School was not the happy place that 11-year-old Shivani looked forward to going to. And no, the reason wasn’t the ordinary child’s habit of playing truant. In November last year, this Class 5 student of Prathmik Vidyalaya in Badlapur, U.P., was slapped so hard on her right ear by her teacher Renu Upadhyay that she suffered hearing impairment. And what caused the provocation? The child wanted an extra helping during mid-day meal…

This child from the Scheduled Caste Chamar community was among the 44 children from across 14 States, who deposed before a jury comprising members of the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and other child rights experts at a national public hearing on identity-based discrimination or violence against children in schools held here recently.

Organised by the Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion, National Dalit Movement for Justice and the Right to Education Forum, the public hearing included ten jury members, including P.L. Punia, Chairperson, National Commission for Scheduled Castes and writer-activist Farah Naqvi.

Shocking cases

Shocking cases of violence against children came forth during the hearing. Fourteen-year-old Renuka from Madinaguda, Miyapur, Telangana committed suicide following humiliation and physical abuse by her school principal and an accomplice in A.P. Social Welfare Society Residential School in Shivareddypet in 2010. Despite a police case registered against them, the accused, D. Dhana Laxmi and G. Lavanya, continue to teach, with one of them obtaining anticipatory bail. They tampered with the suicide note that the child left behind in the school hostel, her father said before the jury.

Seven Class 8 girl students belonging to the SC and OBC community from the Government Junior High School in Araji, Naubrar Karakhiya in Azamgarh dropped out of school after their teacher Anurag Roy made obscene gestures and showed them porn pictures in school. For fear of discrimination, the parents have not come forward to lodge an FIR. The incident came to light during a fact-finding mission.

Eight-year-old Anand from Kushinagar, U.P., was so tired of getting flogged by his school teachers that he changed four schools. But that didn’t help as the same story continued everywhere. The child was also made to clean the school premises against his will. Cases of Dalit children being denied their government scholarships were also raised by NGO representatives who took part in the fact-finding process. There were also cases of Muslim children who were forced to offer prayers to Goddess Saraswati in a Delhi school.

The jury panel recommended adequate compensation and justice to the victim children and demanded action against the accused in these cases. Jury member Naqvi pointed out the failures of the Right to Education law, which bans corporal punishment, as most children subjected to abuse dropped out of the education system entirely.

“Either the RTE must be amended to address the existing lacunae to be able to address caste and religion-based discrimination in schools or a new law must be passed to address this issue as currently there is no mechanism to take action on this issue,” she said.

Mr. Punia said though there were 21,000 cases of abuse against SC/ST and Muslims persons pending with the Commission, speedy action would be sought in the cases brought to their attention.