The Protection of Child’s rights : On School Grounds

The National Commission for the Protection of Child’s Rights (India) has recently released guidelines for the abolition of verbal assault and physical assault in classrooms, and all I’ve got to say abut it is ‘too little too late‘ because I’ve already passed out of school.

The number of cases of violence in both private and central government schools throughout the country are quite common but appalling nonetheless.

Latest statistics show that physical violence in the form of slapping, knuckle-rapping and beating occurs in 80% of central government schools and 62% of private schools. It’s sad that the National Commission didn’t notice anything wrong sooner. In olden days, from what I’ve heard the older generation say, physical violence and abuse was such a conventional norm that parents found it unorthodox if schools didn’t practice it. Not only that but the use of invective and verbal admonishment was essential in the raising of children.

In today’s day and age, the situation stays in limbo. The harsh, orthodox and antiquated educative techniques have neither evolved nor do they show the faintest hope of change.

Most optimists (who obviously spent their time in expensive boarding schools) would claim that the fact the commission has managed to frame such a charter should probably suffice for now- no matter when exactly this charter is sanctioned and enforced, the hope that it offers should bring some relief to students all across the country.

Realists and Skeptics like me on the other hand would quickly compile a list of provisos that would render this charter absolutely impotent. And would call this decision an exemplification of some other crucial mistakes the educational department has made.

Like a minister’s suggestion to cancel board exams in the 10th grade. First response : It is not the 10th grades that need to be  repealed because they are simply a stepping stone to deciding which stream is more suitable for you. It is the 12th boards that need to be scrapped because they serve absolutely no purpose. It is the last year of schooling which is supposed to prepare you for your career options, instead of which you spend time on some stupid exams that involve memorising bum-fluff and securing good grades that will matter only for a second in a lifetime. The rest of your life will be utterly wasted in bemoaning disappointing results and telling yourself “I could’ve done better“.

The same rationale applies to the protection of child rights in schools. Even if such laws were to be enacted- are you so naive as to believe that schools in one of the most corrupt nations in the world, will simply follow through?

My experience will probably give you a stark glimpse of reality about the Indian education system.

I clearly remember what policy our school followed, as well as what our teachers were expected to do.

There was a barrage of verbal abuse, slander and disparaging language for every child who didn’t to his homework. Didn’t answer a question correctly. Didn’t write questions down in black ink and answer them in blue ink. Didn’t plaster their copies with cellophane, labels and brown covering paper. Didn’t solve yesterday’s questions. Didn’t revise yesterday’s lesson. Failed in a test. Got bottom marks. Didn’t keep the classroom clean. Didn’t switch off lights. Didn’t decorate the blackboard. Didn’t pin up impressive articles and charts on the announcement board. Didn’t offer their name for to be head boy/ head girl.

Boys were frequently beaten up with rulers, hands and chalk pieces. The teachers were fond of slapping students, pinching their cheeks, twisting their ears, thumping their backs or getting hold of their collars. Girls were thrown out every second day for not being able to keep up with a lesson. The principal or any other substitute would storm down the corridors, ask for leave letters, shout and scream, hurl curses and generally draw attention to mundane matters like facial expressions and parents’ numbers. Students were made to stand under the sun, in rows outside classrooms, in the middle of courtyards or on the assembly stage in front of the whole school.

I spent a very long and tedious part of my schooling in government schools and I have experienced mostly all of the above as a teenager. No wonder I wound up with depression.

The most scarring factor in all of these incidents for any student who is subjected to physical or verbal abuse is the feeling of utter humiliation and helplessness. You couldn’t complain to parents because they supported such methods; you couldn’t defend yourself against teachers because that would be viewed as impertinence. All you could do was concoct some crackpot gimmicks in the staff room, or scribble nonsense under desks, on walls and on bathroom doors.

Then there was the fact that teachers had their own biases. One teacher had domestic issues because his wife had cheated on him, another despised pretty girls and thought they should all get married, another just wanted full marks for everybody, another was playing politics because she wanted to get promoted and yet another had asked for a bribe to pass a student. The teachers harboured strong likes and dislikes and were always vocal about their opinions. They would bang tables and break instruments whenever they fancied it. They could screw up a student’s record forever.

The students were obviously in a stupor of some sort. Be it private schools or governmental, the pressure to perform and excel was overwhelming leading to suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns and outbursts in the middle of lectures.

So first of all, with such a glowing track record would schools deign such guidelines worthy of their attention? Are we really that naive to believe that the school system will change its wicked ways?

Schools don’t even have a common tribunal where cases of abuse can be reported. From what dais, therefore, is this section being enforced? In what territory will guilty persons be charged with an offence? Will there be an inquiry when rules are broken by teachers and administrative officials? Will obsolete traditions like daily inspections and excellent grades be suspended because they’re arbitrative and psychologically damaging to the children?

I don’t think so. I have weathered the mood swings of such teachers and traipsed through the hallways and laboured in their classrooms and eaten lunch with my other broken comrades. There is always room for growth, fun and learning. But you will not find it in an Indian school.

To make a difference, parents must take on the challenge as well. The rights of the children will have to be protected all around- right from home. It is the upbringing of children that requires these changes. Parents and teachers need to be enlightened about the physiological, emotional and mental damage that takes place through such abuse. Counsellors need to placed in school premises to ensure no teacher crosses the line. But most of all legal action needs to be taken against any teacher who harms a child. Any charter for the protection of child’s rights is like a Pirate’s honour.

It isn’t real.