Physical punishment could lead to a wide range of negative developmental outcomes among children. This is what the clinical psychiatrists and educationists had to say after a case of corporal punishment surfaced in Srinagar.
The incident that caused huge public outrage happened in a coaching centre at Parray Pora, where a teacher allegedly slapped a student several times.
"Parenting is a scientific process now. It is an art, and one has to evolve every passing day," psychiatrist Dr Arshad Hussain told Greater Kashmir. "You have to have a proper understanding about your child's behaviour, and then one needs to respond and react accordingly," he adds.
Dr Hussain, a professor at the Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (IMHANS), Government Medical College, Srinagar, says similarly a teacher and an education setup have to be extra cautious in handling a child, especially when the child is going through a crucial phase. "Typical abuse could have devastating mental health issues among children."
He says that corporal punishment leaves deep scars on the minds of victims. "Its impact on the development of young developing brains is devastating and has far-reaching consequences in the form of adult mental health problems".
"Verbal or physical abuse may solve immediate discipline issues but is in the long term counterproductive as it increases disruptive and impulsive behaviour in students," he says.
It may be recalled, recently, a video went viral on social media showing a teacher purportedly slapping a student repeatedly even as the student does not react. "Permission mangni thi" (did you seek permission) is what the teacher at a coaching centre can be heard asking the terrified student.
The incident led the netizens to express their anger at the teacher's act at the private coaching centre in Srinagar.
The teacher was later arrested and produced before the Court of District Magistrate, Srinagar, for questioning.
Another psychiatrist, Dr Sheikh Shoaib, opines that physical punishment affects children's development in various ways. "Unfortunately, corporal punishment is not considered a form of abuse but rather an age-old norm of discipline and training children. Studies have shown that mild corporal punishment too has an impact on a child's well-being," he says.
"The children who face corporal punishment intuitively suppress their emotional and mental needs in fear of being reprimanded, and this may be a cause of under-diagnosis of childhood mental disorders. This also results in anxiety, malingering to avoid school, lack of help-seeking behaviour, an attitude of complacency towards violence in the adult years," he adds further.
Commenting on this incident, Muhammad Ashraf, a teacher-turned government employee, says, "A teacher has a vital role to play in a child's life and future. The way the accused teacher was seen slapping the kid, it seems that the money has gone into his head," he alleges. "A slap or two could have gone unnoticed."
Noted educationist Prof AG Madhosh says that learning about such incidents was painful. "It not only brings down the profession of teaching but also leaves a child in complete mental trauma."
He says that a child may learn to fear punishment rather than understanding why he should follow the rules, and so grow up with less ability to stop himself from misbehaving. Corporal punishment can have a devastating impact on the child's psychology.
"Some children may interpret spanking as a sign that their parents do not love them, and this could lead to a strained relationship with their parents. Similarly, a teacher also has to be extra cautious in dealing with a child," he says.
Dr Arshad Hussain says that "if education is the mission and goal is to achieve learned good human beings, then corporal punishment has no role in modern education systems."
"Corporal Punishment," he says, "amounts to abuse of victims by those who need to act with empathy and compassion."
Dr Masood Rashid, emergency expert, while commenting on the recent incident, says, "A child who is physically punished, without being told why may develop poor self-esteem, and this can make it difficult for him to adjust socially in school."
"Poor self-esteem and low self-confidence can increase the likelihood of poor academic performance. The child may have difficulty concentrating, and this can reduce his potential to excel academically,"
'Abuse Gone Unnoticed'
Several observers believe that physical punishment earlier by teachers or parents is an abuse gone unnoticed.
They say that long considered an effective and even necessary means of socialising children, physical punishment has been revealed to be a predictor of a wide range of negative developmental outcomes. The extent of agreement in the research literature on this issue is unusual in the social sciences. Physical punishment is associated with increased child aggression, antisocial behaviour, lower intellectual achievement, poorer quality of parent-child relationships, mental health problems (such as depression), and diminished moral internalisation.
Some have vouched for legal action against the teacher at the coaching center, "Legal action must be taken against this man for thrashing a young student. This is illegal and must stop. Great job whoever took this video. This is exactly how fist-wielding "teachers" should be brought to account."
A social activist, Nazir Ahmad Khan, says that there was a need to go for the reality check of the society.
Another activist and social entrepreneur, Syed Ali Asgar Razvi, says, "Education system is undergoing several reforms globally, and we are unfortunate enough not to witness them here at regular intervals. "Teachers have their role in the society, and they have to behave with maturity when it comes to imparting education to the children."
'Abuse & Psychological Impacts'
A study published in the journal Paediatrics suggests that children subjected to such punishments risk having mental health problems as adults. According to the researchers, these can show up as mood and anxiety disorders or substance abuse. They analysed data from thousands of adults in one of the first studies to look at the long-term effects of physical punishment on children, even if the punishment was not major maltreatment or physical abuse.
"Everyone deserves to learn and work with dignity, and being a child should not be an exception to that. The United Nations has clearly stated that corporal punishment violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the CRC)," says Dr Syed Bushra Imtiyaz, Registrar, IMHANS.
"Children are known to be quite resilient, but studies have shown that physical and psychological abuse in the form of humiliation or cruel punishments can negatively impact the self-esteem of the child and may lead to maladaptive behaviours later on. Other children who observe the punishment can also become fearful, and ultimately learning is hampered. Most renowned psychologists have been of the opinion that our adult behaviours are influenced by our childhood experiences. So the impact is not just in the here and now but actually can be quite long-lasting," she adds.
She says that children will make mistakes, some more than others; it is how they learn and grow, it is how we all learn and grow.
"The power of social media helps to quickly activate authorities in power for appropriate action, but one must always be careful about the impact on the victim when the incident is circulated widely. The child can essentially re-experience the situation every time the video plays," says Dr Syed Bushra.
She says that physical punishment usually occurs with psychological aggression. If this continues, over time, the child internalises a message of violence and may grow up believing that physical aggression is okay in certain social situations.
"It's ironic to use physical punishment to teach a child not to be aggressive. It reduces his understanding of the rules and values being taught."
Muzamil Ahmad, Programme Coordinator, Child Guidance and Wellbeing, IMHANS, says, "This age-old norm of disciplining has been normalised into training children. Well, it has severe ramifications on the mental health of a child, particularly in formative years. It does more harm than good.It can lead to emotional instability or even defiant behaviour in some children leading to delinquency. Although, I am more concerned with the wide coverage of this incident. As it is equally important that the viral video has brought this issue to the limelight; but it has its perils too.That's the prolific effect of social media. It can become a meme material or even can be disturbing to the young boy."
Ahmad says that his (victim identity) can negatively impact him, and it is sometimes hard to process for some individuals and carries on for life.
Chairman Association of Private Coaching Institutes, Kashmir, GN Var said that the incident was highly shameful, and the association "would accept any legal ramification by the government on this".