Just Another Slap?

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Image Credits: Guardian/Getty Images

By Sana Shah

LAST week, a teacher from a tuition center in Parraypora was booked for mercilessly beating a student in front of an entire class. This was brought to the notice of people and the authorities by a video which went viral.?Following this, an article was carried by a publication in Kashmir which supported the teacher’s actions thus:

“I have received hundreds of such slaps from my teacher, but thanks to all of them for bringing me on the right path and helped me to achieve my goal”

My revolutionary greetings to people like these who came out to support and justify the beating of a student by a teacher at a private tuition centre. Perhaps such beatings did help them to achieve their goal which perhaps was about increasing the threshold of their tolerance to pain. Very divine!

In the last few days, we all came across this video that went viral on social media. While my sympathies and support to those who cared to raise their voice against the incident, I am equally appalled by the reaction of those who chose to defend the act of beating, taking a very patronising stand. Some chose to justify the act of beating by the teacher on social media, while some chose to publish articles in support of such heinous acts. In one such mention, it appears that the student enters the class without the teachers’ permission and some have taken offence, alleging that it goes against our moral values. One wonders, how?

One is free to access knowledge and it is entirely the students’ responsibility to follow through by will. You can neither teach nor correct students through fear, for fear is the instrument of tyranny, not education. No one has the right to reprimand any student on such issues, let alone beating them blue. It is ingenious to see how people had reservations with the students raising their voice against such incidents and they compared it with their times when they would submit to such beatings! Now do we have to glorify pain and slaps and insults as the trade-offs for getting a decent education? This is morally flawed, pedagogically erroneous and psychologically shattering to say the least.

While the mere act of publishing such an article is worthy of collective condemnation, but to see the kind of support it received to the contrary, points to the urgency of a collective rethinking.

Let us go back to basics and ask ourselves not only why the beating is problematic but also why is justifying the act also equally problematic. Firstly, no teacher is entitled to the concession on account of beating the students which in other cases would be intolerable to us, had it not been for a teacher. Secondly, if your teaching requires the support of beating, then your teaching is empty and lacks conviction- in other words you do not deserve to be called a teacher. Thirdly, irrespective of what mistake the student commits, if you being the teacher are comfortable raising your hand on the student, then it is you and not the student who should be removed from the respective position because instead of creating a safe atmosphere for learning, you are being a threat to the students’ safety and well-being — both physical and emotional. In other words, in spaces of learning there should not be any room for any kind of abuse. In a region where conflict already takes a toll on our general well-being, and the pandemic has added to the woes of students, the teachers ought to act more sensitively and responsibly instead of contributing to the trauma-cycle.

Now, let us come to the more difficult part and see why defending such acts is equally problematic. If one reads the kind of arguments given in support of the teacher, one can infer that the people defending the teacher have not quite sensed what the issue is. It does not matter what character certificate you produce to testify the greatness of the teacher if that greatness is only for a few to witness and benefit from while others are harassed on account of that greatness. It is therefore important to ask what is the role of educational spaces like schools and tuition centres and also the role of the teachers in such spaces. I am bringing this in, because many arguments ran to justify the act in the name of corrective measure and to inculcate morals in the student community. While such a line of thinking is patronising to say the least, what is even more problematic is that there is an added nuance which many people choose to ignore, which is this: there is a fine line of difference between moral education and moral policing. While we can still be comfortable with the teachers addedly working as moral educators, they cannot use this position as a license to moral police the students. If one is to extend the logic of such arguments that justify the beating, then you will also have to contend with the kinds of acts carried out in some reputed educational institutions in the valley in the name of moral policing. This would much to your delight include hairstyle-discipling that could also involve pulling and tugging at the students’ plaits and ponies and sideburns; denying the students the right to dress smartly, especially girls, because well, that could attract boys and they do that on purpose to attract boys, as if girls don’t dress for themselves and to their liking. Then you also must extend your zeal to justify the moral policing carried out arguably in some oldest missionary schools running in the valley which have embraced slut-shaming as their mode of policing the students. Add to the list the corrective measures which include making students lick the floor as punishment or calling them names and rebuking them by demeaning their families, backgrounds, commenting on their length of tunics, invading their private space- all in the name of inculcating morals! The student in question could also be your own child, I wonder even then are we going to be comfortable with this kind of abuse. While many educationists have been demanding for counselling centres to be opened in educational institutions to care for the students’ emotional health, it is nothing less than ironical that the teachers are the ones to trigger the cycle of trauma for the students.

We must understand that a teacher is no God, they can be wrong as well and there is no point eulogising any teacher when learning is a two-way process. I cannot see any wisdom in the supposed precept which calls the slap by a teacher as a blessing! If anything, it is demeaning to the students’ self-esteem and we must do away with the feudal norms which place the providers of knowledge as infallible and on a moral high ground. Yes, basic respect is the deal, but it has to be mutual and this is no trading point for inviting physical assault. If people condemning this incident are being called “irresponsible” and “illiterate”, one wonders how is beating up the student being responsible in any sense of the term and is not such a vocabulary of insults in itself very elitist in that it looks down upon those who have differing opinions, only furthering the perception that knowledge and learning is your area of entitlement and some hegemonic asset.

Now then, having made these points, one final remark regarding the beating. It is overwhelming to see a section of people coming forward to condemn such acts. However, there is one important question that I leave you with: does only physical violence warrant our collective condemnation? Should we not also extend it to the mental abuse and harassment that the students face and are made to put up with in schools, tuition centres or colleges?

If we have to really move in the right direction of learning and knowledge dissemination, then the invisible pockets and forms of violence too will have to be pointed as well. Because at the end, students require spaces where they can feel welcomed, loved, safe and secure — emotionally, mentally and physically. This is the foundational stone for any kind of learning, anywhere in the world.? And given the tests of the time, it is evermore contingent upon the teachers to provide their students with such harbours of safety and security, where their private space is respected and they can with respect wade or sail through the ocean of learning.

On a concluding note, next time when we wish to evaluate the role of a teacher, let these lines by Tagore be the qualifier for our pedagogy and learning:

“Where the?mind is without fear?and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free”.


Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer?

  • The author is a research scholar at JNU, New Delhi

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