An eleven year old girl from Delhi died today after she was punished by her school teacher. According to news reports, the child, Shano, was made to stand in the sun for more than an hour after she failed to recite the alphabet. Shano slipped into a coma and never recovered.
We hear of these teacher-torture deaths on such a regular basis (and indeed, most of us have been at the receiving end at some point) that it no longer makes us cringe. The old philosophy of ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ is alive and well in our schools, even if it results in a child’s death, deformity or emotional scarring for life.
A simple Google search throws up some alarming results in just the first two pages: In March 2009, a 6 year old girl in Chennai died after her teacher hit her on the head, locked her in a steel almirah and then threw her in a water tank. In October 2008, a girl in Behrampur was found in a school toilet, allegedly raped, and died on the way to hospital. Three teachers were beaten up for their involvement. In tomorrow’s edition of The Seoul Times, an article explores this horrifying trend of corporal punishment and reports how a 13 year old boy in Delhi was stripped and paraded naked as punishment and how, in Japan, school teachers are caught on a regular basis for molesting their students.
Like ‘eve-teasing’, being disproportionately punished by a school teacher seems to be an experience most Indian students have had at some point. Mine points to a teacher in primary school. Bena Pinto (name and shame) taught us Math and was my class-teacher one year. I was punished for not having memorised something. To avoid the punishment that I could see was coming, I remember making up a story and lying in desperation. I was made to face the class and stand with a dustbin on my head.
The next thing I remember I had fainted. That was my first memory of a fainting spell. Throughout my childhood, teenage and adult years, the spells have recurred whenever I have been stressed, in fear or hot & bothered. Needless to say, I fared very poorly at Math throughout school and the hatred of one teacher put me off the subject forever.
Two decades later, I saw Bena Pinto on a Virar bound train standing near the door. I was twenty years older but the pain and shame of that childhood punishment came back the instant I saw her. As I stood there, crushed among the million bodies of home-bound women, I fantasised about pushing her off the train, thus saving a future generation of her unrepentant, spiteful nature.
Of course, I didn’t do anything like that. For one, if you’ve travelled in a WR women’s compartment at rush hour, you’ll know that it is next to impossible to get near the door if you aren’t there already. Plus, I owed it to my other teachers – the ones who nurtured, encouraged, scolded yet loved me – to walk away.
Everybody has a teacher they remember for being slap-happy. Our headmaster used to throw dusters at naughty boys (this seems to be a fairly common punishment). Our drawing teacher used a cane at times. Another Math teacher, Mr. Kulkarni (what’s with them?) used a duster across the knuckles when errors were made. As if that would make the arithmetic simpler.
Everybody has a story like this. As a new parent, it reminds me of what a dreadful and unkind world I’m allowing my child to grow up in. On days like this, home-schooling seems like a very good idea…