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Caning rife in Indian schools

"The principal broke the cane over Rouvan’s back." Teenager's suicide shocks country.

In a largely conservative society, traditional values will take time to change, as reflected by the old guard which believes in the merits of disciplining children through some form of corporal punishment.

In newspaper columns and TV shows, eminent Indians have expressed this sentiment, referring to their own school days with a twist of nostalgia. Siddhartha Shankar Ray, a former chief minister of the state of Bengal, writes about how caning was part of growing up. “I learned to wear three or four pairs of shorts as protection [from caning,]” he wrote in a leading Indian newspaper.

Meanwhile, Rouvanjit’s suicide death has sparked a nationwide debate about improving communication between parents, teachers and kids.

Given the fierce competition to secure a spot in schools, starting from kindergarten, many parents are afraid to interfere with school authorities, reluctant to complain for fear of expulsion.

“If we complain, the teachers will take it out on our children,” said Manju Poddar, a housewife in Ludhiana, a mid-size city in the northern state of Punjab. “No one wants to take such a risk.”

Says Sankhya Reddy, a 6th grader in the southern city of Hyderabad, who didn’t want to name her school. “Teachers slap us on the cheek or hit us with a ruler if we are naughty. It’s very common, so we are used to it.”

With class sizes averaging 60 to 70 students, teachers in India are under a lot of stress. Says Ms. Ahmad, an 8th grade social sciences teacher at Step by Step, a private school in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi: “Classes are very large and the pressure on teachers is very great. However, in the interest of both students and teachers, schools need to devise a way of helping teachers handle this. Teachers also need to be empowered to express their point of view without fear.”

In the meantime, as the Rawla family awaits the police and the NCPCR’s final reports, their anguish seems to grow with each passing day. At the Rawla home, Rouvanjit’s presence can be felt everywhere, especially his room, a constant reminder to the family of his vivacious and spirited personality. His guitar sits on the top bunk of his double decker bed, Power Rangers action figures rest on the book shelf along with his favorite Percy Jackson series and his clothes line the cupboard.

“Rouvan was full of life, he was free with hugs to everyone,” said Anu Navlakha, Rouvanjit’s aunt, looking at the life-size photograph of Rouvanjit in the living room. “Several teachers spent several months breaking his spirit and he bore it stoically. He was no push-over, but he was sensitive. He didn’t want to hurt us, so he didn’t tell us anything. Our entire family is devastated by this loss.”

She shares a poem written by Rouvanjit’s friend on a Facebook site dedicated to her nephew, which has attracted hundreds of members.

Where have you gone
We grieve, we cry
We wipe our tears
The cut is deep
No balm can ease the pain
Life’s betrayal is complete