Crime and Punishment

The suicide of Calcutta student Rauvanjit Rawla, allegedly following punishment by his school principal, has created uproar across the country. The debate it set off on the virtues or rather the lack it, of caning and punishing students as a means to discipline them is still on.

‘Spare the rod and spoil the child,’ was the wisdom that my grandmother, as many others, passed on. Things haven’t changed much there when I last checked, during a visit to Kerala early this year. Teachers at the village schools that I went to still cane students; and many parents make special requests to teachers that they do so.

Urban social environment is different and education experts say punishing children amount to ‘dehumansing’ them. Teachers who cane students are treated as criminals by the media. That may well be a valid assessment that suits a more evolved understanding of society and children’s psychology.

What is disturbing, however, is the utter indifference we have towards much more serious issues concerning education, particularly in the rural and small town environment, where most Indian children grow up.

In most schools in hinterland India, caning is hardly the issue. I am sure people there would laugh if they get to know that it is primetime obsession in metros. The main problem there is teachers just do not come. Teachers draw their salaries and children learn whatever they can on their own. A Dalit political leader in Bihar once recalled his school days as follows: “One day, the students were asked to clean the school ground and I was picked on to clean up human excreta. When I refused, the upper caste teacher taunted that I would anyway do that even after studies.”

Such discrimination is not limited to schools or Bihar only. In Jaipur this week, a university professor declared at a seminar that Dalits are not allowed to ride horses as per scriptures. An agitated Dalit student rode a horse to the university next day in protest.

Numerous such prejudices– unreported and accepted as normal – of caste and gender discrimination are holding back the much-needed thrust that we need in education. Those, to my mind, are more crucial while we discuss our educational system.

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