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Teaching kids a fatal lesson

Though Shanno’s teacher, Manju, has claimed innocence, corporal punishment is routine in government-run schools. Most students in these schools are from the poorer sections of society and their parents neither have clout or enough information about child rights
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON APR 19, 2009 09:26 PM IST

Less than a month-and-a-half after the murder of 19-year-old Aman Kachroo, comes the news of the death of Shanno Khan, 11, a Class II student of a Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD)-run Girls Primary School. Shanno was allegedly made to squat with bricks on her shoulders under a blazing sun for two hours because she could not spell words in English. According to her medical report, Shanno died due to ‘prolonged standing’. Though the two deaths —Kachroo’s and Shanno’s — took place under different circumstances (one due to ragging and the other due to corporal punishment), these incidents prove that court orders and sensitisation programmes alone are not enough to curb such heinous crimes. In fact, on March 19, a teacher, again at an MCD school, beat up 10 students with a nail-riddled cane. The Delhi High Court banned corporal punishment in 2001.

Though Shanno’s teacher, Manju, has claimed innocence, corporal punishment is routine in government-run schools. Most students in these schools are from the poorer sections of society and their parents neither have clout or enough information about child rights. Hence, physical punishments go unnoticed and unreported. In Shanno’s case too, the police was initially reluctant to register a case against the school authorities. As expected, an inquiry has been ordered into the Shanno case and compensation promised to the family. Some have called for a change in the Indian Penal Code since Section 88 of the Code gives protection to parents, guardians, adults and others who physically punish children if it is with the ‘best intention’ and Section 89 gives indemnity for acts committed against children below 12 years. These provisions, experts say, work against the protection of child rights. However, even if these changes were made, they would be cosmetic because implementation has always been our Achilles Heel. Teachers have no fear of punishment and know that they will get away with suspension at worst.

The Delhi Police has registered a case under Section 304(A) — death caused due to negligence. But this is not enough, the teacher must be charged with the much stricter provision of manslaughter and justice must be swift. For Shanno’s parents, this may be cold comfort, they have lost their child forever. But a strong punishment will send out the signal that imparting knowledge cannot be through third-degree methods.

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