It has become abundantly clear that it's not the pupils in Bangladesh schools and madrassas who are in most urgent need of discipline and re–education on disciplinary matters, but many of their 'teachers', headmasters, local educational authorities and teachers' associations.
One can argue the pupils are blameless for their lack of discipline… for knowing no better… after all they are children seeking knowledge and discipline, but the 'teachers' have no excuse whatsoever.
They can no longer cite their ignorance of corporal punishment and its ill–effects upon the minds and bodies of children as an excuse, as they once could. They can't argue that they themselves were 'disciplined' in this brutal, immoral and barbaric fashion and it hasn't done them any harm.
Why does this madness… unkindness… cruelty continue? Two months ago, for example, while the nation was still euphoric about its near–win against Pakistan in cricket, Al–Amin, Mursalin Akter, Asma Akter and about 30 fellow students in the ninth grade of the Samantasar High School at Gosairhat upazila of Shariatpur had to be hospitalised after being beaten indiscriminately by English ‘teacher’ Abdus Salam. Their crime? – They had entered the classroom with painted faces in celebration of the Asia cup final match (God love them).
What an unique opportunity for the teacher to have grasped: bonded with the pupils, shared their enthusiasm, rejoiced in their good spirit, gained their respect, and worked as a team thenceforth, but…!
An ideal learning environment is FUN–tastic, helping them to know; helping them to grow. I wonder if the children had attended school with Bangabondhu or Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina painted on their faces, if the 'teacher' would have reacted in the same manner – I doubt it… and for very good life–preserving reasons.
While the nation is always appalled by news of senseless and often brutal attacks by 'teachers', even more disgraceful and shocking is the fact that 'teachers' of the fairer sex commit many of these atrocities.
While the general assumption is that female teachers – especially those who are mothers – would be more maternal, more understanding, more kind, more tolerant of a child's minor misbehaviour in class, evidence suggests that is not the case. Give them access to a ruler or cane and the chances are they can swing it on par with the men if not with greater force and brutality. Where their maternal instincts end and brutality kicks–in is a mystery.
Last year a female 'teacher' at a government primary school in Madaripur Sadar upazila created some kind of record by caning no less than 64 children – the smallest, weakest and most vulnerable members of society – causing ten to be treated at hospital and many more harbouring lesser injuries.
The story goes she had been sleeping in the classroom during her class when noise from the pupils awoke her. She retaliated by beating them mercilessly for disrupting her sleep!
In January this year Nahid Shirin, headmistress of Lalbagh Government Primary School, was sued for beating Umme Habiba Khatun, a class V student with a wooden stick for not attending classes for three days. The girl had to take first aid from a local clinic with injuries in the hands and back. In her defense the headmistress said: "I have beaten up Habiba for her absence, and the matter has already been settled after I have said sorry to Habiba's family". Huh? Since when did apologies – however sincere – heal physical bruising or negate the pain and humiliation suffered by the victim, not to mention the potential lifelong mental, if not physical, scars and breaking a law of the land?
Not all the evil happens in village schools. Ayesha (not her real name), a student of class eight of the renowned Mastermind English medium school stopped attending when allegedly Neera Habib, Director of Administration hit her and six others with wooden rulers for protesting the expulsion of two classmates. "She broke two rulers on us," said Ayesha showing marks on her arms.
Surely every teacher throughout the length and breadth of Bangladesh knows by now that corporal punishment is against the law.
On January 13, 2011, modern–day heroes of the nation Justice Md. Imman Ali and Justice Md Sheikh Hassan Arif declared corporal punishment "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child's fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom".
As long as corporal punishment prevails in any school, parents need to pay more attention to the on–goings.
They need to ask themselves if they would send their child – the one they claim they love, cherish and would die to protect – next door to be beaten by a neighbour? Would they send their child – whom they claim makes their life worth living – into a no–go zone to be smashed into pulp by thugs, bullies, miscreants and have them scarred mentally and physically for life even after the physical wounds have healed?
Why then would they send them to a school where they know these abominable acts of corporal punishment are a regular occurrence? Why then would they not speak out in support of other parents whose children have been abused and tortured in the name of corporal punishment in the pretence or warped belief it was actually doing their child good?
Corporal punishment offers no solutions to any disciplinary problems: never has, never will. It has NEVER generated good, only the opposite. It is impossible to beat love and respect into anyone. Corporal punishment beats–in: fear, hatred, violence, disrespect, resentment and vengeance. It compresses, represses, and like a time bomb explodes when least expected and prepared. It can – and does – leave deep emotional scars and almost always begets further violence.
Corporal punishment has no place in an enlightened society. It perpetuates a cycle of child abuse and teaches children to hit someone smaller and weaker.
The following is a poem I came across recently in multi–talented Bobby Hajjaj's popular Independent newspaper column that's worth repeating here:
First they came for the Jews
… and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
… and I did not speak out
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
… and I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
… and by then there was
No one left to speak out for me.
The above was written by German anti–Nazi activist, Pastor Martin Niemüéller which supports that of Irish statesman Edmund Burke (1729–1797) who encapsulated one of the greatest truths of all time: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
It is vitally important that children and parents stand up for their rights and realize the law and the Ministry of Education are on their side – special thanks to Education Minister Nurul Islam and Secretary Dr. Kamal Naser Chowdhury – and they report and speak out against corporal punishment abuses.
If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep on being what you always been. Nothing changes unless you make it change and there is no better time for change than now.
Corporal punishment must end immediately – No excuses – or we are sowing the seeds of a heartless, uncaring, inhuman society infected with apathy, contempt, hate, fear, aggression disrespect, resentment and vengeance – a society in which no one would want to live. We reap, what we sow.
(Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award–winning writer, humanitarian, Goodwill Ambassador and Senior Adviser to European and Saudi royalty, and a loyal foreign friend of Bangladesh.)