Let death not stalk the classrooms in school
By Syed Fattahul Alim
Financial Express , July 7, 2005

DIPU Islam's body had to be exhumed from the Azimpur graveyard for autopsy five days after his burial. He was a little boy of 12 and had the entire life with all its dreams before him. But he had to die a premature death.

The cause of his death was not natural, neither was it due to any mishap of the conventional kind. He was not even killed by muggers or terrorists. Unfortunately, Dipu's death occurred under the most unusual circumstances.

He was taken ill after school hours and was admitted to a hospital in the Moghbazar area in the city. According to the case lodged by Dipu's grief-stricken mother Jahanara Begum, who lost her only son, her child was allegedly beaten to death by his teachers at the Nayatola Government Primary School. None of the teachers from the victim's school came to see Dipu even after his death, his mother bemoaned. The headmistress of the school Shireen Akhter and class teacher Khorshedul Haque have been arrested by the police.

They have been remanded in custody for grilling by the police. The teachers, however, denied the allegation of murder brought against them.

But at the same time, they admitted to resorting to physical punishment for disciplining the students in the school. What the teachers in police custody meant to convey is that even if they had caned or used any other kind of instruments to chastise Dipu in his class, they did not mean any harm to the luckless boy by doing so. On the face of it, their argument has a ring of plausibility considering that corporal punishment for students in the schools of Bangladesh is yet to be banned by law. Boys and girls are regularly beaten up in most of the schools in the capital city as elsewhere in the country. But the reports of fatality, as it happened in the case of Dipu, are few and far between. The reason may be that in the event of any such fatality in consequence of corporal punishment given to students, neither the guardians of the victims nor any other concerned take the matter to the police. Or it may also be that the school authorities and the parents or guardians of the victim, if any, often cover up the incident by settling the matter between themselves amicably. But Dipu's is one such rare case where a parent has had recourse to police case to get justice against teachers committing violence against her child leading to death.

It is hard to believe that the teachers accused in the present case did use disproportionate amount of violence to punish the minor boy Dipu out of any malice towards him. There are many parents who, in order to discipline their children, use violent methods. There are reports of fatal consequences in such cases of parental bashing of their children, too. How should then society look at such painful, though inadvertent, consequences? Parents certainly do not hit their children out of any spite! But should then society exonerate such irresponsible and violent parents, who are so cruel towards children, only because they are parents? In the same way, teachers, too, cannot be absolved of their culpable behaviour in the classes ending in a grievous crime like manslaughter in the name disciplining the students. The government and the community at large have a big responsibility here to ensure that children are not exposed to violence and cruelty at the hands of their teachers in the schools. In the case of Dipu's tragic end, the police and the school authorities must take the case seriously and unearth the exact circumstances under which the hapless boy was deprived of his ultimate right to live and grow on this earth on account of the sheer callousness of his elders.

There are some well-meaning people who are against going too far over such unintentional casualties in the classrooms of our educational institutions.

One may even like to point to the infrequency and fortuitousness of such tragedies. But mere rarity or happenstance does not justify turning a blind eye to such heartbreaking incidents. Dipu's death should be an eye-opener for all, for it has laid bare another grim aspect of our society. It is that our children are insecure not only on the roads leading to or away from their schools, they are not safe even in their classrooms in the school. Are we really aware of the gravity of the situation? How many such instances of gratuitous violence against schoolchildren are being covered up or going unreported day in day out all over the country?

Even if teachers are to be allowed to use some degree of punitive measures to discipline the children, the authorities must draw the line somewhere. There should be some mechanism to monitor the use of punishment in the schools so that teachers using the cane may not cross the defined limits. The school authorities, too, must use their discretion before they put such a weapon like cane in the hands of a teacher. The school authorities must know beforehand the background and track record of the teacher being supplied with the proverbial rod to chastise her or his students. Is the person so entrusted with the job of teaching as well as disciplining the cherub-like children au fait with child psychology? Is the person with the cane understanding and able to use the instrument of punishment with discretion? There are a lot of instances where people with little or no knowledge of child and adolescent psychology are getting jobs as schoolteachers. Even people with violent temperament find no problem getting a teacher's job. There is indeed hardly any provision in the very recruiting process to screen out violent or abusive type of people from the noble calling of teaching. It is not only physical violence, the children are often exposed to verbal abuse in their classrooms. The authorities must look into such outrages being committed within the hallowed precincts of the educational institutions of the country.

In fact, cane should be the last resort when it comes to handling children in the schools. On the other hand, persuasion and example should be the sources of inspiration before the children. And it often so happens that it is the inefficient teachers, who fly into a rage at the slightest provocation and beat up the children without rhyme or reason. This practice must stop.

Family and school are the two basic institutions of society where children grow up during their formative years. The schools are but the second home of the children. Where will children like Dipu go if the fear of severe abuse or even death stalks these sacred institutions of society?

The government and all the conscientious members of the community should come forward to rid the schools of such acts of violence against children. Let the tragedy that struck Dipu and his family be the last of its kind in the country.

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