Opinion » Lead

Updated: December 18, 2012 00:45 IST

The death of a small boy

Krishna Kumar
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The Betul tragedy shows that the state does not consider emotional or intellectual maturity important in a person who teaches children

Picture a small boy facing two adult men. They are furious over something they suspect he has done, so they start hitting him. They feel they have the authority to do so because they are teachers. The boy is absolutely helpless. It hardly matters for this picture whether he is upper caste or Dalit or tribal. It is his isolation that matters in the moment of his helplessness. In that moment, he stands beyond the reach of all institutional mechanisms set up to protect him from the violent fate that awaits him. Neither the United Nations convention on child rights nor the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) can rescue him in that moment. In any case, the state cannot be of much help, for it is the state under whose authority and supervision the two adults beating him mercilessly have been selected and appointed to serve as teachers. It hardly matters whether they are serving in a government or a private school, for both kinds of schools draw the legitimacy of their access to the child’s mind and body from the powers entrusted to the state.

Brutal thrashing

The two adults kept thrashing the boy till he collapsed. His parents took him to a hospital in a neighbouring city. The doctors found that his backbone had been smashed. The treatment they suggested was too expensive, so the parents took the boy to a hospital in another city. There, the boy was declared dead. From the report that has appeared in the press (The Hindu, December 7), it seems the teachers got angry when the boy informed them that the ‘school bucket’ had broken, and they suspected he had broken it. This incident occurred in a government school in Betul (Madhya Pradesh). One of the teachers has been arrested, and perhaps the other one will also be taken into police custody soon. The case against them will undoubtedly proceed. Perhaps NCPCR will back it after its own inquiry. Due procedures will be followed, and the law, as they say, will take its own course. While the case starts its journey along that familiar course, we can ask at least one fresh question, though it is not immediately evident how exactly it should be formulated.

As a crime, corporal punishment in school offers little scope for any doubt about the culprit. The newly granted Right to Education (RTE) seeks to ban corporal punishment, meaning thereby that a teacher cannot use it as a means of disciplining a child. In a case where corporal punishment has led to injury or death, the teacher’s culpability is self-evident. All that a legal inquiry needs to establish is that the punishment was actually given, and that it is this punishment that led to serious injury or death. In the classroom, the teacher alone has authoritative access to the child’s body, and this access derives from the teacher’s being in charge of the child’s mind. As an adult, the teacher gets this physical access on account of the role in which he or she is placed. Let us ask therefore: “Who places the teacher in this role?” Such a question will allow us to go deeper in our appreciation of culpability for the crime suffered by the child.

The last two decades have witnessed a dramatic change in the public profile and status of primary school teachers. While the RTE has improved children’s status and the government’s image, the person responsible for the child’s wellbeing and development at school remains a poor, lowly civil servant. In the specific case of Madhya Pradesh, teachers’ economic and social status has undergone a major change as a result of prolonged administrative manoeuvres. It has little to do with shifts in political power and ideology. A series of so-called policy reforms initiated during the Congress regime (1993-2003) has been sustained by the BJP which rules the State at present. The history of change in teachers’ lives is intertwined with the larger policy and programme scenario at the national level.

Low-paid breed

During the 1990s, the government chose to restructure the system of education by allowing local groups to start primary schools and by delegating the task of recruiting teachers to the village panchayat. Cadre management policies were changed to accommodate different types of contractual, ‘para’ appointments. The state decided to treat its existing pool of teachers as a ‘dying cadre,’ implying that no new appointments would be made at the older scales. New teachers were given nominal training and pittance in the name of emoluments. As the demand for regularising these contractual appointees acquired political profitability, new pay scales were created that were radically lower than the older ones. While other north Indian States acknowledged that there were problems with para-teachers, Madhya Pradesh instead recognised them as full-fledged ‘teachers’. Initially, it was alone in this remarkable feat of governance; of late Bihar has emulated it, by replacing existing teachers as they retire with this new, low-paid breed.

