No Kidding!

Anindita Mazumder

It is unfortunate that these days our educational institutions are hogging headlines for the wrong reasons. Incidents of corporal punishments and ragging are on the rise, raising the spectre of the torture inflicted during Dark Ages. Tagore had banished corporal punishment from Santiniketan; so did the government but till this day the thin line between disciplining and adult savagery is being violated too often. In 19th Century, a report on indigenous education had thrown up different methods of punishment meted out to the young minds in the pathshalas and tols. In this edition of Calcutta Chronicle, we take a look at the methods of torture unleashed by the 19th century inquisitors.

In 1834, Lord Bentinck had entrusted William Adam to submit a report on the indigenous education in Bengal and he had reported 14 kinds of corporal punishment that would even send a shiver down the most courageous spine. The most favoured form of punishment (which is true even today) was caning. Students arriving late for classes would be straightaway caned 5 or 6 times on their right palms.

Each method had a distinct name such as narugopal, ironically named after the infant God, Krishna. The guilty student would be required to be on all fours while holding a brick or any other heavy object in his right hand. If he failed to hold on to it or rested his hand he would be severely caned on his bare buttock.

Another variation of naruopal was tribhanga which required the guilty student to stand on one foot and hold on to a heavy object. If he rested his raised foot or dropped the object he was in for severe caning.

Often the students would play truant, no doubt the rote learning of the three R’s appeared to be dull to most young minds but they had no respite, for the teacher would sent out his personal army, generally comprising  senior students to bring them to book. The student at fault would be dragged out of his hiding place and carried like a hog (changdola) with each of the senior students firmly holding on to his arms and legs and the terrified child would be incessantly caned by the teacher. Shibnath Shastri in his Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Bangasamaj cited the example of a boy who spent an entire night in open fields during winter, only to avoid his prosecutors.

Shastri also had an explanation behind such torturous ways. The teachers or gurumoshai had a meagre income and students who could pay him extra on the sly became his favourite. Our literature is also replete with such instances of dull and insipid teaching and cane wielding gurumoshai.

William Adam in his report, wrote Shastri, gave an account of 14 such methods of imparting education, each more dreadful than the other. This included sitting on the ground and raising a leg on the shoulders, or putting hands under the thighs and then holding on to the ears. But the worst is yet to come. In case of grievous fault the hands were tied up and then nettle or bichuti would be rubbed on various places which produced a terrible itching sensation or the guilty would be left in a sack with a live cat!

But the British influenced system of education that led to mushrooming of indigenous English medium schools in the late 19th century was no better. A description which appeared in the Calcutta Review showed the teacher in Coolie Bazar armed with a rattan and the students’ eyes were red due to weeping, undoubtedly after a taste of the ferula.

However, there is also the example of David Hare, a Scottish watchmaker with little education who established several schools in the city for the spread of both English and vernacular education. Hare had tremendous affection for the students of his school who hailed from middle and lower middle classes. He would often play with them after school hours. He would also feed them. Since they were Hindus and would not eat at his place he had an arrangement with a sweetmeat maker next to his house; the students would eat as much as they wish and he would pay. When they fell sick he would come to their house, often in slums to inquire about their health.

We will wrap up with an anecdote about Hare. Once, a student had come to see him. It was quite late in the evening so Hare said he will accompany him to some distance. At Bowbazar, the student, Chandrasekhar Deb told him that he would be able to go alone but Hare said he would accompany till Madhab Dutta’s Bazaar. This went on till they were only a few yards from his home where Hare reluctantly let go off his student.  After some time, somebody knocked at their house and yelled, “Is Chandra in?” It was Hare, who had come to inquire whether his student had reached safely. When Hare died on June 1, 1842 there was a huge procession which was mostly attended by small children and their parents.