Tamil Nadu

"Camphor treatment" in primary school

Print edition : July 08, 2016

The teacher, Vyjayanthimala, being questioned by an official of the Education Department. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRAGNEMENT

The children at the Government Hospital in Ulundurpet. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A TEACHER of a government-run primary school at Paali village in Ulundurpet block in Villupuram district placed burning camphor on the hands, thighs and feet of 13 boys and girls of Classes IV and V as punishment for “not being attentive” in class and lagging behind in studies. This shockingly insensitive behaviour of the secondary grade assistant teacher, Vyjayanthimala, 48, at the Panchayat Union Primary School in the village on June 9 came to light when parents of a few of the children with burn injuries took them to the Primary Health Centre at Ulundurpet. Some of the children developed fever and were taken to the Government Taluk Headquarters Hospital in Ulundurpet.

The teacher and the headmaster, C. Varadarajan, are the two people who run the school, which has around 50 pupils on its rolls in Classes I to V. Reports claimed that during an inspection of the school on June 7, a senior official of the Elementary Education Department had reprimanded the teacher for the students’ poor performance. The department denied this.

The Elementary Education Department officials, after a preliminary investigation, said the teacher was furious because some of the students had not completed the homework she gave them the previous day. The students were also said to be habitual latecomers. “Hence she resorted to the punishment in a fit of anger,” said an official. According to reports, she enlisted the services of two other boys to pin the “undisciplined” students down, and after lighting the camphor, placed it on their feet, hands and thighs, one by one.

The police and officials concerned were informed of the incident. “These rural children come from a poor agricultural background and many of them are first-generation schoolgoers,” said an activist.

Residents of the village said the teacher belonged to the same village and claimed that she had been working in the school for nearly 11 years. “She knew all our children personally. How could she mete out such a punishment to little children?” said the mother of an affected child. Parents of the “punished” children said the children did not reveal the sordid incident because they feared the teacher’s reaction. But when the wounds started throwing up blisters the next day, the parents came to know. Their children, they said, also were traumatised and afraid to go to school now.

A district official told Frontline that the administration had taken the necessary measures to instil confidence in the minds of the children. The officials said the headmaster told them that he was on leave when the incident took place and was hence unaware of it.

After an inquiry, the Chief Educational Officer of Villupuram district, C. Mars, placed both the headmaster and the teacher under suspension. Subsequently, the Ediakkal police arrested the teacher and remanded her.

Tamil Nadu has taken vast strides in the field of education, but is not new to bizarre acts on its college campuses and schools, where children have been made to clean school toilets, do forced labour in teachers’ houses, and face caste-based segregation in classrooms. But the “camphor punishment” defies all logic and raises uncomfortable questions concerning the safety of children, particularly at the primary level, in government schools, especially in rural areas in the State.

Ilangovan Rajasekaran

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