Kaun banega teacher?

This brief introduction to a complex history should suffice to indicate that, over the last two decades, a primary school teacher’s job has lost what little covetability it had acquired since independence. It is no more an attractive career for someone who has modest financial ambition and the urge to work with children, together with the aptitude to do so. The selection procedure does not involve the search for necessary attributes and talent, as it is based entirely on credentials which indicate precious little about the person and his or her capacities. Training courses that make a person eligible for recruitment have scant academic or practical worth in terms of the experience they provide. A vast majority of institutions licensed to offer this training are bogus. A commission chaired by Justice J.S. Verma, which was appointed by the Supreme Court, found that only 44 out of the 300 institutions in Maharashtra providing a Diploma in Education were qualified to run the course. Such instances can be found in other States as well. The minimum qualification to enter this 2-year diploma course for primary level teaching is Class XII.

Apparently, no emotional or intellectual maturity is demanded of the person who will look after and teach 6 to 11 year olds. In the name of training, young people are required to go through pathetic rituals, in many cases by means of correspondence or distance teaching. Among the courses available for elementary school teacher training, there is just one exception that offers depth of academic and practical experience. This is the 4-year Bachelor of Elementary Education (B.El.Ed.) course offered in eight colleges of Delhi University. This remarkable programme deserves expansion and replication, but instead, Delhi University is reportedly planning to start a 2-year diploma kind of course to produce primary school teachers. I wish the university had noticed that such a short duration is just not sufficient to enable trainees to link theory with practice, let alone question their own beliefs and values.

Let us now return to the Betul story. When the legal machinery receives all the evidence it needs to decide culpability in the case of the boy who has died, can we hope that the state’s responsibility will also be examined? His teachers who brutally hit him got access to his body because they were recruited to serve as teachers. The court must ask on what grounds did the state satisfy itself that such persons could look after the welfare and rights of a small boy. The court must also ask what kind of professional training they were given to perform their role as teachers. Their criminal failure to serve as teachers deserves an explanation. A major part of that explanation lies in the casual approach that the state — as the custodian of children and the nation’s human resource — has adopted towards the job of teaching the young. This approach is incompatible with the lofty ideals of the RTE and the Constitution.

(The writer is Professor of Education at Delhi University and a former Director of NCERT.)

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I still remember one of my teachers hitting my friend with an iron scale until he bled. Later after complaining to the principal he was warned. I
also remember another teacher who cried after seeing my friends injured
hand. So my point is that both of them are of same age and have same
qualification. The difference is just their attitude. So I feel, their
instict cannot be changed by training or counselling. So such teachers
should be identified while selection or at least after such incident and
must be expelled.

from:  Manoj
Posted on: Dec 19, 2012 at 14:57 IST

The deed commited by the two primary school teachers is indeed deplorable and cannot be forgiven. I agree with the views of the author that the teachers ought to be provided a well structured trained.
However, if this incident and other similar incidents result in a law banning corporal punishment, that would result be detrimental for the society. At times, a slap can make a real differance in the life of a student. I still recall some of my friends saying that had it not been for the slap of particular teacher, he would not have reached where he is today.

from:  Parth Kanungo
Posted on: Dec 19, 2012 at 09:49 IST

Such wrong doing from teachers happens time and again because they are not really teachers,they are not aware that corporal punishment is forbidden. I know of several cases of such cruelty done to kids in schools. Even principals or headmasters do not bother about it. These two fellows who killed the boy are worse than butchers.

from:  Viswanathan Nair
Posted on: Dec 19, 2012 at 03:07 IST

It is now certain that the teachers who bashed the boy will face a murder charge.I wonder whether our courts would revisit the ruling on the punishment to be meted out to the teachers who mercilessly thrashed a little boy over a broken plastic bucket.The child's physical and mental agony suffered while being hit not knowing what he did that invited the wrath of his teachers is something that is paramount in deciding the nature of punishment rather than the teachers' mindset or anything else.On paper and for the sake of arguments and many other reasons for not awarding the ultimate punishment makes for interesting reading.But are these reasons acceptable and adequate to override what the victim suffered and how his/her near and dear ones will go through the rest of their lives?

