India has banned corporal punishment in classrooms after a survey blamed physical abuse by teachers for the rising number of school drop-outs across the nation.
The landmark Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, passed by parliament last month, empowers state governments to punish teachers for physically or mentally hurting students.
While the new legislation makes schooling a legally enforceable right for all children between the ages of six and 14, clause 17 of the Act warns that 'no child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment'. Violations will attract 'disciplinary action under the service rules applicable to such (a) person'.
A 2008 study by the Women and Child Development Ministry revealed that two out of every three students had been assaulted by teachers. In Assam province, 99.9 per cent of students had been physically abused. The findings triggered calls for a ban on corporal punishment.
'Some children are so badly beaten that they land in hospital. The sickening truth is that there are brutal teachers inside classrooms who should never have been allowed near a school in the first place,' said Clayton Moses, a former prefect of Calcutta's St. Xavier's School.
'Students have to be disciplined. But, as seen in countries which have outlawed corporal punishment, they can be disciplined without being brutalised.'
Caning is rampant even though the Supreme Court ordered state governments in 2002 to promulgate laws to stamp out physical punishment in schools. Only two provinces implemented the court's directive and even in those states - Tamil Nadu and Karnataka - students are still victimised.
Last year, the Central Board of Secondary Education issued a circular to affiliated schools in all provinces not to resort to physical punishment.
In January, a supreme court bench refused to set aside the conviction of a headmaster who slapped, kicked and verbally abused Year 10 student Arvind Purshottambhai Hanubhai, driving him to commit suicide. Hansukhbhai Gokaldas Shah, of Birla High School in Dhandukha, Gujarat, had appealed against a High Court judgement convicting him for causing the 16-year-old's death.
In other recent cases, a kindergarten student in Kerala was forced to drink her urine for falling asleep in class, while a boy, 12, died of heatstroke in Gujarat after he was ordered to do ten laps of the school grounds because he was late.