The Malaise of Corporal Punishment and its Continued Existence in Our Society


The functionalities of punishment go beyond the individual student and act as restorers of collective morality. In an age where corporal punishment is punishable by law, the reasons for its perpetual manifestation need to be discovered.

Chandreyee Goswami | The New Leam   [supsystic-social-sharing id=’5′]

Schools are seen as institutions where children undergo socialization to become trained to fit into the external world. Amidst different functions of the schools, one very important function is to discipline the children and to teach the grammar of being obedient. Punishment forms the means to ensure discipline amongst students.

Corporal punishment/Image Credit : Supplied

While, it is being argued by any social scientist including the well known sociologists such as Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons that nature of punishment has changed in the modern society with restitution characteristics and based on rewards. Nonetheless, in many cases the punishment that is meted out is of brutal and physical nature. This type of punishment is called  corporal punishment which has been very prevalent in India.

Despite the fact that it was banned by the government in 2010, there are many instances of corporal punishment in Indian schools.

According to a study by Plan International, an NGO, more than 65% of children in Indian schools said they had received corporal punishment. The report, which was released in 2010, found that the majority of these children attended government schools. Out of the 13 countries which were surveyed by the organisation, India was ranked third in terms of the estimated economic cost of corporal punishment. The study also found that caste and gender discrimination were high in schools.

According to their research of the sixteen (16) common types of punishment inflicted at home, non-physical punishments constitute a mere 31%.

In other words, every ten times a child is punished at home in these areas, seven times s/he is likely to receive corporal punishment. The data also suggest that at schools, his/her chances of receiving corporal punishment are even higher [non physical punishment component is only 20%.

Another look at the table however reveals that this is not true at all. Homes hardly provide children with any friendly environs. In fact, within the realm of corporal punishment.

(a) The chances of a child receiving only a moderate corporal punishment are high at school while at home they are non-existent. In fact, there are no moderate corporal punishments given at home.

(b) The intensity of corporal punishment is the key factor here. Of the eleven (11) types of corporal punishment inflicted at home, more than 80 per cent are of either severe or torturous intensity. At schools, children do not receive torturous punishments at all. Even within the types of corporal punishment inflicted at schools, forty one (41) per cent are of moderate intensity.

Some of the findings of the study are-

  • Corporal Punishment (CP) is an accepted way of life in schools and at homes. In all the forty-one (41) schools and surrounding communities the team visited, corporal punishment stood out as a common theme. The children also mentioned that the situation was no different at home.
  • Almost all teachers and parents, covered under the study, had no hesitation in accepting that they punish children physically. Many argued the children can not be disciplined without punishment. As one of the parents met in Rajasthan put it,” Children invite punishment by their behavior but whether they should be punished moderately or severely depends on the stamina the children possess.
  • The research team saw a stick in the classroom or in the hands of the teachers everywhere it went. In more than twenty (20) schools the team visited, the students actually showed or pointed out the stick with which they are beaten.
  • The most common forms of punishments are hitting with hands & stick, pulling hair and ears, and asking the children to stand – for long periods – in various positions. Threatening to be physically violent is also used as a punishment to create fear among the children.

In this kind of scenario, what is concerning at the very first place is the impact that it could have on the children. Our schools have been structured in such a way that it is very rarely that any kind of deviant behavior is appreciated even if it means solving the math problem not according to the method given in the book. It rather seems like an assembly line in a factory where students passes different classes under strict supervision and rules, socialising according to what the school demands in particular and the market in general. In a modern age, schools are the primary institutions by which the ideology of the dominant class is being disseminated.

This ideology is nothing but the very core idea of being obedient, subservient and accepting the commands of the superior, negating all kinds of behaviour which are detrimental for the growth of the market. Thus, the function of the school as disciplining the undisciplined becomes pivotal and highlighted while other aspect of it gets overlooked and undervalued. Even the teacher student relationship becomes defined by this aspect whereby the vocation as a teacher of introducing the children to the morality, ethics and mannerisms of the world turns into a forced and suppressive process. There is no space for two sided learning, only a relationship of superordination and one sided accentuation exist.

Thus, incidents like where the headmistress of a government higher primary school in Mangaluru was booked for thrashing students of Class IV because they had not completed their homework in June of this year still occur. Besides, in another such incident school principal in Jharkhand was booked after forcing 13 students to put their hand over a candle flame. Several incidents where female students were forced to strip as a form of punishment have also been  reported.

These cases speak tremendously about the menace of the corporal punishment. It also implies that simply banning a repressive action will not bring the change that is being anticipated. Legally, it is the first step towards curbing these inhuman acts but for a substantial transformation, perhaps the entire system of school education in India needs a revamping. And its beginning has to be with the change in the approach in looking at schools.

In this context, the four myths which Ivan Illich talked about that schools are seen as only place of learning, that its assessment is the only way of evaluating the child and that the prescribed curriculum is the yardstick of progress needs to be questioned. After all, the concern should be why do we learn, for whom do we learn and what do we learn. As already mentioned, punishment is the way of disciplining the students, therefore, it also becomes a means to suppress the voice that wants to question and disagree with the system.

So education which is meant to completely open up our cognitive abilities to comprehend and sensitise ourselves to the realities gets reduce to a tool of the dominant class (it intersects with other social categories like caste,race and gender) to propagate their ideology and eventually get the finished good of the education system army of workers to perpetuate the market ideals obediently.


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