Criminally corporal

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What kids need is guidance, not ‘correction' through physical abuse which is a legally punishable offence… MINA ANAND

When education is an ordeal... Photo: S. Sivasaravanan
When education is an ordeal... Photo: S. Sivasaravanan

F ootball takes over. But are we taking notice of what's going on in our own backyard? When a young boy takes his life after his Principal strikes him?

While the media and the public go ballistic on Bhopal (and rightly so), one would urge them to raise another neglected issue. Something that needs to be tackled right away. Before more innocent lives are lost. Yes, I am talking about corporal punishment. Rampantly used to ‘correct' children. To ‘ straighten' them out — by ‘bending them over'?

Let's be clear on one point. Kids do not need ‘physical' or ‘abusive' correcting. What they require is guidance. Learning from example. What they observe, they absorb. It is the adults who should ‘correct' themselves.

Having said that, if at all there is occasion to ‘punish' a child, the corporal way should be thrown out. Isn't it obvious that violence begets violence? That humiliating and hurting a young person lowers his self-esteem? A wounded child either cowers in a corner, not mixing with his peers, withdrawing into himself; or gets unnaturally aggressive, accusative, distrustful and disdainful. Corporal punishment belongs to the dark ages.

Redefining education

Is it ‘quality' education when the principal of a ‘top school' ‘corrects' a child, by caning him? What kind of ‘education' are we talking about? Does an educational institution make the top spot only because its pupils top the merit rankings? Shouldn't it earn its laurels by giving its students an atmosphere to grow, in dignity and fearlessly? Shouldn't it provide a space where children feel nurtured and nourished?

But I am digressing from the main point. That of criminal culpability. Corporal punishment is a criminal offence. Period. Caning a child is illegal. No getting away behind the usual defences of ‘good faith', trotted out by the perpetrators of the crimes. Unfortunately, in India, it is an understatement that the laws are not strictly enforced.

The Supreme Court Order of 2000 may have banned corporal punishment for children, but beating children continues unabatedly, unashamedly, unflaggingly, unrepentantly, cutting across ‘elitist' and ‘ corporation' schools.

Are Minority Educational Institutions untouchable? No! When it comes to enforcing the fundamental rights of our children, no institution is above the law. Nor can these establishments claim ‘protection' against state action, citing ‘Minority Status'. Neither can State Governments conveniently hide behind this so-called legal loophole, betraying their lack of conscience, and will to fight for their citizens.

The same Constitution that gives space to Minority Educational Institutions under Article 30 (Right of Minorities to Establish and Administer Educational Institutions), first and foremost guarantees the Right to Life, under Article 21, enshrined in the Fundamental Rights.

Every child has a Right to Live. And to Live with Dignity. Seems strange that we should be discussing this at all. In a supposedly enlightened day and age.

Why do we bully our children, in the name of ‘education', ‘learning', ‘correction' and ‘discipline'? What's the difference between a terrorist who mows down children, a Maoist who mines down children, or ‘Educationists' who ruthlessly undermine a child? Why are we not taking up the issue of corporal punishment in a big way? A life is a life, whether lost in Bhopal, or Kolkata.

We need to flog this issue to the desired end — that of wiping out corporal punishment. The government, the judiciary, the media, activists, and most of all parents and schools should fight for students' rights on a war footing. To mete out the severest punishment to those who dare to ‘punish' children. To make all educational institutions a fear-free zone. To give youngsters their birthright – that of freedom of living.




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