The principal of the Electricity Board Junior High school for Girls, Anpara in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh allegedly handed down murga punishment (stress position used as a corporal punishment) to around 15 eighth standard students and forced them to run on the playground without their skirts recently.
The matter came to light on Monday after parents of the girls created a ruckus on the campus. School principal Meena Singh has been suspended.
An LKG student in a private school in Rajgarh, Madhya Pradesh who soiled his pants in the school last month was allegedly forced to stand without his shorts for four hours by the school authorities. Traumatised, the boy could not speak to anybody at home properly for about two days.
Even though the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, prohibits ‘physical punishment’ and ‘mental harassment’ under Section 17(1) and makes it a punishable offence under Section 17(2), majority of the teachers in our schools still believe in the old saying, spare the rod and spoil the child.
Experts say lack of training and awareness ensure that the teachers do not adapt to modern teaching practices and continue disciplining their students with a variety of punishments which often lead to grave physical and mental injuries, and in some cases even death.
Even before Right to Education (RTE) made corporal punishment a punishable offence, in 2001 itself Delhi high court had ruled that corporal punishment undermines the dignity of a student. A parents’ forum had moved the court where a division bench ruled that it was cruel to put children under corporal punishment in the name of discipline.
In Delhi the cases and complaints of corporal punishment are few and mainly from the government schools. Private schools say that regular circulars are sent to the teachers sensitising them about it being a punishable offence. “Regular seminars and discussions are held on issues of corporal punishment. There is no need to use language of violence,” said Ameeta Mulla Wattal, principal Springdales School, Pusa Road. Other schools say that some children who are unruly they are disciplined through counselling and other creative measures.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) which has more than 18000 schools affiliated to it across the country issues regular advisories to all the schools to sensitise the staff regarding corporal punishment. In letters to school CBSE highlights the fact that RTE Act has framed strong rules against it. The 2009 Act, which came into force on April 1 a year later, defines physical or mental harassment as illegal and punishable under sections 17(1) and 17(2). CBSE in its letters and advisories to the schools referred to the Act regarding the repercussions seen on the child’s mental condition on being subjected to such harassment which include - increased aggressive attitude, behavior resembling vandalism, decreased self-esteem, reduced confidence and concentration strength and other serious defects.
Considering majority of the schools are within the purview of the state Governments, the HRD ministry doesn’t maintain centralised data on corporal punishment. However, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) does receive sporadic complaints of corporal punishment against independent schools affiliated with it.
For instance, it received 10 such complaints during 2015, which included four from Madhya Pradesh and one each from Assam, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Chhattisgarh. In 2016, there were seven complaints, including two from Madhya Pradesh and one each from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. CBSE takes up such complaints with the concerned School Management Committee for appropriate action.
The Affiliation Byelaws of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) empower the school managing committee to place an employee under suspension if charged with cruelty towards any student or employee of the school. In case of Madhya Pradesh, State Commission for Protection of Child Rights former member Vibhanshu Joshi had made recommendations to the school education department to organise an awareness campaign in the school to teach the definition of corporal punishment. He recommended installation of a complaint box. He also recommended publicising the cell phone number, address and contact number of State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR).
States, on their own have taken several steps to ensure such incidents are not repeated. For instance, private schools in Jharkhand have formed teams to redress complaints on corporal punishments.
In Kolkata, after a student committed suicide, schools have issued instructions on how to discipline students.
“As far as disciplining of students is concerned, our limit is fixed to verbal rebukes, calling guardians and in extreme cases suspension from attending classes for a certain period,” said R Mondal, a teacher with Binodini Girls’ High School.
There have been reports of teachers violating the RTE rule in many schools of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In the latest instance of such punishment on January 8 this year, a five-year-old kindergarten student Banoth Siddu of Ameenpet hamlet in Warangal was beaten up severely by his teacher for not doing homework. The caning left the child with bruised legs, hands and back.
Venkat Reddy, a child rights activist, said corporal punishment continues to be rampant in many schools. “We do get a lot of complaints from parents about their children being beaten up in schools and we brought the instances to the notice of the officials of the school education department, but hardly any action is taken, except in serious instances,” he said.
Shiba Minai, an administrator with Oakridge group of institutions, Hyderabad said: “Teachers are strictly told not to touch students, but to adopt other methods like giving them additional responsibility in the class, sending errant students to counselling centres and discipline them by making them participate in games,” she said
Schools in Mumbai have adopted better practices in case a student is not disciplined. “When we find that a particular child has been aggressive, our teachers narrate healing stories to all the children in that classroom,” said Bindu Chowdhary, trustee of the school. “The child is able to connect with the characters in the story and this helps him modify his behaviour and prevents them from being embarrassed in front of his friends.”
Jamnabai Narsee School, Juhu, for instance, involves enrolling misbehaving children in community service to teach them a lesson and give them time to reflect on their actions. “We ask them to monitor the class or supervise the canteen or simply to sit in the library and read,” said Zeenat Bhojabhoy, principal of the school. Children in middle school (upper primary sections) are given time-outs in the counsellor’s office or library where they can pursue something that interests them.
Schools are even replacing the word punishment with corrective measures or positive reinforcements. “We don’t use the word punishments, we call it corrective or punitive action,” added Bhojabhoy. “Misbehaviour cannot be blamed on the children alone. The child might be acting out because of stress at home.”
Some schools are also following the approach of engaging children in activities which they generally dislike as a disciplining technique. At NES International School, Mulund, children who do not like art are asked to sit for an extra art class or an extra lecture. Others keep hyperactive children busy in physical activities. “We have a library inside every class, children are asked to go and read a book from there after they finish their class work so that they do not disturb others,” said Kavita Vaidya Karve, principal of The Somaiya School, Vidyavihar.