School is supposed to be a place where one acquires knowledge and learns to live within the rules of society. But what happens when adults themselves cross the boundaries?

In April 2009, 11- year-old Shanno studying in a Municipal Corporation school in Delhi succumbed to injuries after her teacher made her crouch in the searing summer sun for two hours. This was ‘punishment’ for failing to recite the full English alphabet.

Earlier on, in March 2009, a similar act of violence was reported from another municipal school in Delhi. Here, the teacher’s fit of violence had injured as many as ten children, from Std III, all of whom had to be taken to hospital.

(Courtesy CRY)

Rohit Kumar Sakpal (age eight) of Sangli, Maharashtra, died when his headmaster beat him.

Jeet Ram, (Std VI) from Shimla, had left his Math and English books at home. He was beaten to death by his teacher.

It’s easy enough to say teachers are out to get us. Math, history and semester exams might confirm such belief. But sometimes things go beyond homework or back chatting in class. How many times have you been kept back after school for untouched homework? Or been scolded for sharing a giggle during a history lesson? How many times have you gone home in tears after a teacher turned particularly nasty?

What’s it about?

“Cases like Shanno’s and the other numerous children make us think. Children are warned about talking to strangers, being careful while crossing roads, but who would think of a school, supposedly the safest space after home, can also be ‘dangerous’?

If a teacher feels free to hit children, there is obviously something wrong with the entire system of education,” says Abhinav Jaipuriar, student and a CRY Manorath Volunteer.

And is it just about hitting? Corporal punishment, as it is known, has many facets. Regina Thomas, CRY’s Director – South, explains, “Corporal punishment includes all forms of verbal abuse, such as scolding, taunting, demeaning, insulting, discouraging, hurling expletives based on gender, caste, and class and so on.”

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How would you know that may be your teacher is crossing boundaries?

“An adult hits a child because he or she is angry not because the intention is to reform. Once you understand this you can work out for yourselves whether the act is callousness or disciplinary,” says Sandhya Krishnan, Programme Coordinator, Save the Children, Tamil Nadu.

“Being slapped, hit, pinched, pushed, punished with long hours of standing, kneeling – children have always known this is not right. Now the Supreme Court of India agrees with you. States like Orissa have already banned corporal punishment. Others like the National Commission for Protection of Rights of Children are also trying hard to make sure all schools ban it,” says Thomas.

Tackling the problem

The Save the Children project, with partner organisation Jeeva Jyothi has created a model on child friendly schools with children and adults working to tackle the problem of corporal and humiliating punishment. It involves working with children to ensure that they are aware of their roles and responsibilities and don’t provoke or behave irresponsibly. Children’s groups formed in the Tiruvallur area enable children to discuss about instances of humiliating behaviour by teachers in school. There are also Child Protection Committees (CPCs) in these villages formed by adults. Each CPC has two child representatives — one boy and one girl. The CPC and children’s group work to solve the problem.

Parthiban (10), constantly humiliated for his average performance in class, was made to bring tea and run errands for the teacher. Tired of being teased as ‘the teachers lackey’, he complained to the CPC who took up the matter. The teacher had to apologise.

Vimla, Std IV, from the same school, who was made to sweep the classroom and veranda every day by her teacher was stopped from doing so after this incident.

But when Vidya, Std IX, objected to her teacher asking her to clean the school campus and gave a written complaint against the teacher to her village CPC, she was victimised. Unable to bear the humiliation, she told her friends in the children’s club. The children’s representatives in the CPC informed the grown ups. The CPC members this time met and warned the teacher that they would issue a written complaint.

Regina Thomas gives tips on how to deal with the situation:

l. Ask why someone is angry with you.

Il. If you have a different point of view, say it.

IIl. If you have made a mistake, apologise.

lV. If you feel that you are not in the wrong, ask for a third person to listen to both points of view and help resolve the issue.

V. We all have the right to get angry or disappointed with someone but no one has the right to hit anyone.

Vl. If you are hit or given any kind of physical punishment, talk to your parents, other teachers and the school principal.

Call Help Line 1098.

For children studying in government schools the number to report acts of corporal punishment against them is 044-28273591.

Want to make a difference and don’t know how?

Checkout, developed by youth around the world to develop a gender sensitive peer-to-peer manual on the prevention of violence in schools.