| Binod Ghimire |
KATHMANDU (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) – It was time for morning assembly at the Bagmati Community School in Barahathawa, a small village to the east of Sarlahi.
Students had lined up in orderly rows and were performing their morning prayers when school headmaster Mahendra Prasad Yadav rushed towards them and began beating them with a stick. Yadav’s rationale: Their prayers were not sincere enough.
Five students from grades one to three were injured, with bruises across their bodies.
But it was 10-year-old Sanjeeb Sahani, a third grader, who suffered the most and fell unconscious. Sahani, who had always had a weak physical constitution, had to be hospitalised for two days, his parents said. Yadav had struck Sahani with the stick at least five or six times, which knocked him out.
Nepal was the first country in South Asia to criminalise corporal punishment, and in 2006, the Supreme Court issued a ruling asking the government to pursue appropriate and effective measures to prevent physical punishment as well as the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of children.
But despite legal frameworks, teachers across the country continue to mete out inhuman levels of punishment to their students, beating them with fists, kicks, sticks and even the dreaded sisnu (stinging nettles).
The morning of June 17 was not the first time Yadav had laid his hands on students. Parents and students who spoke to the Post said that beating children was part of his ‘teaching style’.
“He beat us regularly, often with a big bamboo stick,” Sahani said in an interview with The Post.
Parents were well aware of Yadav’s propensity towards violence, but as most families were poor, they did not dare protest his treatment.
Yadav, as the headmaster, was the highest authority at the school and even if students and parents wanted to register a complaint, they had no one else to turn to.
Most members of the community did not even know that corporal punishment was illegal and that victims could take legal action, according to Pramod, Sahani’s elder brother.
But when Sahani had to be hospitalised, the villagers finally had an opportunity to hold Yadav to account for his actions.
Dozens of villagers surrounded the school the next day, demanding that Yadav be disciplined. Confronted with parental rage, the police was forced to register a first information report.
Yadav, however, did not face any legal repercussions, and the case was settled with an agreement between him and the villagers. Yadav committed to stop beating children and vowed to ensure a ‘child friendly learning’ environment in the classroom.
He also agreed to bear Sahani’s treatment costs.
Locals only agreed to recall their police complaint because Yadav’s absence from the school would affect teaching, said Chairperson of Ward number one in Barahathawa Ratna Bahadur Giri.
“Yadav has been strictly informed that he will face severe consequences if he doesn’t correct himself,” Giri told The Post.
In the past month alone, at least five similar incidents have been reported from across the country. Over three dozen students have faced harsh physical punishment at the hands of their teachers.
In one especially egregious case, 14 students in Rolpa were beaten so badly by their teacher that five of them suffered severe injuries to their arms, with broken bones and ligament tears.
The students, from Bhanu Basic School in Runti Gadhi, were beaten with a sal branch for showing up late to assembly.
This time, police arrested Pun and registered an ‘offence against children’ case against her at the district court.
Speaking to The Post over the phone while out on bail, Pun said that she did not want to harm the students. “My only intention was to maintain discipline,” she said.
Pun’s answer is the justification most teachers provide when asked about them resorting to corporal punishment. According to children’s rights activists, physically punishing students wasn’t considered illegal, or even undesirable, for such a long time that both teachers and parents continue to believe that some level of physical disciplining is necessary at times.
At one time, Nepal’s laws supported this societal belief in physical punishment as sometimes unavoidable.