Colonial Forced Obedience and Corporal Punishment in Kashmir Schools
Harrowed and humiliated-physically as well as mentally-through persistent corporal punishment, my maternal uncle chose not to study and drop out of school while he was in class 5.
Fifty now, he still regrets his decision. Education often comes with financial stability which his, otherwise established, the business fails to provide given the volatility of the market and the economy.
My uncle dropping out was several decades back and one would have expected a major overhaul in our education system vis-à-vis corporal punishment.
The sad reality, however, is that only one thing seems to have changed and that is the severity of the humiliation and the punishment. It persists, nevertheless, in private as well as the government institutions.
Only last year a cousin-studying in class 4 in a renowned school here in Anantnag-was flogged severely for “making noise” in the school bus. So bad that he could not sit properly for days-his behind hurt so very bad.
“Bei oasus ba roazdar temidoh,” he tells me in his meek, childish voice how he was fasting that day and was about to faint. His parents did lodge a complaint, but their complaint will not and has not changed the larger reality.
Concerned, I have been recently talking to students in private as well as government institutions. Most of them testify use of flogging, slapping, beating with sticks, ruler’s et al for having created ‘indiscipline’ in the classes and outside”.
The punishments, to my understanding, mostly follow when these children fail to match the “expectations” of their teachers.
Unfortunately enough the teachers tend to evaluate all children on the basis of-god knows whose-standards, on an equal footing and are grossly insensitive to their interests, experiences and different paces of learning.
Tabish Rafiq-in a piece, History of Abuse at ‘leading Schools of Kashmir’- says how the leading private schools of the summer capital still practice corporal punishment.
“A girl with a duct tape put on her mouth and kicked down the stairs, bleeding noses and ears, thrashing, punching,kicking, banging, spitting, slapping,grunting, snapping and what not,” Tabish writes, “Looking into the distance, “they ruined our childhood, man”, the bittersweet tone of my now burly bearded school friend says, his eyeballs suddenly rolling around in a pool of a certain salt,”
Oh, they must be “punished”. They must be “straightened”. They must be “fixed” and they must be “corrected”. Ways must be found, and ways were found.”
Of my own school days. I vividly remember having being dragged headlong out of the newly built library and across the corridor, pulled by my arms( made an example of) been insulted on “reading books that were just stories and not relevant to my school course” by an “almighty” physics teacher.
Three of my friends had fractured hands, thanks to the strict maths teacher. One of them had been dragged across the school ground, pulled headlong by arms, her hair pulled and insulted infront of everyone for having failed to do as good as others in the “indispensable” maths test.
Then there are cases of extreme injuries reported in the news every now and then.
Corporal Punishment, in the past, was used on children as well as adults. In the 18th century, whipping or flogging was a common punishment in the British army and navy.
In the middle ages, boys were beaten with rods or birch twigs. Corporal punishment was considered as a tool for discipline and maintaining order in the society (read increasing servility to authority and discouraging questioning, innovation and anti-status quo activities). In the19th century, children were hit in textile mills with leather straps and ‘lazy’ children had their heads ducked in a container of water.
All these methods of derailed use of punishment method taught children incessant abuse of power. Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, in his ‘theory of Ideology’ argues that different kinds of repressive and ideological state apparatus ( school constitutes an important part of the Ideological State Apparatus) are used to hold the bourgeois values in place and therefore obedience and submission in such setups are used to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class. Likewise, we see the school models and strict submission to authority, reducing education to the obedience of authority, therefore, slaves to a curriculum formed by ruling powers to serve their purpose and in case of Kashmir we see education as a colonial project.
In an article ‘Fire Thieves of Kashmir’ (Raiot-Nov, 2016), Arif Ayaz Parrey writes, “Children learn of a phenomenon like monsoons, personalities like Subhash Chandra Bose and events like the Chola invasion of Srivijya, all utterly irrelevant to the lived experience of Kashmir,”
He further writes that, this would not be so problematic in itself, nothing wrong with learning about other cultures and histories but it comes at the cost of learning about Kashmir, “Say Western Disturbances, Maqbool Bhat, and Rinchin Shah’s ascension. Therefore Schools are seen more as centers of colonial propaganda and less of education.”
(As Terry Eagleton would say about canonization serving the interests of the ruling powers)
Having discussed just one aspect of it, corporal punishment not only leads to teaching forced obedience but also leads to the culture of normalization of violence. Hitting people violates their fundamental right to respect for their physical integrity and human dignity. Children often are subjected to mild or severe forms of violence at homes also. Then adding to it are our god forsaken schools. A child sees violence everywhere. It learns that it is very normal, happens everywhere. Tomorrow when these children grow up and hit partners, spouses, employees, commit crimes should we be surprised?
The culture of violence imbibed; people hit children because they themselves were hit as children.
About ineffectiveness of corporal punishment, “Report on Corporal Punishment 2006- Impact of Corporal Punishment on school children, a research study, India: May 2006” states, Children need discipline and particularly need to learn self-discipline. “But corporal punishment is a very ineffective form of discipline. Research has consistently shown that it rarely motivates children to act differently, because it does not bring an understanding of what they ought to be doing nor does it offer any kind of reward for being good,” The report further reads that the fact that parents, teachers and others often have to repeat corporal punishment for the same ‘misbehaviour’ by the same child testifies to its ineffectiveness. The report also states, “The assertion of children’s rights seems an unwarranted intrusion to people accustomed to thinking of children as parents’ possessions, but children are now recognized as individuals who are entitled to the protection of human rights.”
This brings to mind the Montessori methods of education laid down by Maria Montessori an Italian physician and educator in her philosophy of education. In Montessori classroom concepts such as textbooks, grades, exams, punishment, rewards, and homework are rarely embraced or applied. Unlike traditional methods of instruction, the progressive approach focuses on cooperation rather than competition and personal growth rather than peer evaluation. Students are assessed based on a descriptive summary of the child’s daily interactions and performance on independent and collaborative tasks.
The definition of education and success therefore dictated by bourgeois values in place also lead to widespread corruption as we see in statistics about Kashmir. When gaining maximum marks for oneself, excessive competition, making way for oneself and oneself alone in this brutal world.
How frequent is our celebration of people having become doctors and cracked IAS than our debates about equality, respect, about acknowledging ones privilege, vision of a world where there would be minimum-most disparity in education, opportunities, distribution of wealth, end of corruption, value for arts, literature, finally and most importantly the realization that personal is political.
Now questions need to be asked as to what would be our visions for a radical overthrow of the colonial and other kinds of forced obedience and flawed system of thrusting discipline down our throats by all kinds of structures like schools, family, state, et al. Our questioning, all forms of flawed disciplinarian methods, should go hand in hand with questioning all forms of forced application of colonial, neoliberal, bourgeois idea of success, education and values.
The author is English literature graduate from Ramjas College, University of Delhi. She is currently pursuing Film-making and Cultural Media Studies from Ajk, MCRC, Jamia Milia Islamia. email@example.com
(The views expressed in the essay are author’s personal and do not necessarily represent the views of TWP)