End corporal punishment in India once and for all!
Professor Shantha Sinha
Children experience violence from teachers in schools and from their family members. This is socially accepted and regarded as legitimate. In this article, Professor Sinha provides examples of this abuse, which has sometimes resulted in the death of a child, and some have committed suicide. She suggests ways in which we can work collectively to bring this practice to an end.
A culture of violence against children
A Class II student in a government school in Delhi died of heat stroke after she was made to squat in the sun with bricks on her back.
Such violent acts are committed by teachers in the name of discipline: slapping, caning, kneeling down, standing or squatting in the same position for long periods of time, walking round the school compound, and other such ‘routine acts’. If the child is female, poor, or from a scheduled caste community, such treatment is more common. Such treatment is insulting and humiliating. It damages confidence and self-esteem, and leads to children dropping out of school. Fear of punishment makes children afraid to ask questions and challenge ideas, and so detracts from the quality of education.
A teacher in Jhunjhun, Rajasthan, beat an eight-year- old girl so badly for not doing her homework that she lost her eye.
Corporal punishment is not an isolated incident – it is part of a culture of violence and insensitivity to children and their rights. Parents often use similar methods to discipline their children, and so tend not to challenge the school teacher. Or they may fear that their child will be further victimised if they challenge the teacher. Yet, fear stifles the process of learning. The education system seems indifferent to the negative impact of physical violence on children’s learning.
Establishing a culture of respect for children
Violence against children is often justified by teachers because of their poor working conditions, such as overcrowded classes and not enough text books, and the challenge of teaching first-generation learners. But children are not responsible for the problems that teachers face. Teachers need to understand that their professional rights as teachers are linked to children’s rights in schools. Inadequate resources in schools should be tackled by teachers’ unions and school administrators. Yet violence also happens in well resourced schools:
A class IV student in a private school in Bangalore had his front teeth partially broken when the class teacher hurled a wooden board duster at him for smiling in the class.
A Class VII student, in a private school in Mumbai, was made to sit on the floor outside the principal’s office facing a toilet for over six hours, on two successive days, because she had henna designs on her hands.
Currently there is a debate about ‘positive discipline’ instead of corporal punishment, but even then the teacher and child are still in an unequal relationship. A more appropriate phrase would be ‘positive engagement’, as this would express a greater equality in the relationship.
If a child is being abused at home, teachers should be supportive of the child and in a position to look for remedies rather than blaming the parents. Thus from a position of power and authority the school teacher should play a role of a mentor and a guide. A law banning all forms of corporal punishment is needed, together with a public campaign against all forms of violence against children. Children, parents and child defenders need to be supported to speak out against corporal punishment.
This article is based on the Zakir Hussain Memorial lecture delivered by Professor Sinha at the Regional College of Education, Mysore, India, 20 September 2010. It was adapted by Anupam Ahuja (email@example.com), and further edited by the EENET editorial team. The original text is available on EENET’s web site. Professor Sinha is the Chairperson for Protection of Child Rights, and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org