Corporal punishment amounts to abuse and militates against the freedom and dignity of a child, the Madras High Court said on Thursday while dealing with a case involving the death of a primary school student after he was made to “duck waddle” as punishment for coming late to school (S Jai Singh v. State and anr).
Justice N Anand Venkatesh observed that such punishment would also interfere with a child’s right to education “because fear of corporal punishment makes children more likely to avoid school or to drop out altogether.”
“… corporal punishment amounts to abuse and militates against the freedom and dignity of a child. It also interferes with a child’s right to education because fear of corporal punishment makes children more likely to avoid school or to drop out altogether,” reads the order.
Justice Venkatesh observed that he does not want to turn a Nelson’s eye to the issue, adding that the case at hand has shocked his conscience given that, “children in this country are till date being subjected to the sadistic and inhumane ‘culture’ of corporal punishment.”
Justice Venkatesh went on to express agreement with the Delhi High Court’s ruling in Parents Forum For Meaningful Education and Anr. v. Union of India and Anr, which had struck down a rule in the Delhi School Education Rules, 1973. The rule in question had granted legal sanction for corporal punishment.
No specific legislation set in motion to eradicate corporal punishment.
justice Venkatesh noted that research has shown that the outcome of corporal punishment can be severely negative for the child. Corporal punishment is viewed as violative of the right to life and dignity, including under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, he remarked.
It was further observed that efforts to curb corporal punishment have been made:
- during a convention of the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children,
- through the Abolition of Corporal Punishment in Educational Institutions Bill, 2010, although the same was eventually replaced by the bill preceding the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, which did not prohibit corporal punishment,
- in the course of the Universal Periodic Review of India,
- through amendments proposed to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and,
- theNational Policy for Children 2013.
“It is pertinent to note that Rule 51 of the Tamil Nadu Education Rules as amended in 2003, legally protects children from corporal punishment,” Justice Venkatesh added.
Despite there being a legislative framework aimed to discourage corporal punishment, the practice has been persistently followed by schools and institutions across the country, the judge observed.
“The use of corporal punishment is not a novel phenomenon in Indian society and its educational system, where it is accepted as a convenient form of punishing and disciplining children. What is perhaps novel is the growing understanding that corporal punishment is an act of violence on children,” the Court said.
In March 2014, the Union Human Resource Development Ministry wrote to all State governments to abolish corporal punishment, the Court recounted further.
In 2017, in the midst of the 27th Session of the Universal Periodic Review of India’s human rights records, recommendations were made to introduce legislation to prohibit corporal punishment.
While the government accepted the recommendation, “no specific legislation had been set in motion to prohibit and eradicate corporal punishment on children, so far,” the Court observed.
Present case is a classic example why teachers are duty bound to keep themselves updated: Court
As far as the “duck walk” or the “duck waddle” was concerned, the Court took note that physical trainers have been strongly advised to avoid employing the exercise. This is because it requires bending the knee beyond ninety degrees, which may cause injuries if done without strengthening surrounding muscles, the judge explained.
Stating that the issue cannot be brushed aside as trivial, the Court added,
“The present case is a classic example and a reminder that physical trainers and teachers are duty bound to keep themselves updated and informed about the scientific developments and associated research findings...”
In the case at hand, the Court found that there was insufficient material pointing towards the guilt of the accused persons, which included a physical training teacher, the school headmaster and a school correspondent.
All three stood accused of Section 304A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code read with Section 75 (punishment for cruelty to child) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2014.
However, the Court took note of a doctor’s final opinion that the death was due to natural causes and that no exact cause of death could be determined. As such, the case against the three accused was quashed.
“In order to sustain a charge under Section 304 A of IPC, there must be some material to show that there was an overt act on the part of the accused persons and there is a proximity between the act of the accused and the cause of death,” the Court explained, adding that “It was a battle between the mind and the conscience.”
The judge recorded that he had interacted personally with the deceased boy’s father, who is stated to have “gracefully said that the case can be closed.”
While quashing the case, the Court deemed it fit to order the grant of Rs 10 lakh as compensation to the father, while also observing,
“Looking at the eyes of the 2nd respondent (the deceased student’s father), this Court was able to feel the lingering pain in his heart on losing his son at such a tender age. Though this Court was able to impose a moral obligation on the petitioners to atleast pay a monitory compensation, and accordingly a sum of Rs.10,00,000/- [Rupees ten lakhs only] was paid to the 2nd respondent, the same will not in any way match the great loss suffered by the 2nd respondent.”