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Speak English in class or get burnt

Hyderabad, Aug. 10: Punishment for not speaking English in class — scorch with burning firewood.

The headmistress of a government primary school in an Andhra Pradesh village has been suspended after allegations that she used burning firewood to punish 13 kids, all of them between Classes I and IV, for speaking in Telugu in class.

The firewood was meant for cooking midday meals, a key incentive to poor parents to send their children to school.

The torture, despite a nationwide ban on corporal punishment in schools, comes at a time the state has launched a massive drive to promote English in government schools.

Police sources said a case had been registered against the headmistress, Shruti Kirti, and they were questioning her.

Stunned residents of Jamandlapalli village in Andhra’s Warangal district reacted in disbelief after several of the kids ran out of the school today crying they had been taken to the kitchen and burnt with firewood on their hands, legs and back.

“The headmistress made me lower my skirt and burnt my left back,” said Ranjita, a Class III student. “It’s still paining.”

Some of the students brought their parents back with them. Some showed where they had been touched with the burning firewood.

Shocked parents claimed the torture had been going on for a week and phoned district education officer Lakshma Reddy, who rushed to the village from Warangal, 25km away, and suspended the headmistress on the spot. Reddy also ordered a probe by the headmaster of a neighbouring village school.

Reddy said the headmistress had admitted to using burning firewood “as she couldn’t get anything better to punish the students”. He said he would forward to higher authorities the complaints lodged by the parents and recommend her dismissal from service.

Warangal district police chief Shah Nawaz Khan, who came to know about the firewood treatment from the media, ordered local police to file a case against the headmistress and arrest her. Police sources said they were questioning the teacher.

The president of the United Teachers Federation condemned the “act” but said the government was to blame for driving teachers in English-medium schools to show better results every year.

“We condemn the act of the teacher but the culprit is the government,” he said.

Sources said primary and middle school teachers in rural Andhra had been adopting tough measures to teach English ever since the government introduced the medium in 5,000 schools and announced performance-based incentives.

Students and parents said children who were not yet fluent in English were humiliated by teachers, who have to submit quarterly performance statements.

Gowri Kumari, a government schoolteacher in Warangal, condemned the firewood punishment but said teachers had to adopt tough measures as children from lower-income groups were slower in learning English.

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