The to-cane-or-not-to-cane question has made its way from the classroom to Writers’ Buildings, via Calcutta High Court.
The court, on Friday, directed chief secretary S.N. Roy and home secretary A.K. Deb to file affidavits clarifying the government’s stand on imposing a ban on caning of students in educational institutions across the state.
The director of school education department has also been asked to appear before the court “personally” after two weeks and suggest possible measures to be taken against the use of the cane as a weapon to rein in recalcitrant students.
The court’s directive follows a public interest litigation (PIL), moved by the suspended Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja, on the basis of a report published in The Telegraph on July 6. The PIL, filed by advocate Tapas Bhanja of the same court, was heard by a division bench comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Girish Gupta during the day.
The parents of Jhuma Chowdhury, a Class VIII student of Khwaja Anwar Berh High School in Burdwan, had lodged a complaint with a Burdwan police station against a teacher who allegedly beat up their daughter in class. Jhuma had to be admitted to Burdwan Medical College Hospital as she fell unconscious after being caned by Brojonath Ghosh, a physical science teacher. The court later asked its registrar-general to summon the headmaster of the institution.
Moving the application on Friday, Panja said it is “alarming” that the caning of children in city-based educational institutions is on the rise.
“This is not a stray incident and has to be taken seriously, so that caning is stopped,” he said. Panja drew the court’s attention to a similar incident that took place in a Bishnupur school, in South 24-Parganas, in which a boy fainted after being caned by a schoolteacher.
Having heard Panja’s plea, Chief Justice Mathur observed that the practice of caning could be traced back to the Mahabharata. “I have read about caning of boys in the great epic,” he said. Panja then pleaded that society had undergone a sea change over the years, adding that “no boy in the epic had lost consciousness after being brutally caned”.
Petitioner Bhanja revealed before the court that the caning of boys “has become a regular practice in some city schools also, much to the concern of parents”. He claimed to have received a report from some guardians of an English-medium school in central Calcutta complaining about “regular caning” of students by a particular teacher.
Bhanja asserted before the court that he had visited at least 10 city schools and met a number of guardians and their wards to substantiate the claim about students being subjected to cruelty by a section of teachers. “Teachers in most schools abroad do not even rebuke the students, let alone cane them. Any kind of corporal punishment may cause more than just physical harm to the student,” he warned.