from:  Raj Kumar
Posted on: Dec 19, 2012 at 03:06 IST

While Krishna Kumar has rightly put the blame for diluting the
professional requirements of teaching at the doors of the state (The
death of a small boy, Dec. 18), we also need to identify and name the
misleadingly attractive PPP policy through which such an attack on
public education system is taking place. As someone who gained his
professional education in teaching from Delhi University and has been
teaching in a government school for last 13 years, I feel that a
university exposure to the traditions of debate, dissent, critique and
activism is an essential requirement to do justice to teaching at all
levels. In the context of this willful neglect of teacher education on
the part of the state, it is logical to suspect the very 'lofty
ideals' of the RTE whose disregard surprises the writer so much. We
must at least now pay heed to those who have been drawing attention to
the policy level betrayals of education since the adoption of the neo-
liberal policies by the state.

from:  Firoz Ahmad
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 21:34 IST

Unfortunately, the mentally of the grown-ups in India is that since they
are big they are the boss, so it is up to them to do what they like.
Irrespective of being a top student in my class, also a monitor, I would
be asked to buy cane (using my money) and have been canned for
occasional mistakes. However, beatings and burnings were not new to me
even in my home, where my father fancies himself to be an army general
so would tolerate nothing less than subservience. At least there is law
now... though the ground reality may be in stark contrast...

from:  Bharat
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 21:26 IST

The larger concern of the writer regarding deprofessionalisation of
teacher education owing to state policies is well place. Nevertheless,
we have no empirical evidence to show that the four year B.El.Ed.
course offered in Delhi University is producing teachers with a
greater pedagogic competence and sensitivity. On the other hand,
because of the design of the course which has not taken into account
governments' recruitment policy (which makes them ineligible for TGT
posts) most of these B.El.Eds are forced to teach in private schools.
Therefore one feels that while depth of academic and practical
experience in a teacher education programme is of utmost importance,
the policy makers must not ignore the unintended consequences in
designing such courses.

from:  Manoj K. Chahil
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 21:26 IST

I share the pain alongwith the Professor. In Tamilnadu, the govt pays the best salaries, minimum around Rs.15000/-for an elementary school teacher who newly joins today. But here also, the students are punished by beating, pinching, and scolding. Politicians are swindling money by opening Teacher training institutions charging thousands from the applicants. Nearly six lakh D.Ed. qualified wrote the Teachers Recruitment Board's eligibility test this year and hardly 3% of them qualified in it. Everyone joined the racket to make money.

from:  chandrasekaran
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 20:49 IST

I' m keen to know under what provisions of the IPC the teachers have been booked. I hope it
is intentional murder and not the usual 304A culpable homicide. There is no place in a
decent society for corporal punishment either by a teacher or a parent, violence against
children need to be condemned in the strongest terms.

from:  Arvindnarayan
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 20:41 IST

The article is an eye-opener for Central and State governments besides all those who are connected with the overall educational process. Whatever happened in the said school might have not happened for the first time in the same school The head of the school and the higher authorities' role are also questionable. The innocent child fell a victim to the heartless teachers. In fact, scrutiny of all teachers throughout India should be conducted and all those who are not found psychologically and educationally humane should be shown the door. Such teachers are in fact not teachers and they can't be allowed to spoil the lives of our innocent children. NCPCR must set up its units in each and every block of the country. The perpetrators of the barbaric act must get stringent and exemplary punishment.

from:  Sudesh Kumar Sharma
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 19:54 IST

