when the teacher dares punish a child. That trend has its ill effects as well with more people unwilling to take up teaching careers.

    Watch this and you would know how Indians could win gold medals at the next Olympics. Are Gold medals all that matter? Scrap the Olympics to save Chinese children from torture.

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