Violence in schools imperils hallowed teacher-pupil tradition

Teachers often find themselves at a vulnerable point. Sadly, reverse violence is also becoming a reality – the calm unruffled image of a teacher-sage is taking a pounding.
Image used for representational purpose only.
Image used for representational purpose only.

Reverence to teachers is an old Indian tradition. "Guru Purnima," a festival traditionally commemorated to honour one's chosen spiritual teachers or leaders', is observed on the Full Moon day or "purnima," in the Hindu month of June–July. The festival was revived by Mahatma Gandhi to pay tribute to his spiritual guru, Shrimad Rajchandra. 

So is the more official National Teachers Day in India, held on September 5, to mark the birth anniversary of India’s second President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the country’s leading patron saint, philosopher, and statesman.

Yet, recent goings-on in government schools, particularly in North India, suggest that a contrarian trend is taking root, one where this sublime "guru-shishya" (teacher-pupil) tradition is finding itself under considerable strain. Increasingly, both teachers and students are finding themselves at loggerheads, on many occasions violently.

This week, Delhi’s Directorate of Education (DoE) issued a most unusual directive; in case of physical attacks on teachers, it instructed school administrations to expel or debar a student from being readmitted to the same school. It also proposed rusticating or putting a ban on the admission of a student in any school until the expiry period of the rustication.

The instructions added that students who have attained the age of 14 are to be delegated to the Discipline Committee of the concerned school, which shall comprise the head of the school, vice-chairperson of the School Management Committee (SMC), SMC social worker, senior most teacher of the school, class teacher, and educational and vocational counsellor (EVG).

Last year, the DoE directed that schools further tighten restrictions on the entry of visitors on their campuses.

The DoE directive came days after a teacher at a Northeast Delhi government school was allegedly assaulted by a student’s relatives. The teacher was beaten up on the school premises, in full view of staff and students.

“Despite a generally congenial atmosphere prevailing in our schools, at times, freak incidents of violence by some students pose a threat to the overall safety and security of our students and teachers,” stated the DoE circular.

Now consider the following:

On January 6, 2022, in a written statement, the Government School Teachers’ Association (GSTA) said Kuku Lakhera, who teaches mathematics at the Government Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, Palam Vihar, sustained injuries after being hit with stones and bricks.

On January 19, a Delhi government schoolteacher was stabbed on school premises, allegedly by a class 12 student. The physical education teacher at the West Delhi school had allegedly scolded the student for not being dressed in uniform earlier and had pulled him up again on Thursday, according to the police.

Figures from the Delhi Police control room show that on an average they receive no less than 20 calls pertaining to fights breaking out inside or around schools involving "hot-headed" students and "drop-outs." While student brawls are common, teachers are under physical threat of assault and battery, simply because there is little by way of legal protection.

That bad parenting is the cause of this violent behaviour among students, can scarcely be understated. Knowledge, instead of coming from books, is being gleaned from the big bad world of the internet, where video games – among others -play up a surfeit of revenge themes as the way out of trouble. With the games, the online world, and television as their guiding lights, behavioural change in nuclear families should be considered a cause of concern.

Teachers often find themselves at a vulnerable point. "More than 70% of teachers are either humiliated or face violence at the hands of their students at least once in their career," a reputed government school principal told the media recently.

The GSTA says they had been demanding that a law granting protection to teachers be passed, under which such criminal incidents that take place within, or nearby school campuses are punished under non-bailable offences. Thus far no luck.

Sadly, reverse violence is also becoming a reality – the calm unruffled image of a teacher-sage is taking a pounding. In December last year, an irate teacher threw a Class 5 girl student from the first floor of a government school in Delhi causing severe injuries. The teacher attacked the girl student, with a pair of scissors in a fit of rage before flinging her down from the first-floor classroom, before she was picked up by the police. In UP’s Deoria last year, a 15-year-old schoolgirl was allegedly molested and beaten by her teacher.

The pandemic years have played havoc with India’s schooling system. Less privileged students, without access to smartphones, have lagged in their curriculum, leading to stress and emotional imbalance. Much of it is showing on school campuses, even as life limps back normally.

Swagata Basu, general secretary of the West Bengal Government School Teachers’ Association, noted that incidents of violence, bullying and ragging are on the rise in many schools in the state. “Most students in government schools had suffered to some degree in the pandemic. Many of them could not attend the online classes properly for not having a smart device at home. Several students were unable to express their anxiety and fear during the closure. After the reopening of the schools, they are behaving differently, because they are also feeling the pressure of studies,” he told reporters.

This disturbed teacher-student asymmetry needs serious and sensitive handling because an overwhelming number of Indian students, from relatively less privileged backgrounds, go to government schools. For example, enrolment of children in government schools went up to 70.3 % in 2021, up from 65.8% in 2020 and 64.3% in 2018, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report. Under the circumstances, to ignore a violent trend, just because the students do not come from affluent sections, would pose serious obstacles in the way of the New Education.

(Ranjit Bhushan is a senior journalist. These are the writer's views.)

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