India school head kills boy who answered back

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The Independent Online

An 11-year-old boy has been beaten to death by his headmaster in the Indian state of Bihar – the third child to be beaten to death by a teacher in India this year.

Gyan Ranjan, who had been a pupil at Holy Mission Children's Academy in Rajepur for just over a month, died last Friday after he was punished for answering back to one of his teachers.

The school initially tried to cover up the murder and claimed Gyan had committed suicide. However, local villagers became suspicious and alerted the boy's family.

Police begun a murder investigation following a complaint from the boy's father, and the headteacher, Uday Kumar Sharan, along with two other teachers, has since gone into hiding.

Many children's rights campaigners believe reported deaths are merely 'the tip of the iceberg' and that severe physical abuse is endemic in Indian schools.

In January, a 15-year-old Delhi girl, Rinki Kaushik, was beaten with a stick by a teacher for refusing to take extra tuition. She sustained serious head injuries and never regained consciousness. She died in hospital three months later.

In July, a 16-year-old Dalit (low caste) boy, Surjit Singh, died after he was thrashed by an upper caste teacher in a school in the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh. His 'crime' had been to write a poem for an upper caste girl. According to a classmate who witnessed the attack, he was caned until "he almost dropped dead". He died later in hospital.

According to a study by the Ministry of Women and Child Development last year, two out of every three students in India suffer physical abuse at school. In Bihar the rate is above average and in some states corporal punishment rates reach 90 percent.

"Most cases simply never come to light," says Bhuwan Ribhu of the organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood). "But when they do come to light, the culprits must be made an example of and dealt with very severely."

School deaths continue despite a Delhi Supreme Court order in 2000 banning corporal punishment in schools. The problem, says Mr Ribhu, is no-one abides by the guidelines. Most children, especially those from poor families, do not realise they have any rights, he says, and often there is no trusted adult to whom they can report abuse. "If children go to their parents, they are not believed. If they go to the Police, they are not taken seriously. Teachers believe and are right to believe, they are above the law."

Teachers in India say they struggle to cope with classes of up to 80 and have to resort to corporal punishment to keep order. "Teachers in these schools treat the children like commodities to be treated as they like," says Mr Ribhu. "They are entrusted with our children. In cases like these, teachers should be severely dealt with to set an example."