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    Volume 11 |Issue 26| June 29, 2012 |


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Spare the Cane Spoil the Child

Maqsud Jamil

"Bolder,” said Squeers, tucking up his wristbands, and moistening the palm of his right hand to get a good grip of the cane, “you're an incorrigible young scoundrel, and as the last thrashing did you no good, we must see what another will do towards beating it out of you.” With this, and wholly disregarding a piteous cry for mercy, Mr Squeers fell upon the boy and caned him soundly: not leaving off, indeed, until his arm was tired out.' This passage is from Charles Dickens' Nicolas Nickleby, which is an indictment of the brutality of English boarding houses in 1830.

The cane was accepted as a necessary tool for enforcing discipline and greater application among young students in English societies during that time. That is how the phrase 'spare the cane spoil the child' found advocates in many societies. Corporal punishment, to keep learners in line in order that they strive hard, is a criminal act born out of a coarse mind.

It still has practitioners in the schools and madrassas of Bangladesh. Recently there was a morally repugnant piece of news along with picture of a Madrassa teacher inflicting burn injuries on the leg of a female student. Some time back there was also a similar incident of corporal punishment committed by a teacher in another school. In his defence, the teacher said he had committed an act of greater good of inculcating greater effort among the students.

The practice goes back to our past. There was a time when the 'Pundit Sirs' were greatly feared by their pupils and they took advantage of this. There was no protest and guardians accepted it with good grace in the interest of better educating their children. That was long ago. In those times the Pundits of tols (centre of scriptural study) treated their pupils brutally. It was generally accepted in society.

Corporal punishment leaves permanent scars. Photo: Star File

In madrassas of rural Bangladesh, it is often heard that students often flee away and do not return home. They remain untraced for more than a year. Apparently they run away from the rigours of memorising the holy book and merciless caning, as in the case of Nicolas Nickleby. But fortunately most of them reappear. In extreme cases, the regimen of madrassa education is medieval. One particular case I know of is that of a household hand whose son is in hiding for the last six months. His suffering is painful; he cannot go the police station because he cannot afford it, neither can he forget his son.

There is another 'well-bred gentleman' who sent his son to madrassa. The boy however could not yet come out of the inferiority he developed in his alma mater. His father is trying his best to rehabilitate him but the boy would not proceed any further after his H.S.C. examination. However many madrassa boys have done well in higher education because of their copious memory. Was it the cane?

Corporal punishment is not just in religious seminaries. It happens in mainstream education as well. Teachers are human beings and they can carry mental baggage, particularly in problem-ridden Bangladesh. A well placed family was sending their teenage son to a tutor. Suddenly a problem developed, the boy became recalcitrant about not going to the female tutor. It came out that she abusively threw his note book at him and it was a traumatic experience for the boy. In fact the woman was having family problems and once she corrected her ways, the boy returned.

My 80-year old neighbour has another traumatic experience of corporal punishment. It was during the time of British India and he was attending a primary school. The class teacher was, according to him, very irascible. He made the mistake of putting forward his note book with his left hand and right came the teacher's scrawny palm on his ear. The world swirled around him but he took hold of himself and returned to his desk. My neighbour says his ear still gives him trouble! It was common in those days and it continued into the Pakistan period. Corporal punishments included kneeling down in the class room and in the school corridor for everybody to see, standing up on the bench, doing sit ups with fingers clasping the ear lobes, dusters thrown like missiles, headlocks followed by punches on the back, cruelly twisting the flab around the midrib and pulling up by grasping hair in a lock and so on. These brutal practices in schools cannot be conceived today.

A friend of mine still can not forget the ordeal of the punishment he used to receive when he was growing up. He was perhaps the tallest in the class, with adolescent pimples all over his face. He was like Fatik of Tagore, neither a boy nor a man. His persecutor, the teacher, was also tall, scrawny, black and with a twisted wrist. The teacher, we later learnt, had 12 children and the days he was in a rage were a doomsday. The slapping, pummelling and twisting – he used everything in his armoury and on a wholesale scale. But the poor lanky one received most of it. Tears were unknown to him and it was also his crime. Even criminals these days receive better treatment. After the class was over, he went to the water tank, doused his hair and sprinkled his face with water. He came back to the class with a big smile. We were happy the terminator has lost.

Yet there were good teachers. There was one known as a communist, he used to pronounce Islam as Izlam and Muslims and Mozlems. He had neck-length, bushy grey and black hair. He used to wear khadi full shirts. He taught well and everybody listened. We learnt that later he gave up teaching profession and became a journalist.

And the prince among men was the assistant headmaster, elegantly dressed in light blue or light cream coloured full sleeved shirts of pricey cloth and trousers of serge skin, with black Oxford shoes and a tightly rolled umbrella firmly clasped, swinging in rhythm with his firm steps. He taught History and English. When talking of the kings and emperors, we were transported to those times. How big was the Babar's goblet, how wide was the neck of Hazrat Ali (RA)? When he took classes on English poems he used take two classes to teach about the poet. He never carried any mental baggage to his class. He was a thoroughly unencumbered person, free of any prejudice, attentive to even the lowly ranked student. Corporal punishment was incompatible with his gentlemanly elegance. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he poured on all sorts of books on possible cure. Teachers are makers of men; they are born not created.

The important human endowments of a teacher are dignity and a keen sense of understanding. All human beings have self-esteem. Even the little children that go to school have self-esteem. A teacher strives to build on that self-esteem by instilling the spirit of application and excellence. The success of teachers' efforts has great bearing on the nation, for they are the makers of men and women of tomorrow's Bangladesh. A good teacher therefore, is the one that carries a kindly light.


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