Horror in the classroom

September 09, 2019

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THE death of 17-year-old Hunain Bilal in Lahore last Thursday, allegedly at the hands of his teacher, did not come out of the blue. Pakistanis should be quite used to such tragic happenings. And these are the reported cases — the tip of the iceberg. In May in Sharaqpur, two teachers were booked for allegedly hanging a class three student from a tree. Earlier, a teacher in Multan was accused of beating a student and then letting loose a few blows at the same student’s father, who had apparently dared to question the punishment meted out to his son. The media is flush with similar stories from madressahs, and even from educational institutions where women are in charge. Still vivid in the memory is the story of a class nine student said to have been pushed from the school rooftop by two of her teachers. The latest victim, Hunain, attended a private school in Lahore — only to be confronted brutally by a reality that shakes people but unfortunately doesn’t stir real change.

Last year, the Federal Directorate of Education warned teachers of public schools and colleges in Islamabad against corporal punishment. Throughout the country one comes across rhetoric about ‘pyaar’ — affection, over ‘maar’ — torture. Although for some odd reason the focus of these slogans has been more on the public schools, overall there appears in society an acceptance of corporal punishment — with the elders fondly remembering how this mode of ‘disciplining’ in school was central to their success in life. Outmoded values continue to view a child as raw material from which to shape a good citizen, rather than as a human being with at least equal rights to that of an adult. This attitude encourages a ‘justification’ for violence among those who arrogate to themselves the responsibility of ‘creating’ the right kind of individual out of a student. After young Hunain’s senseless death, the Punjab education minister has promised legislation against corporal punishment. This is the least that can be done.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019