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Growing Up with Corporal Punishment


S O C I E T Y – B A N G L A D E S H 


Fahin Rahman Aungkita


It was Yasin’s birthday on the occasion of which his parents came bearing gifts to the Madrasa he lived and studied in. When it was time to leave, 8-year-old old Yasin followed his parents to the gate. The fast-paced 33 seconds that followed were up for everyone to see as Maulana Yahya grabbed the child’s neck and dragged him into a room where he mercilessly beat him with a cane through his wailing and crying. His fault? He was leaving the Madrasa grounds. The boy was rescued and the teacher was sacked after the video went viral, but the parents decided against taking legal actions in the end. 

And this happened in the country where corporal punishment has been banned in primary and secondary educational institutions since 2010 after a ten-year-old boy committed suicide after getting beaten. 

“There is no medicine greater than a beating.”

It is no secret that said interdiction is poorly implemented in educational institutions all over the nation when the punishment actually starts from home itself. The idea of infliction of pain to discipline is normalised and passed on as a part of the culture for generations to come. As a nation, we have consciously chosen to ignore the physical, psychological, and social effects corporal punishment leaves on an individual.

From slapping to spanking, pinching, hitting, and hitting with objects, corporal punishment comprises all forms of physical violence, typically inflicted upon by an authoritative or elder person in order to impose discipline on an individual. In many families, the idea of wrongdoing by a child is met with physical violence, be it disobedience, defiance, poor grades, inability to recall an answer, etc. Sometimes it’s just a release of frustration for the smallest of actions. Without proper explanation or a chance to do things right, children are often exposed to physical punishment from a very young age.

“Corporal punishment decided my very future and made me who I am,” said Parizad (pseudonym), a ninth-grader when she was asked if corporal punishment left any long-lasting effects in her life.

“I wasn’t particularly a bright kid at school to start with so I always had two to three teachers to help me with my studies and the third and last lesson of the day would be with my mother at night; this one I dreaded the most. My mother hit me mercilessly with a wooden ruler every time I would go through the endless loop of learning and forgetting the same question over and over until I would sit and cry. It took me almost a decade and a lot of googling to identify those as early signs of my self-diagnosed ADHD. Never did my mother question there could be an underlying problem behind my inability to hold onto things, neither was I able to cross the distance between us to explain my side to this day, and I exist as just another depressed and distant kid in her eyes with mediocre grades.”

While this may not be the case in every household, the possibility of it being a common story is frightening. It is hard to fathom how many children have been blatantly tortured and their disabilities ignored in the name of discipline. A continuously cycled tradition dwelling on ignorance of referring to beating as a norm has perpetuated the ruination of the lives of countless children across the country. Children who have been beaten often grow up having difficulties with familial relations and are distant from their loved ones. The emotions of fear and resentment of not being heard or understood evolve into either distance or direct disregard of their elders in other cases.

“Do what you will, keep the flesh and return the bones to us.”

Parents often transfer the punitive rights to tutors saying, “Hit him as you want, but make sure he gets his studies right.”

Regardless of any permission, corporal punishment has been a popular disciplinary measure in Bangladeshi schools and colleges for a long time. The youth of today has passed through an inglorious time of getting hit on the palms with a ruler, harder if anyone moves the hand, fingers squeezed with a pencil in between spanking, pulling fistfuls of hair for not cutting according to the desired height, and more innovative ways varying from teacher to teacher.

TDA spoke to a number of youth representatives whose quotes explain the scene better than words can:

“I still have a scar from when the sir pulled a steel ruler against my skin. Let’s not go to how all that impacted me; it’s a messed up locker better left closed,” says Nafis.

Alifa shared,

“My elder sister always stood first in the same school. The teachers threw books at me and humiliated me why I turned out this different. Nobody talked to me because I was the one who was humiliated by the teachers and they all laughed at me. This is the reason I have no school friends. The reason why I grew up with low self-esteem, no self-confidence, a ton of insecurities, and a stammering problem.” 

