Corporal punishment has no place in a civilized society. Yet a recent High Court judgment in the southern Indian state of Kerala recently upheld the legitimacy of this method of punishing a child.

Condemned by psychologists and social scientists, the ruling comes at a time when India’s school system is under severe strain. The syllabus is driven by a textbook culture that forces children to cram for exams rather than helping them develop as rounded human beings, sensitive to others.

The court order — which admittedly allows the use of a cane or a teacher’s palm only under “certain circumstances” and “within certain limits” — is seen by many as giving license to teachers to vent their own frustrations. Most of them are underpaid, with the result that the profession attracts little talent.

The rod is a handy way for these teachers to deal with their own resentment and anger against a society that is almost brutally oblivious to their interests. The weak and helpless student is thus reduced to a punching bag.

In New Delhi, a 13-year-old boy in a well-known school was stripped naked and publicly paraded. In a municipal town, a 5-year-old was physically tortured by his teacher so severely that he required psychiatric care. In Bombay, a teenager who had his ears boxed by a principal ended up needing surgery.

Such abuse can affect a child for life. Studies worldwide have revealed that beating is highly ineffective. On the contrary, it makes a child defiant, rebellious and hostile, likely to develop a warped and sometimes even criminal personality. Children thus crushed begin to believe that violence is, after all, the answer to most problems.

The larger effect, therefore, is the virtual “manufacturing of an inconsiderate, intemperate and cruel society in a lab called school,” says one Madras teacher.

The Kerala High Court verdict, in contrast to that interpretation, reaffirms the medieval view that sparing the stick will merely spoil the child.

The move contravenes the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and acceded to by India in 1992. Article 28 of the Convention provides, “State parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity.”

Yet the recommendations of a committee set up by the Indian government to revise the education code blatantly ignore the U.N. directive. The committee allows corporal punishment in certain situations. These, however, have been only vaguely defined, meaning that school administrations can literally get away with murder.

Most parts of Europe and the United States do not allow anyone to touch a youngster. Even Britain, once known for its horror stories of school brutality, banned corporal punishment in 1998.

India, it seems, is not just way behind, it is positively reveling in a practice that is nothing short of barbaric.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.