Published: 19th November 2021
When the trauma of corporal punishment stays with you, many years later
Following a few viral incidents of corporal punishments recently, a few adults recount their experiences
A week ago, sex educator and Instagrammer Swati Jagdish had shared a rather horrifying incident via social media. Swati spoke about how she had witnessed a toddler being beaten up by a teacher inside a preschool classroom in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.
"I had gone to an office on the first floor of the same building where the preschool was functioning on the ground floor," says Swati. However, on the way back, she says that she was stunned to hear a child's cry and this had prompted her to peep through the classroom's window. "A little boy who was three or four was being beaten up. Shocked, I took out my phone and recorded a part of it," she says. Popularly known by her Instagram username Maya's Amma, she had also shared a screenshot from the video on her Instagram handle, that showed a crying child being dragged and another child in the background closing his ears, visibly startled by the event. She had shared the incident, asking parents to keep a tab on schools and ensure that their children are not abused.
Now, there are two things that were wrong with the incident, Swati pointed out when we spoke to her. "To begin with, why is a preschool open now? Tamil Nadu hasn't granted permission to open preschools now. Also, corporal punishment is a criminal act," she says. According to Section 82 of the Juvenile Justice Act, anyone who subjects a child to corporal punishment "shall be liable, on the first conviction, to a fine of ten thousand rupees and for every subsequent offence, shall be liable for imprisonment which may extend to three years."
When Swati confronted the school authorities, she said that they had initially denied beating the child. "Later, they told me that the child has special needs and had removed his shorts in front of the entire class, despite being asked not to. But this is a normal thing that a child does and there is nothing wrong or unusual about it. In any case, they cannot subject a child to corporal punishment.
Ghosts from the past
A few weeks before Swati had shared this piece of information, a video from a Tamil Nadu school where a student was beaten up by a teacher for being late had gone viral on social media. Both incidents were triggering for a lot of individuals around. Some of them spoke to us about how being subjected to corporal punishments at a younger age have negatively affected them, even years after growing up.
Reena* distinctly remembers her life as a five-year-old, when her mother, then a young widow, would send her to school. "My mother had to take care of my toddler sibling and me, while managing a home and her job. So naturally, sometimes, she would forget to trim my nails regularly. After all, nails grow in a week," she says. Every Monday morning, Reena says that her class teacher would examine all the children, ensuring that they were wearing proper school uniforms. "We had to keep our palms on the desk for her to inspect our nails. That day, my nails weren't trimmed and I got beaten with a wooden scale on my knuckles," she says.
Santosh recounted an incident that was much older than Reena's. This had happened in the late 1980s, when he was a UKG student. "The entire class was made to stand on the bench as punishment. I forget why. I only remember what happened to me," he says. "The teacher (lady) came from one student to another and gave two whacks with the wooden ruler, one on each outstretched palm. We had to show her each hand. Anyway, by the time she came around to me, I had wet myself right on the bench because of fear and also a full bladder. I guess I was too scared to even ask to go. That really angered her and she pulled my shorts down and used the ruler to spank me hard several times," he says. He remembers being made to stand outside the class, naked for a long time, until the aayah had come with a spare pair of shorts.
And did that have an impact on them? Both Reena and Santosh believe it did. Reena says that she never bothered to tell her mother about this incident. "I didn't want her to feel guilty. But I started trimming my nails since then to the point of over-trimming them. And it became an ingrained obsessive behaviour that has stayed with me even today," she says. While she recalls another incident of being beaten on her knuckles for forgetting the square root of a number in Class IX, she says that the one from Class I was the one that 'made a mark'. Even years later, she asks us to keep herself anonymous, fearing that she might make her mother feel guilty.
Even though Santosh does not remember if the children had made fun of him, he says that the incident and the humiliation stayed with him throughout. He says that he was too embarrassed to talk about it and hadn't spoken about this incident to anyone. "Thankfully, my parents changed the school to a much better one the next year and I didn't face any notable corporal punishment in later years," he says.
Neha*, on the other hand, recalls being hit by her parents and teachers. "It was a normal thing, I guess," she says. But the former, she says, had affected her more. "I get quite panicky when someone picks up a broom or a hanger or something, but I understand that’s from parental hitting," she says.
Times are changing
Dr Saranya Jaikumar, an educational psychologist from Chennai, breaks down the effects that corporal punishment may have on a person. "It may make a person aggressive and get them to hate a teacher, a subject or even the community to which the teacher belongs, later in life," she says. Saranya, who is also a member of the Tamil Nadu Commission for Protection of Child Rights, says that parents and others can report corporal punishment to their local police stations. "Over the years, we have been trying to tell teachers that there are better ways to discipline a child. However, a lot of them are hesitant and tend to believe that inciting fear is the best way to get a child to obey," she says, adding on what the alternatives could be. "Instead, you can try positive or negative reinforcements, by giving them rewards or letting them know of the negative implications of their actions," she adds.