Mahee recalled,

“I used to return with dark patches on both palms and it felt normal at the time as if teachers were entitled to hit students. Some would prefer spanking saying nobody would see those bruises anyway.”

Farhan* (pseudonym) surmised,

“The extent of beating only increased right from third grade till intermediate for every littlest mark not meeting their standards of discipline. After the ban and then the installation of CCTV cameras, it did decrease but this tradition will always persist.” 

While the corporal punishment regime varies in different institutions, it is perceived as an unremittingly normal part of the package meant to instilling discipline in students and maintaining the standards of the institution. There is barely any scope to talk back or complain against the unofficial rights with which the educators hit the students. The support they gain from guardians adds to the problem as most parents think the physical punishment is necessary and that it must be the fault of the children for which they got beaten. 

“The canings of a Hujur are Neyamat and Barkat that you take with you for what comes next.”

A grossly untapped discussion is the corporal punishment that occurs inside the different sections of the Madrasas by Mawlanas. It is a sensitive issue to point fingers at them as if one might be pointing fingers at the religious traditions in a predominantly Muslim state. And when no one talks about it, it successfully stays untapped and the horror of the extremes of punishment continues with full freedom. The corporal punishment inside Madrasas is infamously famous, compared to all other institutions where the vigour of physical punishment is the utmost aggressive.

Knowing that the child will spend half their growing years in memorisation and beating, a lion’s share of parents send them there because they feel it is the way to achieve religious piety. The Hujurs are kept high up on the pedestal where no one can question their respectable image for caning a child or few. 

What’s also particularly different in madrasas is that the teachers beat here with contempt and genuine aggression. Even the most tender of backs get struck with the worst of hits that many others would not have experienced in their lifetime, even resulting in the death of the victim at several instances.

Injamam-ul-Hoque received 12 years of education from an established Alia Madrasah. He shared his experience there with TDA,

“Spanking was the most popular means of disciplining aside from the hits of the personal cane each teacher carried. I was at the receiving end of spanking just twice in my life but the first time it happened, I was traumatised for more than a month. I couldn’t tell anybody at home out of embarrassment. I passed days crying submerged deep in humiliation and fear. None of us could muster the courage of ever complaining against it, as we were compelled to believe this was normal. Questioning the acts of a Hujur felt equivalent to questioning our very religion, so we did not dare talk. But we should have.” 

The different sub-sections of a madrasa have different punishments too. The Hafezi segment follows a conventional stance where the Hujurs are persistent that if the Hujur’s staff doesn’t hit the child, he wouldn’t be able to memorise the Qu’ran. The constant belabouring on the back is the way to go to simultaneously ward off evil which stands in the way of memorising the Quran. And everybody knows it.

The Hujurs often beat children lifting the panjabi off their backs because the layer of cloth acts as an obstruction to the force of the hit. And the aggression meets with the direct skin of young students remorselessly. They would often wrap tape around the edges of the cane so that it hit the kids harder, recalled Injamam. “I believe it is a culmination of culture mixed with the release of frustration. And, it all stays within the boundaries of the Madrasa,” he adds.

The teachers have adapted to such a form of discipline as the norm so that anybody who comes and doesn’t hit may not be revered to. The pathway to becoming an Islamic scholar is riddled with caning to a point where it doesn’t matter anymore to many pupils. Any parents interfering is said to ruin the child’s journey to becoming an Islamic scholar. So the culture continues.

“They are farm hens brought up in the soft regime of English Medium. They don’t know the power of a cane.”

People tend to think corporal punishment only exists in Bengla Medium schools and Madrasas. However, contrary to popular belief, English Medium coaching centres, if not some schools, resort to violence as well. Sarfaraz* (pseudonym) shared how he never faced any kind of beating in school life unless he really did something wrong but the scenario is different in coaching centres.