The tragic incident, the vivid cartoon depicting the plight of the little helpless kid, the cruelty of the teachers and above all the callousness of the state policy and machinery in selecting and puttin such young children at the mercy of such demons is unpardonable. I agree with the author some soul-searching has to be done by the policy makers. I do think that those who are responsible for such half-baked policies are more guilty than those teachers. But I wonder whether we can call them teachers. They are vultures in human form.

from:  Prof K C Mehta
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 18:37 IST

Forget about such a remote elementary school, I've completed 12 years of schooling in KVs including 8 years in KV of cantonment area. Teachers weaves sweater in winters, beat students mercilessly for slightest mistake and ridiculously poor in their subject knowledge (music teacher teaching maths to 8th standard students for example). Govt. should make teaching an attractive option if it want to achieve full return from its demographic dividend.

from:  Abhishek Garg
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 17:42 IST

Professor Krishna Kumar's analysis is as usual, lucid and sensitive
and close to the bone. I wish this is made compulsory reading for the
top bureaucrats of the education departments of all states. Though one
wonders if it will make any difference to those who are only
interested in ensuring that our education barons (in Maharashtra they
have money and political clout) prosper. One has heard so many horror
stories about the abysmal quality of teaching and library resources
even in B.Ed classes in Mumbai. In its quest to prove to prove that it
is taking education to the poor, the governments in all states are
actually doing them a huge disservice.

from:  Lina Mathias
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 17:24 IST

Is the author concerned about the quality of education being provided by the teachers, the incomeptence of teachers to impart right knowledge or is it the Corporal punishment in schools which is more worrying.Corporal punishment has nothing to do with the qualification of the teacher.Even a good qualified person may also punish a child physically.It has been one of the norms of Indian education system for a long time ,perhaps from ancient India.

from:  Shaik Rizwan Ahmed
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 16:08 IST

To hit a child until his backbone is broken.What a brutal and callous act,it attains more severity when we come to know that, it is done by teachers who are considered to be the guiding lights of the children.They are not teachers,they are satans,they are behaving like thugs and may be deriving sadistic pleasures.For most of the teachers,teaching is only a sidebusiness,especially in the rural areas.Children are treated with prejudice in most of the "schools"in rural areas depending on their social origin. Many may disagree with this, but, this is the reality.Only humans with a criminal mental make-up can do this to the innocent and helples children. No one can expect any humane behaviour from these "teachers",then how intellectual and emotional maturity.We demand for severe punishment for the culprits,tragically this will not take place, since, mostly these people would be influential.we can not expect justice from a society maligned with corruption in high places,nepotism,casteism etc.

from:  g n chandrasekhar
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 15:57 IST

The article is an over exhaustive imaginary phobia about corporal punishment.. Todays cultural relegious and caste integration in marriages produce offsprings hyper intelligent and hyperactive in nature requiring strong and firm grip to tame them into a sober student.In this high socially responsible role teachers have to overtake the responsibily of the parents (who mostly just pass it on )So the corporal punishment becomes a compulsary tool on the hands of the teacher for creating a socially fit citizen in studentship .Only thing is the role should have basic humanity in approach which can not be acquired in college ; but should develop from within.

from:  Kirubanithi
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 15:41 IST

It is a good analysis about existing education in India. I would like
to comment on the section Kaun Banega Teacher? I would rather ask a
question kaun hai teacher? Due to its origin in concurrent list both
state and centre enjoys joint jurisdiction over it. I infers states
has more bargaining power than the centre hence, the state like
Maharashtra has a largest number of private B.Ed/D.Ed colleges and
private universities. The formation of the private universities are
the nexus between political class and the state, where the state
assumes a least credible actor than a political elite. This elite
formulate their own cooperative's under the Trust act and runs an
educational institutions like Kohinoor, MET etc. In returns, for this
services a private service provider gets a subsidized land, and many
times edu-grants from the state. Hence, they are the main Teacher
rather than students who are passed out from their
institutions.Its a question of political economy of education.

from:  Rahul S
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 15:29 IST

I agree with the writer, the state is equally responsible in failur of its duty by not providing proper salaries and by not selecting right persons for the job.

Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 15:15 IST

It does great credit to The Hindu to provide more than mere skin-deep coverage of
issues. Although I cannot comment on the causal link between corporal
punishment and the working conditions of our teachers, given that corporal
punishment is still regrettably used too often, it is obvious that good teachers with
quality, patience and understanding are not to be had if the job simply doesn't pay
enough to keep body and soul together.

The use of para-teachers or teachers hired purely on contractual basis is very
worrying. I remember my time at school where several teachers, primarily women
were hired on an "ad-hoc" basis, supposedly because the school was facing a
temporary shortage or unable to find "suitably qualified" candidates whereas in
reality, these were often highly qualified teachers filling in for years. But this was
higher secondary. At primary levels, the Betul situation was widespread.

This pecuniary exercise often left teachers unmotivated and frustrated.

from:  Vivek
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 14:08 IST

The incident which occurred in Betul can not be justified in any way . We need reforms in our education system . Our teachers should be trained so that they are more sensitive towards our young generation. In the same time Govt should work on to improve the pathetic condition of our teachers , so that our youth encourage to join teaching as a profession.

from:  sumit gupta
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 13:33 IST

Sadly our country has turned to be a opportunity provider to the seeker
based on not what you know but who you know! Comparing this with the
standards of recent child related cases in Norway shows us how far
behind we are in evolutionary ladder in understanding and appreciating
the child rights. Great effort by the author in identifying the main

from:  Y Bala Pavan Kumar
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 12:20 IST

It is a brutal act done by teachers repeatedly who is known as a noble
figure and a role model in our society. Respected Krishna Kumar pin
pointed the emotional and intellectual maturity of a teacher which is
very imporatnt but we do not have any parameter of this kind before
selecting teachers. Teachers must go through the strict psychological
test and the required aptitude they have to teach students or not.
this kind of incident queue up all the teacher community inspite of
fact that there are many teachers who devoted their whole life for the
bright future of the students. Selection procedures must be based on
skill test, knowledge test and internship of practical teaching
experience alongwith indepth subject knowledge, deep undersatnding of
child psychology and ability to create a healthy learning environment
for students. so that learner can blossom naturally when they will be
sure that their quest will be taken out seriously.

from:  Jyotsna
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 11:43 IST

Isolated incidents do happen and there are black sheeps in every field
who are unduely given the job.They do nothing but see teaching as a
source of money.The relationship between a teacher and a student has
become business like.It is difficult to get teachers who know their
exact role.

from:  Shaik Rizwan Ahmed
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 11:39 IST

Much-needed, thought provoking article. The helplessness of the child and the
parents thereafter is heart rending. There is great need to root out corporal
punishment from schools, as the RTE Act seeks to do; via good selection, training
and supervision of teachers; and ruthless enforcement of the law. Parents and
children need to be made aware. Most of all there is need to tackle the culture of
violence in Indian society at large. Sadly it is taken for granted that a person in a
position of authority or so-called superiority in economic or social standing may
speak harshly to or physically strike someone 'inferior' to them. This cannot be
right. If discipline is to be enforced in school or displeasure expressed to a servant
at home or a rickshaw puller taken to task for a traffic violation, verbal or physical
abuse cannot be part of the equation. For this we need to change the way we bring
up our children. Films and other media must depict such behavior as being

from:  Ajay Singh
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 11:08 IST

No course with the sole objective of TRAINING teachers and the kind of
course content and design of B.El.Ed can ever aspire to inculcate
emotional or intellectual maturity.Longer course duration is a necessary
condition but is by no means a sufficient one.

from:  Sukhvinder Shahi
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 10:12 IST

