Spare the child and ditch the rod!


Sections 16 and 17 of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act bans corporal punishment, stating that:-
no child should be subjected to mental or physical harassment or


I remember on one of my earliest visits to an Indian school in 2000 being alarmed by the number of teachers who arrived at their classrooms carrying canes. I must emphasise that during visits to schools in India I have never seen a teacher using such an implement against a child, though the threatening action of slapping a stick hard down on a disk top is something I particularly recall from a visit to one school.  I should also add, that in recent years my visits to schools in several parts of India would suggest that (with one notable exception), the practice of carrying a cane is much rarer than it may have been in the past.

It has always seemed to me that teachers who need to resort to violence in order to manage their classes are demonstrating their own inadequacy rather than that of their students. In discussion with teachers in India, as elsewhere, the majority appear as appalled by the thought that corporal punishment should have a place in education as I am. One does not have to be the most astute observer of the world to see that where violence is used as a means of solving problems this quickly escalates, and often exacerbates a situation until it is out of control.

My parent’s generation and certainly that of my grandparents attended school at a time when the physical chastisement of children was still an accepted practice in English schools, and although it was not made illegal until an Act of Parliament in 1987, it was rarely used during my school days. I do recall children being caned at my secondary school, and indeed I was subjected to a milder form of corporal punishment administered with the rubber sole of a plimsoll. Such an act today would quite rightly lead to serious questions being asked about the conduct of a teacher, even if the transgression of the individual pupil was deemed serious.

Significant moves towards halting corporal punishment in Indian schools have been taken in recent years. A report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 suggested that substantial numbers of children in Indian schools were still being subjected to violence from adults, and that this was having a detrimental impact upon both their physical and mental well-being. The 2005 National Plan of Action for Children and the Report on Child Protection for 2007-2012, called for the implementation of  The National Policy on Education (1986, modified 1992) which stated that “corporal punishment will be firmly excluded from the educational system.” As with all policies, the intentions may be good, but unless the spirit of the Act is applied through action, situations will not improve.

This issue came to the forefront of my mind yesterday on reading a report in several Indian newspapers, of children with visual impairments in a school in South India being severely beaten by teachers. We are not talking here of one or two strokes of a cane, which in itself would, in my opinion, be a heinous crime, but a sustained and vicious attack upon children unable to see what was happening or to defend themselves. Unknown to the teachers, their actions were caught on video and posted on various websites in order to emphasise the deliberate flouting of the law and the unacceptable behaviour of these individuals. The violence of adults who are entrusted with the care of vulnerable children should disturb the sensibilities of any compassionate individual, and should certainly challenge the complacency of those who have the ultimate responsibility to manage education and care.

A link to the video recording is provided here, though I must advise that it is extremely disturbing and would urge you to ensure that it is not shown to children.

A report of this horrendous incident under the heading RTE Act Fails to Check Teachers’ Canes in the Times of India of 22nd July, emphasises the lack of authority with which legislation, including the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) is being implemented or monitored. The news report suggests that:-

“In most cases, corporal punishment goes unreported as children fear telling on their teachers. And in the rare instances when such incidents come to light, they do not reach a legal conclusion as parents work out a compromise with the school management,”

Such incidents will continue for so long as teachers and parents are complicit and do not stand up against violence in schools. It will certainly take courage on the part of many individuals if such behaviours are to cease, because many fear retribution against either themselves or their children, if they speak out or act.

India is a country with a proud history of overcoming oppressions largely through non-violent means. If the use of satyagraha could defeat an occupying administration it must surely be a lesser task to ensure that children can attend school without the fear of being subjected to violence.