“A few most popular teachers in town would beat students with plastic or flexible rulers in their personal coachings for poor grades, failure to complete homework, or just general disturbance. They would hit and we would laugh. It may not be anywhere near to the physical punishment in Bangla Medium or Madrasas, but coming to think of it, that is just messed up.” 

The corporal punishment that takes place in English medium coaching centres is disguised as a comic performance. There’s one or two in every class who would always get the worst hits even if they do nothing much, and the whole class would sit as diligent spectators enjoying it in laughter, sometimes even the recipients themselves. It would be a symbol of pride for some who did not get hit but here’s the thing, it being illegal, a tutor is not supposed to hit a student. 

“I was beaten to a pulp back in my time and I turned out fine.”

What feels totally normal at the time of being punished, comes back to many individuals in later years in the form of long-lasting effects and unresolved trauma including mental health issues, such as depression, abandonment issues, aggression, anxiety, etc. A lesser talked about subject is the consequences it puts on the physical health of a child exposed to corporal punishment. Exposure to a high level of physical punishment has been linked to a myriad of diseases including asthma, obesity, arthritis, neoplasia, cardiovascular diseases, and a decrease in the volume of cerebral grey matter, ergo the child is likely to have deficiencies in muscle control and sensory reception. While it is commendable that a proportion of individuals did indeed turn out fine but that is not how it for everybody. All these individuals could have turned out fine without the corporal punishment they were exposed to.

Then why resort to beating?

Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, PhD, of the National Centre for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, evaluates the positive and negative effects of corporal punishment and the only positive effect she says is compliance. Her meta-analysis of 62 years of collected data reveals corporal punishment may indeed be a highly effective mechanism to ensure immediate compliance, but that is all and it often evolves into physical abuse in later stages aside from the negative paraphernalia perpetrated into the child. In rebuttal, Baumrind et al. argue Gershoff’s meta-analysis of extreme physical punishment is not an appropriate evaluation of “normative corporal punishment” and suggest no harm in the use of mild punitive measures to apply corporal punishment positively.

It always starts from one hit before it progresses to extremes. When the first child was hit, it perhaps inflicted guilt on both the inflicter and the receiver for whatever wrongdoing it may have been for. A slap changes into a smack and then into a punch on its way to a full-fledged thrashing as the intensity of both the defiance and the beating escalates. At every extreme unlocked, new normalcy is defined and we stray further away from the capability to stop. It begs the question hence, in a country where corporal punishment for children exists in all methods and degrees almost everywhere, who fixes the normal amount of hurt to instill compliance in a child?

Gershoff rests her case saying, “Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehaviour, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists cannot responsibly recommend its use.”

Japan banned corporal punishment at home as well in April 2020 as the 59th country, but the implementation is a big question. Over several studies’ observation, only Sweden, the first country to impose the ban, has been able to implement it effectively. The effectiveness in a nation of ours is riddled with scepticism and hopelessness when it comes to the ban.

The blame in Bangladesh is collectively shared by parents who failed to understand what their children really needed; teachers who took it upon themselves to discipline as they wished, going against the law in the name of culture; and the government which failed to implement its well-versed directive of banishment — leaving children in the chance of everlasting trauma and repercussions. 

While the high court directive may have caused a stir in the long enforced culture, enforcement for long was hard to achieve. What came at the expense of many young lives, resulted in a visible decrease in the extent of corporal punishment in the short run, but needed more emphasis on enforcement and implementation in the long. Today, many educational institutions and active guardians prohibit the practice and that is the first step to stopping irrevocable damage to a child in the name of discipline, and to understand there is no virtual positive aspect enough to outweigh the negative impacts it imposes on a child’s life. Let’s begin somewhere, and pass it on.

 


Fahin Rahman Aungkita solves crimes for the sake of studying. Discuss all that goes unnoticed with her cat Chandler and her at [email protected]

 

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