Respect for rules has never been easy to instil, especially among young people. This has become doubly difficult with lifestyles changing: parents are busier, and their children often carry cellphones for practical reasons as well as for reasons of security. But cellphones have many functions. For young people, practicality or security may just be the dullest and least important of these. Many schools have been banning cellphones in class and waging battles to ensure that the rules are followed. Added to cellphones is the growing number of small but fascinating electronic gadgets that children from the middle-classes can access. These are objects to show off, to use as signs of ‘belonging’ to the right set, and to employ as essential tools in a newly emerging social life that nowadays begins at school. It is not surprising that an English-medium co-educational school in West Bengal recently instituted a surprise check by a team of senior teachers among students to ensure that prohibited objects were not being brought into class. They were not completely off the mark; a girl from Class XII was found hiding an iPod. That was against the rules of the school.
So far there is nothing objectionable. But the report of the manner of the iPod’s discovery is deeply disturbing. One of the teachers in the search team reportedly suspected a girl of having hidden something in her dress, and pulled her shirt out of her skirt. Apparently the girl confessed, and promised to hand her hidden iPod over to the teacher if she could go with the girl to the washroom. It is reported that the teacher pulled the girl’s skirt down publicly to retrieve the object. Looking back on the incident, it seems that the teacher’s confidence came from the girl’s confession. The teacher felt, according to her own statement, that she was following her team’s instructions. The school has every right to penalize disobedient students. But pulling down a girl’s skirt — or a boy’s trousers — before peers and teachers, if that really happened, cannot qualify as ordinary punishment. It is a shameful exposure at a sensitive age, in spite of the fact that the child in question had shown no sensitivity to school rules. Even the ways of imposing discipline should set an example to children who will one day grow into positions of authority themselves. And this is apart from the fact that corporal punishment is now illegal. Forcing a girls’ skirt down is a corporal act, even though it is not a beating.