An excellent article. Instances of teachers; arrogating to themselves
authority which involves injury and death in some cases to pupils have
been noticed. The mode of recrutiment is important, the duration too.
Para-teachers(?) like apra-medics. Emotional stability, intellectual
maturity and the social upbringing of teachers are essential
ingredients to masure their sucess. Reservations too have had their
impact. Lastly, in the past brahmins were the main source of teachers.
Today, they are scarcely visible in teachers' profession, especially
in elementary and secondary school education. Pupil killing teahers in
the class room, teacher elopinbg with the boys and teacher
absenting for the most part from the school are our current malaise.
While we deem to devote a lot of attention to higher and technical
education, we are neglecting the primary and secondary education and
teaching. This is an important area where character of pupils make a
marked difference in future.. ....

from:  s.subramanyan
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 09:37 IST

there are murderers in every profession - medical where doctors kill
thru neglect, police where corrupt and violent cops commit crimes
against people they are to protect, politics where ministers rape and
murder without punishment. so, also in teaching where certain criminal
elements, basically bullies, join the profession not to teach but only
to earn a living. their inherent violent and unbalanced character
finds a ready supply of helpless children to vent their frustration
and desire for inflicting pain. the fault lies with the principals of
such schools who turn a blind eye to such teachers. i was a student of
kendriya vidyalaya in farrukhabad district in the 70s. we saw boys
being horse-whipped during assembly by one teacher (name witheld)
regularly. he had a reputation for being "strict". his favourite
punishment was holding our finger between two pencils and twisting it,
hitting our palms and knuckles with the edge of a metallic measuring
ruler. why was he not kicked out?

from:  ms
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 09:36 IST

Violence whether against child or an adult is simply not justifiable
because it establishes the rule that might is right. Violence by
teacher is all the more condemnable as the child is defenceless. But
linking violence with low pay is ignoring the basic issue. The issue
is related to administration of all aided and government schools,
whether in rural or urban areas. During the eighties and perhaps early
nineties we recruited teachers in government schools, and aided
schools, and arranged to pay them salary as per Pay Commissions. We
then found that a good many of these teachers did not work at all or
worked very inefficiently but got their salary any way. The office
bearers of Educational societies(mostly controlled by politicians) who
recruited the teachers often make money (as much as Rs. 10 lacs
today). This is the scenario which we have refused to accept. Low paid
teachers are a crude response to the government’s inability to make
teachers work.
Teachers’ violence is one result

from:  Narendra M Apte
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 07:25 IST

Great Article. I went to a respectable private school, and lashing
students was so common there that it was considered a norm rather than
an aberration. For not doing our homeworks we were sent to the
Principal's office where he would lash us. This was in a missionary
school where at the face of it we would expect at least a little more
humane behavior. I really wonder what kind of mindsets do such
teachers possess that they think it is right to punish their students
physically and impart knowledge by cultivating fear. Professor Krishna
has raised a very legitimate point about the issue of sensitivity.
With the 86th Amendment Act as much the government is trying to
recruit new teachers, it must ensure that horrors of corporal
punishment are not inflicted on innocent minds.

from:  Abhishek
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 06:19 IST

I would add another simple question to this excellent and urgent point
made by Prof Krishna Kumar: How many times were children hit or
otherwise harrassed by these same teachers and their fear or
complaints ignored by parents, other teachers, administrators?

Things get worse because we tend not to pay attention to earliest
symptoms and problems. The children who study in state govt schools
tend to be from weaker sections these days; and most schools do not
much care to ensure their rights, well-being or address their
concerns. Or their parents' complaints. If we had a stronger sincere
system which paid attention to children's teachers' (I am sure there
are concerned teachers who would want to put a stop to such atrocious
practices on their colleague's part) and parents' complaints and
concerns, things may not come to such a head. Why did we wait till a
child dies?

I am horrified at the fear, pain and helplessness the child must have
felt, and the grief his family will live with.

from:  Reva Yunus
Posted on: Dec 18, 2012 at 04:57 IST
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