A Class 6 student in Hyderabad reportedly suffered a fracture on Wednesday, after he was allegedly thrashed by his school teacher.
According to a complaint filed by the parents with the police, 12-year-old Sri Teja, a student of Lotus Public School in Dilshuknagar, was found with his classmate, indulging in some pulling and pushing.
Following this, the teacher thrashed Teja with a stick, due to which he returned home with a swollen hand, which later allegedly turned out to be a fracture.
This is the third such incident in Telangana, this week alone, suggesting that corporal punishment is on the rise in the state.
Earlier this week, as many as 30 girl students were allegedly brutally beaten up at a school in Munnanur village of Amrabad mandal in Telangana’s Nagarkurnool district.
Their crime? They had failed or secured very low marks in an English test.
In Andhra, things are worse, as a minor in Krishna district was allegedly set on fire by the warden of the Mother Teresa orphanage in Kambhampadu, after the former refused to clean a toilet.
The 14-year-old reportedly suffered 75% burns and battled for his life at the Government General Hospital (GGH) in Guntur for 10 days, before succumbing to his injuries on Wednesday morning.
Assault with impunity
While physical assault on children likely happens across India, it is particularly severe in the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra.
It was just in December last year that visuals of a lecturer at the Sri Chaitanya Junior College at SR Nagar in Hyderabad emerged, where he could be seen caning students till they bled.
Many students suffered bruises on their hands and back, as they were hit for failing to do their homework.
In most instances, the teachers who inflict the punishment enjoy a certain level of immunity as a case is rarely registered against them. Further, most teachers who commit the crime go scot free since very few families actually go ahead and press charges.
For example, in the Munnanur village case, “Only one of the families out of 30, came forward to file a complaint against the teacher," the police told The News Minute.
In the Andhra case, the police had first stated that the boy had tried to immolate himself as part of a suicide bid. It was only four days later, on the hospital bed, that he alleged that he was set on fire by his warden.
However, even after the incident, the warden stayed put at the orphanage, telling a reporter who visited, "I didn’t even scold him harshly that day...The boy had attempted suicide as he was depressed. If I committed any mistake, I will abscond from the place soon after the incident, but I didn’t do so."
Speaking to TNM, Achyuta Rao, a member of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and a child rights activist states that the police act like "a panchayat sitting below a tree", often asking the parents and the teachers to 'compromise'.
"In several cases, we have to literally keep running behind them, until they register an FIR. I spoke to the police so many times, but they don't take it seriously. By the time, the charge sheet is filed and the case goes to court, the child's physical wounds itself will be healed by time," Achyuta remarks sarcastically.
Achyuta says that despite physical assault on children being a cognisable offense, the teachers are let off in most cases, after being booked or suspended.
Arrests are rare, and the accused can even get back to the profession, he adds.
"This happens because of the prevailing attitude, not just among teachers, but also among parents, that children will only learn if they are given a smack or two," says Achyuta.
Achyuta argues that children learn much better in an environment where they are happy, and where students and teachers can have a friendly discussion.
"Today's children are already stressed from the sheer amount of workload that we dump on them. Imagine how much worse it gets, if they go to school every day with the fear of being chided or beaten," he says.
Taking the example of the 12-year-old who was beaten in Hyderabad, he adds, "The school has claimed that he was a very rude child and that his parents didn't pay the fees. Now, if a child is unruly, isn't it the school's responsibility to counsel him? As far as the fees is concerned, what is the child's fault for not paying fees? His parents are at fault, and often, such incidents happen because they come from poor socio-economic conditions."
A detailed research conducted in 2014, got similar responses from several parents, teachers and students in Andhra on the issue of corporal punishment.
"Nowadays, the teachers don’t beat the students. ... but it should be necessary sometimes to keep them in control. So we ourselves ask them to be strict with the students. The teachers said they don’t beat the students as strict rules are passed. But we ourselves ask them to beat on their backs or on the hands, otherwise the students will become stubborn, without any fear," said one parent.
The researchers also spoke to several students, who recounted their experiences with physical assault, while showing clear signs of mental stress, according to the results.
The 2014 research concludes with the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children, which notes, "Schools are uniquely placed to break the patterns of violence by giving children, their parents and communities the knowledge and skills to communicate, negotiate and resolve conflicts in more constructive ways."
A recent survey conducted across the world in 2016 and published this week, also threw up disturbing trends in India.
According to the results, nearly one in every three children in India felt 'unsafe' at school.
Besides boundary walls, first aid facilities and toilets, children also spoke of corporal punishment and bullying, among other concerns.
In India, around 23% of children described feeling safe as not being the target of physical, emotional abuse or violence, including, as many children said, corporal punishment and "no bullying".
"The survey tells us that children in India are passionate about bringing in a more interactive approach to learning and subjects that would prepare them for real life, like technology. But it is alarming to know that safety in their institutions is a grey area," National Director of ChildFund India Neelam Makhijani has said in a statement.
"We can't lose sight of the fact that every child has the right to learn in a safe environment and a collective intervention is our moral responsibility," she added.
"Like how we ensure that a teacher is academically qualified before we hire them to teach, either in a government school or a private school, the state and the Centre have to come up with certain policies, that ensure that they are sensitive to the needs of the children, and do not succumb to physical assault," says Achyuta.
"After all, the children are the future. Teaching is a nation building activity. The amount of influence that a teacher holds over several children at once can be used greatly to our advantage. We cannot be so negligent with education," he adds.