Spare The Rod
Corporal punishment is illegal, yet it continues to be practised across the country
Last week, a nine-year-old girl from a private school in Bengaluru died, allegedly after being punished by her teacher. While the school denied the allegations and claimed the child was already sick, the parents maintain that she died after being subjected to corporal punishment. A probe is currently underway to find out the cause of death.
There have been several such incidents lately, where children's lives have been in danger due to corporal punishment. Just last month, a class VI student from Noida died, after being caned by his teacher for failing a test. In August, a 14-year-old Dalit boy from Jalore, Rajasthan died after being beaten up his teacher.
In spite of the laws that have made corporal punishment strictly illegal, it continues to be practised across the country. According to a 2018 report by Agrasar, one of the few organisations in the country that it is dedicated towards eliminating corporal punishment, almost 88 percent students in government schools are beaten up at least thrice a week.
The report also found that more than 91 percent of these parents approve of school corporal punishment and 74 percent admitted that they use it at home. The large majority (70 percent) punish their children when they find out that their children were beaten by teachers at school.
According to Prerit Rana, CEO of Agrasar, "corporal punishment has always been there, but lately there's been a plethora of events. After the Right to Education made it illegal, for sometime there were conversations around prohibition of it.
"In private schools, it has definitely reduced as parents have become aware. But in disadvantage communities, there's been no reduction in corporal punishment. The major reason is it is not even considered a problem.
"A lot of people think if we don't use corporal punishment, how will children study. They think that without corporal punishment, we would end up spoiling the children. As long as that mindset is there, we can't expect anything to change. Even parents have the same mindset. Both teachers and parents beat children equally.
We often say children get beaten up because they behave like children. We expect too much of them. One of the main reasons why they get beaten up is because they don't do their homework, other reasons we found were for being undisciplined or unhygienic. But often, it is their circumstances which force them to come to school like that. Parents go to work and no one is there to take care of the child. Instead of putting more effort, teachers resort to corporal punishment. All forms of harsh punishment have a long term negative impact on children."
Agrasar also runs a country-wide helpline. On an average, they receive about 60 cases every month. "We get calls from students, other teachers in the school, parents and even community members. When we get calls and feel like the case is serious and children might do something negative, then we immediately call up the police.
"There have been several cases where if we don't intervene, the child's life could be in danger. For example, hitting on a child's head repeatedly. More than 80 percent children in government schools get beaten up every day. Not just in schools, but also at home. There are very few organisations that are trying to address this properly. Just doing having teacher training workshops won't help as parents also resort to corporal punishment."
Lakshmi, a 35-year-old mother of two boys said, "my husband and Iwork all day to make ends meet. We come back home drained and are unable to dedicate time to ensure our children study. All we can do is tell them. We are illiterate and cannot help them study or do their homework.
"My husband drinks often and when he gets back home and hears that our boys haven't performed well in school, he loses it and starts beating them uncontrollably. I have to often hide it from him. Even recently, my son failed in the 10th boards and we were called to school. That really angered him and he started beating the child as soon as we got home."
According to Agrasar's report, there are four risk factors that make a child more vulnerable to corporal punishment:
Low income: Parents who have low income don't have the resources to provide their children with good education. The long work hours don't allow them to spend time with their children. Children are unable to complete their homework, which is the number one reason why they are met with corporal punishment.
Migrant background: Children of labourers who have migrated to cities often struggle to articulate themselves through proper language and are frequently absent from school. They face social stigma and prejudice for being a "migrant" and are discriminated against by teachers and the local community. "Often, teachers do not deem children from weak socio-economic backgrounds or lower castes worthy of education and humane treatment, and they are not able to maintain a constructive working relationship with the parents.
"Government schools foster an environment that puts children at risk to experience violence - Insufficient infrastructure and challenging working conditions lead to enormous frustration among teachers. They rarely show awareness for professional conduct which could prevent them from taking out their anger on children.
"Teachers also lack professional training to use alternative discipline methods and to support children in their learning process. Inadequate school governance, in particular non-existent procedures to deal with teacher misconduct and to enforce the legal ban of school corporal punishment, allow teachers to get away.
Our social norms and culture of disregard for children - Popular myths, misperceptions about its effectiveness, and our social norms justify the physical and mental abuse of children, as long as it comes under the pretext or intent to "punish." Children are viewed as property of their parents and as "mischievous" creatures who "need to be broken for their betterment.
Both parents and teachers have unrealistic expectations in children and punish them for normal child-like behaviour. Especially children from lower classes of society are considered unworthy of humane treatment, and are shamed and ignored as victims of
Violence," stated the report.
A lot of teachers say that they are unable to handle stress, from their own personal lives or because of the conditions they work in. So they end up abusing children. A government school teacher who wishes to remain anonymous complained that parents do not take interest in how their children perform or whether they attend class, and so they are burdened with additional responsibility of being 'parents' at school.
According to the Agrasar report, teachers also complained that apart from academic activities, they are also "required to perform a number of activities, such as elections and other government duties, office and administerial work. They feel they are given insufficient financial support from the government and do not have enough time for teaching, which results in enormous frustration. They complained that professional training or workshops are conducted during school hours and collide with their teaching workload."
Dr Jamila Koshy, a psychiatrist says, "there are also a lot of studies on teachers and stress, and yes, teachers do tend to have high stress levels for multiple reasons, organisational, classroom, as well as personal. That's not justification for them resorting to corporal punishment, of course, but it needs to be addressed.
"Schools should aim to work with teachers, giving them more agency and control of how and what they teach, as well as more flexibility if they need it at different phases of life. Class sizes need to be addressed, as should the amount of schoolwork and homework. Finally, personal psychological interventions for teachers under stress need to be provided with adequate privacy and no stigma."
One strategy used by Agrasar in their workshops is to train children to support each other to encourage each other to do their tasks and be disciplined. "Once teachers see the change in children, they become more open to our workshops because they understand how they can be corrected with force. Then we work with teachers and parents. We also get influential people to talk about it," said Prerit Rana.
Talking about the impact corporal punishment can have on a child's development, Dr Koshy added, "Corporal punishment has evidence-based linkage with childhood behavioral problems such as aggression, lying, defiance or early substance abuse; also has linkages to internal problems in children such as increased anxiety, feeling unloved or unwanted, being withdrawn, lacking confidence.
"It has also been linked to children manifesting increased physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches with no discernible cause, and to children performing badly at school, reaching lower levels of achievement in maths or reading ability."
Currently, there are at least fifteen statutory legal instruments or regulatory policies which prohibit corporal punishment. For instance, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009, determines that "(n)o child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment." Under Section 23 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, cruelty to children is prohibited.
In 2012, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), while highlighting the negative impact of corporal punishment, also issued specific guidelines for eliminating it in schools. It also provided guidance for teachers to use alternative, non-violent methods for maintaining classroom discipline.
Speaking about the limitations of the legal provisions on the issue, Prerit Rana, said, "We have certainly come a long way in prohibiting corporal punishment. However, there are limitations. For instance, while it is completely illegal to practise it in schools, there's no law about corporal punishment being practised in homes. There needs to be more clarity in the law. But more importantly, implementation of whatever laws already exist is important. There are no mechanisms where a child can complain on such issues."
He added, "As per NCPCR, the district administration has to face Corporal Punishment Monitoring Cell in every school. But that is not being done. Schools are not even aware of it. So we are helping the government form these cells in the schools."
Corporal punishment has also been found to have detrimental effect on the academic performance of children. The stress and fear caused due to corporal punishment discourages children from going to school regularly.