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Under the Shadow of Shanno's Death

The death of 11-year-old Shanno Khan in April reportedly because of the punishment given by her teacher in a municipal school in New Delhi was a shock but should not have been a surprise. A study conducted in 2001 on schooling in Delhi for the 11-18 year age group showed that violence and negligence are very much a part of the educational experience of Delhi's schoolchildren.


Under the Shadow of Shanno’s Death

Meera Samson

levels are also directed to establish procedures for reviewing the responses to the complaints of children and monitoring the actions taken. These are good suggestions, and certainly, are the steps in the right direction, but it will take more than this to change the widely held view by the major-

The death of 11-year-old Shanno Khan in April reportedly because of the punishment given by her teacher in a municipal school in New Delhi was a shock but should not have been a surprise. A study conducted in 2001 on schooling in Delhi for the 11-18 year age group showed that violence and negligence are very much a part of the educational experience of Delhi’s schoolchildren.

Meera Samson ( is based at Collaborative Research and Dissemination, New Delhi.

leven-year old Shanno Khan, who enrolled in class 2 in a government primary school in Delhi, died on 18 April 2009 reportedly as a result of being made to stand in the sun in a crouching position for not knowing the English alphabet. Her sister reports that seven bricks were placed on her back. When Shanno asked for water her teacher kicked her. Shanno fell and hit her head against a wall.1 That afternoon Shanno slipped into a coma and died the next day in hospital. The teacher who punished her and the principal of the school in Bawana in north-west Delhi have since been suspended.

Corporal Punishment

The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the apex body in the country which seeks to protect child rights, has since issued a circular to all state governments that children should receive education in an environment “of freedom and dignity, without fear”.2 In the circular, the commission defines corporal punishment to include a wide variety of commonly used punishments, including being pinched/slapped/ rapped on the knuckles, beaten with a ruler, made to run around the school, and kneel down/stand up/and sit like a chair. The commission makes it clear that responsibility for safeguarding children from punishment lies with teachers and the school administration. It has directed the state education departments to undertake specific procedures to reduce and monitor child rights in schools. These include the directive to inform children through campaigns of their right to speak against corporal punishment and bring it to the notice of the authorities; to have a complaint box in all schools; and to have monthly meeting of the parent-teacher associations (PTAs) to review complaints and the actions taken. The education departments at block, district and state

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may 23, 2009 vol xliv no 21

ity of teachers and parents that corporal punishment is an appropriate strategy to control schoolchildren.

As someone involved in education research, the recent story of Shanno’s illtreatment in school, and its tragic aftermath, was a shock, but not a surprise to me. The findings of a study3 conducted in 2001 on schooling in Delhi for the 11-18 year age group showed that violence and negligence are very much a part of the educational experience of Delhi’s schoolchildren. The study was based on a survey of schools4 run by Delhi administration, and of households with young people enrolled in these schools.5 The study investigated both the experiences of students and teachers. The main findings of the study provide important information on the institutional context within which Shanno’s death occurred.

Schooling Experience in Delhi

Our study showed that the schooling experience was difficult for both teachers and students. Teachers expressed considerable frustration with their role and work environment. First, school infrastructure was poorly maintained, with the situation aggravated by the fact that the girls’ school and the boys’ school shared the same premises. Much of what was provi ded was vandalised including the fans. Toilets and drinking water facilities were inadequate, the electricity supply erratic. The classrooms were overcrowded, and often insufficient in number. Second, the administration insisted that teachers complete a lot of paperwork as well as undertake numerous non-teaching duties such as conducting the census. Third, teachers were frustrated by their own work conditions, the distance they had to travel to school, the lack of promotional avenues, and among male teachers, the lack of respect that they enjoyed in society. Lastly, the teachers were particularly disappointed with their students, their inadequate education at primary level, and


their parents’ inability to bring them up to an adequate standard.

The considerable social distance between the teachers and students was noteworthy. One teacher went so far as to refer to the children as samaaj ka kooda.6 Even teachers who felt some level of sympathy for the students, generally female teachers teaching in girls’ schools, despaired at the difficulty of their task. U nder-resourced and overworked, teacher morale was low.

Identification of Problems

The problems identified by the teachers had a negative impact on student learning and the overall school experience, although this varied greatly between students, especially between boys and girls.7 Most schools surve yed had high enrolment, particularly in classes 6-8. Infrastructure and teaching activity varied within schools and between schools. Within schools, senior students tended to have access to better facilities, e g, pucca classrooms with benches to sit on, while children in classes 6-8 were more likely to be outside, in tents, and sitting on the floor. One or more sections were also often clubbed together, with negative consequences for the quality of teaching input.

Between schools, girls’ schools appeared to be much more functional than boys’ schools. The majority of girls’ schools had gates secured, the headteacher in control of the school, and teachers and students in their classes.8 Boys’ schools on average seemed to have lower levels of regular teaching activity. Boys and teachers were seen to be leaving school grounds well before time. The burden of such dysfunctional schools would be felt most keenly by poor families, whose children are disproportionately represented in the more junior classes, and for whom the costs of schooling is harder to bear.

The study found that corporal punishment was widely understood to be an acceptable means of keeping the children under control. Students were punished with varying degrees of severity for not memorising what they were told, for not doing their written work, for not bringing their exercise books, for coming late to school, and more commonly among boys, for bunking at half-time.

