SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Beyond punishment

Space to grow free and fearless: Because physical punishment can leave long-lasting scars.   | Photo Credit: Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

SHOBHA MENON

A considerable body of research shows that corporal punishment can never make a child learn or behave better. Yet, the practice is widely prevalent.

A YOUNG achiever charting out a meaningful career in human rights initiatives after a prestigious academic stint in the U.K., remembers, "Every other day in school I was caned by teachers who constantly compared me with my older sister. I was groomed into a nervous wreck, petrified of people. I dropped out of school just before my Board exams after the Lab Assistant struck me and pushed me down in front of other students and teachers. When I swooned in fear, she said I was `acting'." Isn't it ironic that we get news reports of the repercussions of corporal punishment among children across the country in spite of the periodical official "banning" announcements in various States? How impervious can we get, as a society, to such a grave issue?

Creating awareness

The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children endorsed by UNICEF, UNESCO and many other organisations and individuals was launched in Geneva in April 2001. It aims to ensure that the recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and other human rights bodies are accepted. Lobbying State governments to ban all forms of corporal punishment and to develop public education programmes and provide detailed technical assistance to support States with these reforms is high on its agenda. Yet, lawyers, educationists, doctors and activists in India still continue to point to the lack of awareness among authorities about the legal implications of corporal punishment and teachers' insensitivity to child rights. Almost 90 per cent of corporal punishment cases in India go unreported because parents think their child's mistake must've been the "provocation", or because they fear for the children. "No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable", is the key message of the Report of Independent Expert, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to lead the first comprehensive global study on violence against children in 2003. The target for prohibition of all violence is 2009.This study, a landmark effort, should mark a turning point an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as "tradition" or disguised as "discipline". But why is it difficult for many people to accept the human rights imperative for challenging and ending all corporal punishment? An expert feels, "Corporal punishment is in most countries a deeply embedded traditional practice, a deeply personal issue. Most people were hit as children; most parents have hit their children. We do not like to think badly of our parents or our parenting."

Lagging behind

Till last month, in Tamil Nadu, the absence of a State Act specifically "banning" corporal punishment was said to have "prevented departmental action from being initiated". And most States in India are "light years away" from global initiatives, feels Vidya Reddy, of Tulir, a Chennai-based NGO working to prevent violence against children, "The questions that need to be addressed wherever a ban is in place are: What support is the State's Education Department giving the teachers who have to manage a class of 50-60 children? Are there any aspects going to be addressed in classroom management for teachers? And does corporal punishment refer only to physical beating or include other methods of humiliation like kneeling down for hours in the sun, etc? Are clear guidelines laid down about what a parent/adult should do if such a ban is violated in school whom to approach, how to raise the issue at different levels? There is a dire need to look at the issue holistically."Though the National Policy on Education (1986, modified 1992) states in section 5.6 that "corporal punishment will be firmly excluded from the educational systems", Rule 51 of Tamil Nadu Education Rules (amended in 2003 ) records, "Corporal punishment shall not be inflicted in schools except in case of moral delinquency such as deliberate lying, obscenity of words or act or flagrant insubordination which shall be limited to 6 cuts on the hand and shall be given only by headmaster or under the supervision of headmaster." And ironically, a research study conducted in 2006 in Chennai on corporal punishment in Schools records:
  • Students who are not "bright" are made bright through terror tactics, a method that parents too seldom object to.
  • Many teachers take pride in striking terror in the hearts of their students, reinforcing the collective belief that inflicting pain can make children study/ perform better. Thomas Jairaj, Director, Centre for Child Rights and Development, an NGO for
  • child rights initiatives, says, "Despite an affirmation at policy level, nothing comprehensive has happened against corporal punishment at ground level. For instance, a `ban' only means that a certain section in the Rules that `permitted' corporal punishment has been removed. We need to reinforce child friendly environments by now enacting laws to prohibit corporal punishment.""That the easiest `shortcut' to silence/ control others is a thrashing was a British legacy that has been used regularly in schools. But the truth is that punishment never ever made children learn or behave better they only harden inside their hearts and minds", says Dr. S.S. Rajagopalan, Education Consultant.

Inhuman system

Ahalya Chari, veteran educationist, says, "This whole issue is related to the place of teacher's power in a school. In a large class, the teacher is not able to `control' without exercising authority. And the system is such that it does not permit a humane approach to education. That every child has to be respected, and treated with dignity and helped to awaken in himself or herself a sense of responsibility is important. We talk of a democratic citizenry with freedom to think and express themselves; but how will they develop these qualities if they're not allowed to disagree with a teacher in class?"The fact is, we don't have a national level legal prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. Isn't it time we realised that children should not have to wait any longer to enjoy the basic right to respect for their human dignity? And without co-ordinated action to disseminate information on legal reform and public education campaigns and a drastic relook at prevailing classroom management techniques, any kind of change just cannot happen. Bill Kirkman is an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge, U.K. Email him at: >bill.kirkman@gmail.com
  • Corporal punishment was prohibited in Chandigarh in the 1990s.
  • In December 2000, the Delhi High Court ruled that provisions for corporal punishment in the Delhi School Education Act (1973) were inhumane and detrimental to the dignity of children.
  • In 2002, the Andhra Pradesh government imposed a ban on corporal punishment in all educational institutions by amending Rule 122 of the Education Rules (1966).
  • Corporal punishment was banned in Goa in 2003.
  • In Tamil Nadu in June 2003 through an amendment of Rule 51 of the Tamil Nadu Education Rules the infliction of mental and physical pain during "corrective" measures was prohibited. On January 16, 2007, this same Rule 51 (that permitted corporal puni
  • shment under specified circumstances) was removed.
  • In February 2004, the Calcutta High Court ruled that caning in State schools in West Bengal was unlawful.
  • In April 2006, officials in Bihar were considering prohibiting corporal punishment in schools.
  • In June 2006 it was announced that the Punjab government had decided to repeal article 191 of the Punjab Education Code that permitted principals and headmasters to can senior male students for misconduct.