SIR FRANK PETERS ::
Meet Rajowl Karim and Oli Ullah.
Five years ago, they would have graduated with first-class honours from the Edmund Snowden Whistleblowers Academy… if it had existed!
Rajowl and Oli are the two boys who brought to my attention the horrors of corporal punishment that they and their schoolmates faced daily in their local hellhole educational institutions. Oli attended a government primary school and Rajowl the Romoni Kumar Pait High School, both located in Haydarabad, Gazipur.
So disappointed and taken aback by the cruelty I learned about in these and other schools, it inspired me to launch my anti-corporal punishment campaign.
Oli, then 12, had already decided it was time for him to pack his dog-eared books, half-licked lollipop, pen, pencil, eraser and move on. He had learned enough about sadistic ‘teachers’ who took great pleasure in releasing their frustrations upon him and his classmates, often removing layers of skin from their fragile developing hands with equally unsympathetic bamboo sticks.
When it comes to corporal punishment in schools, there’s never been a shortage of innovative ideas to inflict the worst pain or cause mental or physical damage. So common was the practice, I’m surprised national awards were not given to ‘teachers’ for innovation and inventiveness in cruelty.
If an awards system did exist, among the top nominations for the Gold Bamboo Cane Award, no doubt would be Dean AKM Mostafa Zaman at Srijani Bidyaniketan who took pupils to a room under construction, tied their hands with rope and put 10 house bricks on the head of each and beat them with sticks until they fell sick.
A gold-trophy nominee for sure would be the Talimul Quran Mahila Madrasa in Kadamtali where 14 young girls were literally branded for life with a red-hot cooking spatula by their ‘teacher’ to demonstrate her concept of what hell would be like!
And neck-and-neck would be the ‘teacher’ at a Sunamganj school who forced students of Class V to cut their hands and legs until they bled with used razor blades (acquired from a local barber’s shop), as punishment for not doing their homework. Wow!
With such an array of abhorrent acts of cruelty, stupidity, ignorance, and child abuse from which to choose, it would be difficult for any judge to pick an outright winner.
Oli? – After receiving a severe beating from a mentally disturbed ‘teacher’ he never attended school again.
Thanks to Justices Md. Imman Ali and Md. Sheikh Hasan Arif, however, on January 13, 2011 the school scenario somewhat changed. They outlawed corporal punishment in Bangladesh schools and madrassas.
The good justices defined the act as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom’, but what do some Headmasters and ‘teachers’ care? Old habits die-hard and besides respect for law and order is for other people, not for alleged pillars of the community.
Rajowl, a bright spark by any yardstick, on one occasion was commanded by his ‘teacher’ to approach him for corporal punishment, but he refused, quoted the new law to the errant ‘teacher’; and that was it – he was never hit from that moment onwards! Hidden power and amazing results come to those who stand up for their rights. He’s now pursuing business studies in a happy school environment.
It’s been four years since the anti corporal punishment in schools law was invoked, but, sadly, all over Bangladesh salty tears of the young are still making tracks down the faces that Allah designed.
Since 2011, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a pupil who committed suicide as a result of corporal punishment. No doubt a great step forward – but while there’s corporal punishment, the threat will continue to hover. We must be mindful of Bristi Das (12) who died last year after a cruel beating by her private tutor.
When is enough, enough? Teachers have the choice of being a respected friend of child, family and State who makes a significant and valued contribution to society or to be a despised enemy. A classroom is no place for bullies, sadists, mentally-disturbed ‘teachers’ and hellholes of fear for pupils where the once-in-a-lifetime gift of youth, fun and joy is beaten out, and the blight of hatred, anger, despise of society and revenge are beaten in.
Bangladesh has reached the enough-is-enough milestone.
The writer is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award-winning writer, humanitarian, human rights activist, a royal goodwill ambassador, and an outspoken foreign friend of Bangladesh.