One bright spark once said: “truth is stranger than fiction”. I think it was Mark Twain who uttered the immortal words, but I personally didn't hear him, so I can't be sure. But whoever said them knew what he was talking about.
Take, for example, a recent incident at the Gangaprasad Primary School in Zajira Upazila, nearly 100 kilometres south of Dhaka, where a teacher was accused of forcing more than two dozen students to drink sewer water as punishment. This is one you might find incredibly hard to believe. Then again, considering the history of corporal punishment in schools and madrasahs throughout Bangladesh, it might not be so difficult.
If Ripley had produced a 'Believe It Or Not' series devoted exclusively to corporal punishment on students, this one would definitely qualify.
But before coming to it, let us remind ourselves of some other 'Believe It Or Not' and 'truth is stranger than fiction' qualifiers.
For example, the “hellish nightmare” that unfolded at the Talimul Quran Mahila Madrasah in Kadamtali where 14 young girls were literally branded with a red-hot cooking spatula by their teacher to demonstrate her concept of what hell would be like. The smell of burning flesh may have left the madrasah building by now, but not the horrific memories in the minds of the teenagers who have been scarred physically and mentally for life.
Are these teen girls feeling love and respect for that teacher and those who allowed it to happen? Let your own common sense answer that.
And what about that teacher at a Sunamganj school who sent a pupil to a local barber to collect all his used razor blades and then forced her Class V students to cut their hands and legs with the razor blades until they bled for not doing their homework!
There have been many more similar incidents, most are hushed-up and don't make headlines, but the Zajira school incident is a real mind-boggler.
Since drinking the poisonous liquid, which was apparently a punishment given for the students' failure to deliver lessons in class, several students fell ill. The school authorities have since suspended class teacher Shahnaz Parvin after parents took to the school field demanding justice. It boggles the mind how she came up with the idea in the first place.
Bangladesh has made some baby steps forward since the Supreme Court banned corporal punishment in schools in 2010, declaring the outrageous practice to be “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child's fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom.”
This ruling, no doubt, engineered change for the better, but as evidenced in the previous paragraphs, there are still many teachers and headmasters who are refusing to comply.
Corporal punishment in the classroom makes sense only to the totally ignorant, mentally disturbed or to masochists. It's been proven over and over again that corporal punishment serves no useful purpose whatsoever and doesn't help in raising a child or help to make them better citizens.
In another time, corporal punishment would be declared a poison—the formalin of the education system—by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Education; and appropriate steps would be taken to eradicate it speedily.
Parents who claim to love their children and send them to schools knowing them to be corporal punishment hellholes are hypocrites, ignorant, or both. And it wouldn't surprise me if their children tell them so years later.
There are no excuses for corporal punishment. There are no redeeming factors. Facts are facts that cannot be altered. Corporal punishment is evil and wrong.
How could hitting children by hand, cane, strap, or other objects, kicking, shaking or throwing them against the wall, scratching, pinching, biting or pulling their hair, forcing them to stay in uncomfortable positions be right?
Or tying them up with ropes, chains or tape, burning, scalding or forcing them to wash their tongues with soap, getting them to drink sewer water, cutting themselves with old, rusted razor blades, branding them with scorching hot spatulas or binding them in chains?
It is up to the parents to protect their children from the poison of corporal punishment and prevent it from happening by writing a note, phoning, or visiting the school or madrasah and making it known to the teachers and headmaster that they do not want their children to be subjected to the toxin, but that applies only to parents who love their children.
Corporal punishment would not exist in schools if parents objected.
Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, and a human rights activist.