Last year, an Indian teacher blinded a six-year-old girl by inserting a pin into her right eye after she failed to answer a question in class. This gruesome incident happened in November 2008 in the central state of Chhattisgarh. It was only after a gap of two whole months that the abuse was made public, with the concerned teacher being charged with attempted murder. How common is corporal punishment in Indian schools?
India's education system is struggling with basic issues such as buildings, food and sanitation
A typical Indian classroom consists of a teacher standing at a blackboard, with about 40 to 60 children sitting in neat rows: A scene that is reminiscent of a row of devotees sitting in a temple. But unlike in temples, slapping, caning, pulling of hair and hurling of abuse is common in Indian schools.
“The most common is the teacher beating the child with a cane,” explains Dr Thimappa, a clinical psychologist in Bangalore. “Some are so violent that they beat several times and are still not satisfied. They then ask the child to put a monkey cap on their head and go stand on the footpath. It's even more humiliating. People are passing by. This is the kind of situation which could be a tremendous trauma for a growing child."
In 2007, the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development brought out a study based on the experiences of about 13,000 children across India, according to which about 70 percent of children had reported cases of corporal punishment at school. About 62 percent of these abuses happened in government schools.
Dr Thimappa gives some of the reasons: “The work pressure they have, the large number of students, and quite a lot of them are first-generation learners, even now, with the result that they are not really academically-tuned in the classroom. So, there is no academic atmosphere either at home or in school. This is the kind of pressure a teacher would be undergoing in an Indian context.”
Confusion about legal status of corporal punishment
Until recently, some states still had laws permitting corporal punishment. Rule 37 of the Delhi education rules had the following clause until 2000: “When the cane is used for inflicting any corporal punishment, such punishment shall take the form of strokes, not exceeding 10, on the palm of the hand.”
Dr Shantha Sinha, the chairperson of the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights says that there is still confusion as to the legal status of corporal punishment.
“Currently, there is no law that bans corporal punishment under the Indian penal code -- it’s very ambiguous. If it’s in the best interest of a child in school, then one can sort of condone this act”.
Verbal abuse is also rampant
Corporal punishment is defined as the use of physical force with the intention of hurting a child. But verbal abuse by teachers is also a serious issue.
Tina, a 10th-class student at a private school in Bangalore, says: “There is actually no physical punishment. There’s more shouting, but I think the way they shout is as bad as getting beaten by because their words are pretty sharp and it can really pull you down.“
In recent years, a lot of measures have been taken to tackle corporal abuse. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights issued a set of guidelines in 2007. These talk about creating a forum for children to communicate their grievances.
But in a country where the education infrastructure is struggling with basic issues such as buildings, food, sanitation and resources, especially in ill-equipped government schools, it is difficult to imagine that tackling corporal punishment will become a priority in the foreseeable future.