Teen’s death sparks debate on corporal punishment

June 11, 2010

The death of Rouvanjit Rawla, a Kolkata schoolboy allegedly driven to suicide after being thrashed and humiliated by his teachers, has sparked a media debate on corporal punishment in Indian schools.

Rouvanjit, a student of La Martiniere School for Boys, was found dead in his room days after he was caned by his teachers.

The case has drawn widespread support after Ajay Rawla lodged a police complaint alleging his son hanged himself due to the “inhuman torture inflicted by his teachers”.

A quick search on the Internet reveals what many say is an apathetic attitude of academic staff towards pupils in Indian schools.

As Rawla sought more information following his son’s death, he found popular social networking sites like Facebook full of testimonials from students who have experienced corporal punishment.

People recount disturbing experiences at school ranging from humiliation in front of peers to verbal and physical abuse.

Rouvanjit’s case is not an exception.

India’s education system and its evaluation processes have also come under the scanner for a spike in student suicides which occur mostly because they fail to cope with the burden of expectations from their family and teachers.

What the death of Rouvanjit has done is put the focus again on the issue of student-teacher relationships in particular and Indian education in general.

Reams of newsprint have been spent on it and even commercially focussed Bollywood has ventured to address the ills of the Indian education system.

Remember the film “Taare Zameen Par” or last year’s mega-hit “3 Idiots”? The films are a commentary on a world in which heavy parental expectation and academic competition have meant a steady rise in depression, dysfunctional lifestyles and even suicides among students.

Some education reforms have already been implemented — a grading system has been put in place for a nationwide school board examination taken by 15-year-olds and the test may even be made optional from next year.

Even so, the relentless administration of discipline is a hallmark of the Indian education system that perhaps prizes learning by rote, often ignores a student’s natural talents and writes off those who can’t cope or fit its definition of success.

The law may prohibit corporal punishment but without a change of attitude, implementation could be limited and what we will continue to do is be guilty of quashing our children’s dreams and turning them into assembly line zombies, that too if they survive the trauma.

5 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I think its not just corporal punishment alone. Most of us went through school getting punished physically, the difference seems to be in the way it is meted out. It seems teachers these days, when they punish a child, do it not to reform or bring home a lesson but to actually hurt and vent their anger. That is what is wrong. Spare the rod and spoil the child is not wrong. What is wrong is the fact that teachers seem to see it and use it as an act of revenge.

We were punished too but we knew the teacher was doing it for a purpose and the best part of it was that in a few minutes it was all forgotten. It is basically a question of attitude of the teachers.

Posted by DaraIndia | Report as abusive

Corporal punishment (CP) never works, never has and never will. The whole idea behind CP seems to be that you can beat a person to learn. I believe that the real reason behind CP in India is the submissive mentality that students are subjected to every single living day of their entire schooling. The students are supposed to submit to whatever the teacher says and not question him at all. There is enough literature on this point – books, op-eds, editorials and what not.

While a student is young (i.e. in school – when he is physically not able to return or retaliate to the violence) a teacher feels comfortable in caning or otherwise using violent means to punish a student. However, CP declines as students moves to senior classes (Class 11 and 12) and subsequently to Graduate College and Post Graduate College. I submit, that even though the CP in its physical manifestation is absent in these senior classes and college – though there still teachers have other means to manifest their violence.

If a teacher feels a student is creating indiscipline, the student should be removed from the class (perhaps after a warning or two but not necessarily). He should be reported to authorities who might then take necessary action against him or her. Such student might be asked to do community service or its equivalent in school – say he might be asked to work for a certain number of hours assisting the clerks in school library after school hours or he might be asked to assist school gardeners after school hours. He might be removed from school temporarily and subsequently permanently.

A teacher has absolutely no right to physically punish any student under any circumstances.

Posted by Khagesh | Report as abusive

While I agree to a large extent corporal punishment is wrong, it’s also the responsibility of the parents to make their growing up sons and daughters a bit more mentally stronger. I did my schooling in a boarding school and punishments were part and parcel of every day routine – some of them were really harsh. I remember an incident where one of my class mate and myself were beaten mercilessley for almost 20-30 mins, not to mention – we were one of the most notorius kinds, guess it was in my 7th or 8th standard. My friend fell unconscious on the classroom floor. Though the teacher was summoned by the head master – we as a class wanted to take a revenge about the entire episode. The teacher in question used to play football with us in the afternoon and he was a good player. The planning was done so meticulously and silently in the hostel rooms, we broke one of his leg next day he played with us in a tackle during the game.

Posted by Prat | Report as abusive

While I do quite agree on banning corporal punishment at schools, I would like to point out that today’s kids should also be raised/counseled at home so that they become a bit stronger – mentally/psychologically. Can’t accept the fact that someone commits suicide after been punished at school – caned or whatever. That also, in one of the poshest school in Kolkata.

I grew up in a boarding school and punishments were part of everyday life and people like me were punished almost everyday, some of them were really harsh – not to mention I was one of the most notorious kind. I remember an incident, guess we were in 7th/8th standard where one of my class mate and my-self were beaten mercilessly for almost 20 mins with wooden scales, my friend fainted on the classroom floor, and I had black marks all over my body and face for almost 2 weeks.

We as a group planned the same evening in our hostel rooms to take revenge against the teacher; he must be in his thirties then. He used to play football with us almost every afternoon. 2 of my classmates got involved in a tackle with the teacher during the game and broke his leg. He was hospitalized for few days and it was good fun to watch him walking for a month with his crutches.

I am not posing this incident to paint myself or my class mates as heroes or justifying whatever we did was correct, but kids these days are too ‘putul-marka’ (sorry, this is a bengali slang for doll like personality).

Cheers, Prat.

Posted by Prat | Report as abusive

To speak frankly Corporal punishment is one of the most debatable topic. As it the responsibility of the teachers to mold the personality of the students and the parents have to give morel support to the children. As seen in Kolkata, a number of students suicide due to the harsh punishment in school. It is very much proving the weak support of the parents and the weak state of mind. The parents r required to the children the most different atmosphere as compared to school. NO CORPORAL punishment is a good thing but NO punishment at all would b a little too lenient to the children as to be correct i myself would notice the difference between attending the lecture of a lenient teacher and a strict one.

Posted by honeyblossom100 | Report as abusive