Amongst the girls’ schools, teachers felt free to punish young girls through demeaning tasks. Students reported:

  • “The teacher makes us sweep the floor…”
  • “The teacher makes us clean the school as a punishment.”
  • “We are made to clear the rubbish.”
  • Teachers also reportedly punished them through making them an object of ridicule:
  • “mooch banakar ground mein ghumate hain” (draws a mustache on our face [to signify we are dunces] and make us take a round in front of everyone).
  • “murga banakar ground mein ghumate hain” (makes us take a round of the school, while acting like a chicken).
  • More extreme were punishments similar to that given to Shanno:
  • “dhoop mein kamar jhukakar basta rakh dete hain” (makes us stand, bent forward, in the sun, and places our school bags on our backs).
  • “…the teacher slaps us; we are beaten with sticks on our hands.”
  • While corporal punishment awarded to girls was bad, it was far less extreme than what happens to boys. Based on children’s reports during the household survey and the research team’s observations during the school survey it was found that boys were often given similar punishments as the girls,9 but the stick was much more widely used than in the girls’ schools. But while boys’ school environments were more violent spaces than the girls’ schools, they had different ways of coping with it. Not only did a higher proportion of boys report that there was bunking in their schools, older boys also threatened the teachers. Boys were also more likely to drop out of school altogether, of their own volition and even against the wishes of their parents.

    Minimum Requirement: A study done by the Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD) shows that violence is a common feature of the schooling experience of Delhi’s children. This is, however, unacceptable. The tragedy of Shanno’s story is that she and her parents would have hoped that the school environment would be a safe place for her, a stimulating place where she might learn new things, a pathway to a more secure future. Parents are highly motivated to enrol their children and the government under its flagship programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, has since 2002 been specifically investing funds to encourage out-of-school children into the system. Many of these children have come from the families belonging to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities. But clearly it is not sufficient to start more schools and to increase enrolment. Bringing children into a safe and functional environment is a critical part of the educational experience. While several steps have been taken to improve the functioning of schools and the quality of learning – non-teaching duties have been reduced, more schools have gates which are closed during the school day, free textbooks have been made available, textbooks have been revised to be more child-sensitive, gendersensitive and communally, sensitive, teachers are given in-service subject training – our research findings indicate that there is considerable scope for improvement. The government has not only to invest more in tea chers and infrastructure, but also monitor these investments continuously so that every child’s schooling experience builds them up rather than drags them down.

    Permission for Reproduction of Articles Published in EPW No article published in EPW or part thereof should be reproduced in any form without prior permission of the author(s). A soft/hard copy of the author(s)’s approval should be sent to EPW. In cases where the email address of the author has not been published along with the articles, EPW can be contacted for help.

    Some responsibility for the horrific situation in which so many children find themselves has to be taken by the government which continues to underfund education. Some responsibility has to be taken by the officials of the department of education and others siphon off funds from the government school system, robbing children and teachers of a better school

    may 23, 2009 vol xliv no 21

    Economic & Political Weekly


    environment. Some responsibility has to be taken by those who recruit and train teachers for failing to adequately communicate important issues of child development and social equity to new entrants.10 Some responsibility has also to be taken by teachers’ unions who may mouth the l anguage of teachers’ duties, but are unable to make all their members teach. Some responsibility has to be taken by the education department, heads of schools and teachers who do not place giving children a safe and functional learning environment at the core of their mandate. And finally, some responsibility has to be taken by all of us who fail to c hallenge the enormous inequality that defines our society.


    1 Staff Reporter (2009).

    2 India Development Gateway (2009).

    3 The study was conducted by Collaborative Research and Dissemination, New Delhi and funded by DFID. For more details, see Samson, De and Noronha (2007).

    4 Schools were gender segregated, with girls’ schools running in the morning shift (7 am to 12 pm) and boys’ schools in the afternoon shift (1 pm to 6 pm). Most were secondary schools (classes 6-10), but the sample was selected from all schools which provided education for classes 6-10. This included schools with classes 1-10, 1-12, and 6-8.

    5 A small minority of children in the 11-18-year age group were still enrolled in MCD-run primary schools.

    6 Such frustrations were also expressed in MCDrun primary schools in the course of fieldwork conducted by the authors in 2005.

    7 For details on the school environment, see Samson et al (2007), Section 3. 8 Not surprisingly, girls much more than boys, reported that they valued the opportunity to go to










    school. Apart from the chance to learn new things, it gave them a break from household chores, and a chance to meet their friends.

    9 Boys were asked to do rounds of the school, to stand like a chicken, to crouch like a chair with their school bag on their back (kursi bana dete hain aur uske oopar bag rakh dete hain).

    10 This situation is further aggravated by the current practice of recruiting contract teachers with little pre-service training of any quality.


    India Development Gateway (2009): “Ban Corporal Punishment and Child Labour”, http://www.indg. in/primary-education/education-as-fundamentalhuman-right/ncpcr/banning-corporal-punishment.

    Samson, Meera, Anuradha De and Claire Noronha (2007): “Building Unequal Capabilities: Schooling of Delhi’s Adolescents”, paper presented at UKFIET, Oxford, pdf/delhi-adolescents.pdf.

    Staff Reporter (2009): “Corporal Punishment Kills Delhi Schoolgirl”, The Hindu, 18 April, http:// 41858980100.htm.






    Economic & Political Weekly

    may 23, 2009 vol xliv no 21

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