Despite divergent views, overwhelming number of Imams and priests in Rajshahi oppose Corporal punishment
“There aren't any more canings in my institution,” said Shariful Islam, a madrasa teacher for the last 19 years.
Recognizing that verbal abuse, and beating had long been two common forms of instruments to discipline students, he said: “At times, many students would suffer by fainting or losing consciousness due to severe anxiety, fear or pain from caning. This has been a long drawn traditional form of punishment, I too experienced such practices from my teachers."
“However, those days are gone now. Patterns of such punishment are just a thing of past,” stressed Shariful, who is also an Imam of Krishnapur Maddhya Para Jame Masjid of the Tanore upazila in Rajshahi.
Shariful’s comments may leave one enraged while it has been pretty much a normal affair in traditional madrasas that teachers and administrators punish students both physically and verbally.
Caning is a common form of discipline in vast majority of schools and madrasas in Bangladesh.
Teachers have long been accustomed to do so, owing to the notion of 'Mair Boro Bidya' (punishment is part of learning) since they would uphold a belief that, children do commit to their studies unless they are in fear of being reprimanded.
Further, they also resort to violent form of punishments, in order to induce students to abide by institutional rules.
Shariful is among hundreds of madrasa teachers who have teamed up to eliminate all forms of corporal punishment against students in three upazilas (Poba, Tanore and Gothagari) of Rajshahi nearly two years ago. They have also joined hands with local priests and other religious clerics, to this end.
The story did not stop here; Imams and priests representing both Islam and Christian faiths have also been working to stop incidents of child abuse by any measure, thanks to a two-year project being implemented by World Vision Bangladesh (WVB, a non-government organisation (NGO).
World Vision undertook the project styled: “The Faith based Child Development,” in October 2017, primarily to stop sexual abuse of children in the region.
Following a successful launching, the project officials approached local Imams and priests alike, informing them of what is essential for a child friendly environment, not only at educational institutions, but also in the society.
With many exhaustive rounds of interviews and roundtables, WVB have managed to form a what it termed, “Community Hope Action Team or CHAT Committee” comprising of leaders and representatives of faith based organizations.
During a recent visit to the Tanore upazila in Rajshahi, the reporter came to learn about the recent developments; precisely after a talk with Shariful Islam - also a part-time teacher at a local pre-primary school, who was seen advising parents and mothers of his students to refrain from beating their children as a form of punishment at home.
Acknowledging the values resulting from the campaign, many women appreciated the project as praiseworthy. They said that they have also been learning things of child development and of normative values everyday for an hour, from the religious leaders on corporal punishment, and mental and physical mistreatment.
The project shared messages of positive discipline that should be built into the training of all those who work with or for children and families, in education, health, and social services.
Shurovi Akhter, a mother of two, said she has been following the suggestions of Imams as they are much trustworthy.
“I do not allow my 3-year-old son to go anywhere alone, even with my neighbours. I frequently check with my daughter if any outsider or a relative has touched her inappropriately as the Imam told us to share with our children on which parts of their body are sensitive,” she said.
Hafez Maulana Golam Rabbani, principal of Krishnapur Rahmania and Hafizia Madrasa of the Tanore upazila, said as part of the campaign, Imams and Christian priests also hold discussions at least twice a month. They describe the discussions as “Inter-faith Dialogue in Child Protection.”
“We discuss with students on whether they are physically abused at schools or other educational institutions or even at home by teachers, guardians or parents,” he said.
Father Patrick Gomes, Catholic priest of the Mundumala Missionary, said they get reports of children, aged between 4-16 years, being raped or sexually abused almost every day - news of much regret.
“Apart from these incidents of apparent cruelty, the news of children being abused at educational places also hurt us a lot. Against this backdrop, we have decided to outlaw caning or beating children in our homes first. Then we banned all forms of sexual and mental abuse at educational institutions,” he said.
Beatings leave students frightened, sometimes injured, and unable to learn effectively, making it more likely they will leave schools. The high level of corporal punishment of children reflects deeply embedded social attitudes that authorise and approve it.
Details about the 'Faith based Child Development' project
Under the project, 173 Muslims and Christian faith-based leaders, along with 140 school teachers have so far received training on child development and safety issues.
WVB is also providing training to some 3,308 children at 161 learning centres.
When contacted, Bimal James Costa, AP Manager of the Tanore upazila at WVB, said: “We have taken collaborative efforts with the faith-based leaders as people believe in them.”
He, however, recounted that the launching of the campaign was not an easy task.
"Initially, the religious leaders were neither convinced nor enthusiastic about the project, but with support from Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, they paid attention to our call as we presented messages of Quran, Hadith and Bible regarding safety of children,” he maintained.
It is a fact and acknowledged by many that there are divergent views on corporal punishment of students in schools and madrasas in Bangladesh, though the tilt is towards bringing an end to it.