PROS & CONS
Harsh jail terms await those who mete out corporal punishment. Sensitisation of teachers along with lesser punitive measures may be a better fix
Sensitisation of teachers may be a better fix to banish the era of corporal punishment
Imagine a scenario where the teacher is afraid of the student because of a strong law
THE PROPOSED amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, which is being renamed as the Child Justice (Care, Protection and Rehabilitation of Children) Act, could have far-reaching repercussions. These changes are based on a survey conducted by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights ( NCPCR), which states that teachers who mete out corporal punishment be severely punished. The survey — Eliminating Corporal Punishment in Schools — lists some shocking details such as, 99.86 percent of children have suffered punishment in one form or the other. It also states that the top five forms of abuse, with an incidence of over 50 percent, are derisive adjectives, caning, being slapped on the cheek, hit on the back, and ears getting boxed.
The adjectives used to mete out verbal abuse under the category “derisive adjectives” are: pagal, nalayak, kamchor, bewakoof, idiot, fool, etc. It is true that these words are reprehensible and they may cause distress to the child. But it is also important to look at the proposed penal provisions, which carry jail terms higher than those in the Indian Penal Code ( IPC). Corporal punishment causing simple injury and emotional distress to the child would carry a jail term of one year. Subsequent offences could attract a three-year term. If the child is grievously hurt or subject to severe mental trauma, the teacher would be given a five-year sentence. Subsequent offences would attract a seven-year term. The efforts made by the NCPCR are praiseworthy. It is also true that children constitute about 50 percent of the country’s population and that child abuse does have a high incidence in India. However, there is a need to analyse the proposed quantum of punishment on teachers, as also the larger impact on the education system.
The proposed jail terms are at par with other heinous offences under the IPC. The idea may be to create a strong deterrent among teachers and other school staff. However, merely effecting strong laws is not always the best way out, as laws tend to be misused, abused and sometimes selectively applied too. Sensitisation of teachers along with lesser punitive measures may be a better fix.
But there is the larger issue at stake now. Following the new guidelines for Right To Education, schools need to follow a ‘no detention policy’, where till Class VIII, the students do not fail in any class. Further, with the implementation of Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation, students no longer have the fear of low grades due to non-performance in class. While there is a great need to sensitise teachers about the avoidance of corporal punishment, it is also important to tie this with the larger issue. I’m aware that India faces a number of problems related to the ill-treatment and abuse of children. However, if a child does not study well and as s/ he cannot be detained due to low grades, there is no deterrence for these young children. Imagine a scenario where the teacher is afraid of the student because of a strong law. The child is aware that s/he does not need to fear the teacher. I guess eliminating the ‘strict teacher’ fear factor in the teaching-learning process is a positive thing. But the child also knows that s/ he is not going to get low marks or fail due to non-performance in school. So, where is the incentive for the child to study? In this scenario, if you add the fact that there is a higher school dropout rate among marginal communities, such as poor Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, we are looking at a serious problem.
High dropout rates among marginal communities are there for a number of reasons, some of which could be met with the mid- day meal scheme and stronger laws against teachers. However, marginal communities of all sorts, which also include large swathes of tribal and rural people, are largely out of the education system because they do not see a match-up between education and employability. So, while we do need children with no scars, we cannot afford young adults devoid of all skills. (The views expressed in this column are the writer’s own)