What if the High Courts of the land ban corporal punishment? There are ways and ways of getting around the ban, as the New Delhi school authorities seem to demonstrate.
Rahul (name changed), a Class IV student of a government school in central Delhi, does not want to be the class monitor. "My friends will become enemies. I will be made to beat them if they misbehave." Teachers "authorising" class monitors to punish classmates is not a practice unique to Rahul's school, reports Hindustan Times, a leading daily.
Child rights activist and lawyer Ashok Aggarwal came across a similar incident three weeks ago in a municipal primary school in Bhalaswa. The class monitor had punished three girls, making them bend with their face between their knees. "This is a prevalent practice. Monitors are even given canes at times. It becomes a power show for children," he said.
Way back in 2000, the Delhi High Court judgment had declared corporal punishment illegal. The only option to rein in the "unruly?" Asking the other students to take to the cane. As simple as that.
"Class monitors are given the authority to use force against their peers. I have seen a Class IV monitor beat his classmates. Children tend to imitate their teachers," said Meenakshi Singh (name changed), a trainee teacher at a government school in Pragati Maidan.
Kusum Jain, president of Parents' Forum for Meaningful Education, said this practice is prevalent in several private schools too. "Schools are cultivating a culture of peer violence. Teachers are teaching children to be brutes," said Jain, who has interviewed students who admitted to being beaten by their class monitors. "This practice makes bullies of children and leads to groupism in class."
The solution to the problem remains to be found, said S Eswaran, general secretary, All India Primary Teachers' Federation.
Corporal punishment was discussed at the 30,000-strong gathering of teachers at the bi-annual meet of the federation earlier this month in Jaipur. "Awareness about eradication of the practice from the education policy is yet to reach the grassroots level of teachers. We must have a code of ethics for both teachers and students," said Eswaran.
This was among issues raised at a meeting on corporal punishment held by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights last week. "It is inhuman to manipulate children to be the spokesperson for the violence that teachers perpetuate," said Shanta Sinha, chairperson of the commission.
"This is a reflection of deep-rooted internalisation of punishment as a means to discipline. Constitutional rejection has outlawed the malady. Its speedy eradication will depend on continued media attention and realisation among teachers and parents," said PS Sharda, the advocate who filed the writ petition that led to the 2000 Delhi HC judgment.
Meanwhile the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has constituted a working group to debate the question of protecting children against violence and corporal punishment in schools and evolve a policy. The panel, headed by Dipa Dixit, member, NCPCR, is expected to submit its final report on January 31, 2008. The committee held its first meeting on October 22 and constituted subgroups to look at related topics such as existing rules, strategies for advocacy and the legal issues involved.
Niranjan Aradhya from the Department of Child Law in the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, the only member of the working group from south India, has underlined the need for a specific law to make parents and teachers legally accountable for violence against children. "There is a need to spell out this liability in clear terms of law to promote respect for the law in terms of deterrence," he said.