-by KParthasarathi Monday, October 29, 2007
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The news item of the tragic demise of a young boy of eleventh standard after he was made to run around in the school ground at Ahmedabad for coming late to school by 15 minutes brings to sharp focus the still prevalent wrong notion that punishment brings about discipline. It is understood that one hundred and ninety two governments have accepted an obligation to take appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of violence (article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child). I have also read the news reports that the UN study on violence against children has set 2009 as target for the prohibition of all violence against children, including all corporal punishment. The case mentioned above is not an isolated one. Everyday hundreds of cases of such inhuman punishments do take place across the country in many schools and go unreported unless there is a fatal outcome.
There are several myths associated with punishments either in schools or at homes. They are that punishment reforms the errant child, it is the duty of teachers and parents to tame and train the children by punishment, it instills discipline early in life to become useful citizens later in life, it builds character and so on and so forth. It is erroneous to think that if the rod is spared, the child would be spoilt. I believe that all forms of punishment only leave a deep and permanent mental scar and that no child should be allowed to suffer it. Punishments indirectly teach the young things that violence in word or action is acceptable and a way to control others. They may replicate such a behaviour towards their peers or younger kids. While they may appear chastened immediately after punishments, they would deeply nurse resentment and anger. Quite often it would lower the self esteem and self confidence of the children. It would invariably smother all goodwill and naturalness in them. It would develop hatred inwardly towards the teacher. There is the risk of some of them turning violent and hard hearted in their later years. One thing is certain namely the children would be denied the happiness and freedom of childhood. Many children from the poorer sections would drop out of the school.
All these do not mean that a permissive society is recommended where there is no place for admonition or pulling up the erring kids. The children should be won by love and gentle ways. As a young boy I used to get beatings from my mom whenever I did a serious mischief, hitting the siblings, breaking in anger the things that come to hand etc.I always tried to run away from the scene and when I returned after sometime my mom would have forgotten the episode. But I do not remember a single occasion when my dad had ever hit me or used harsh words. A mere frown or change in the colour in his face would torment me for days and see me assuring him of my good behaviour.The point that I am trying to emphasize is that mere beatings fail to serve useful purpose while it can be achieved by gentler methods.
There should be a rethinking amongst the teaching community in particular and the parents that punishments as a mode of reform are passé and that hitting or punishing crudely is nothing but child abuse and a gutless act. As some one put it: "If you strike an adult, it’s called assault; if you strike an animal it is called cruelty; if you strike a child, it’s called discipline.” I think this puts the things in proper perspective. The school authorities must as a first step insist on hands-off policy amongst all the teachers and abjure violence in any form. Any repeated violation of this requirement should be visited upon with dismissal.