By now you’ve probably read, discussed and formed your own opinion about the case of the Indian couple arrested in Norway and sentenced to 18 and 15 months jail respectively. Their crime? Of physically abusing their son by beating him with a belt and burning him with a hot spoon as punishment. It seems the child was ‘hypersensitive’ according to newspapers here. The psychiatrist treating the child has termed it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder(ADHD). If the reports are true, instead of understanding the condition, his parents resorted to beating the child and threatening to send him back to India.
It’s interesting to see the reactions this case has been getting in India. Take for instance the comments on Bangalore City Police’s Facebook page after they posted a photograph of the arrested couple and asked people for their thoughts.
Going by the comments on BCP’s page, a large number of people seem to think that parents have every right to discipline their children even if that means violent methods. Then there is the ever floating ‘this is part of our Indian culture’ theory which many have started citing. Which part of our culture recommends that children be punished by severe means remains to be discovered of course.
It’s also amusing to see people criticizing the couple for not following the laws of the land they were living in. To me it smacks of telling a criminal that he should have been careful before robbing, that’s it.
BCP’s intention behind the post was to gauge the awareness levels among people when it came to child abuse. The reactions, large number of which is in favour of the couple’s actions, show how few people realize the thin line between discipline and abuse. "Parents know how to discipline their child the best.", said one Facebook user on the page. It also tells us how we view children in this country. Childhood and its associated problems do not seem important enough to many who feel whatever the parents decide is sacrosanct and cannot be questioned.
"No matter what the land is, it is imperative that we refrain from violent abuse. There is a thin line between disciplining your child and outright abuse. Children are our future, we have to make sure that our actions do not have an adverse effect on them, be it physically or mentally." – Post by Bangalore City Police on their Facebook page.
"The heartbreaking part is that the child has ADHD," says Sarah Jacob, mom to a five year old, "and was probably behaving hyper because of that. I don’t think the parents understood the extent of the problem."
Corporal or physical punishment isn’t a new thing in India. In the old days, it wasn’t unusual for teachers, not just in India but across the globe, to resort to caning or beating errant kids with a ruler. The Delhi High Court banned it in 2000 and it has been banned across states as well but going by reports, its implementation in many schools leaves much to be desired.
Most of us have probably given the kids a gentle whack or two at some point. But where do you draw the line? When does discipline cross over into the territory of abuse?
"When you are hitting or yelling at the child not so much for his mistakes but to let out your own frustrations, I’d call it abuse," says Neuro Linguistic Programming practitioner (NLP) Arathi V. She also feels that instead of expecting children to change, parents probably need to change the way they are addressing the situation.
"Being firm and disciplining the children is utmost crucial. But that does not give us the right to physically abuse or punish them, says Deepa Athreya, who runs a leadership skill development program for kids. Mom to an 11 and 7 year old, Athreya believes a firm voice is more powerful than a firm fist!
Vaara Jain (name changed), mom to a nine year old energetic boy, admits there are times she has been tempted to spank and has given a whack or two. "But it’s always the last resort for me and that too nothing very severe. I feel speaking to my son strongly and being consistent with meting out a punishment (like no TV for a week or reduced playtime) works much better than physical punishment does. "In any case, it makes you feel horrible for losing control as a parent," Jain adds.
The jailed parents must be feeling horrible too. It isn’t easy being separated from your children and it isn’t easy for the children either. According to newspaper reports, the jailed couples’ son is visiting a psychiatrist who fears the incident might traumatise him further. Let’s hope for the sake of the child who probably just needed the right counseling and guidance, that it does not. And let’s hope it’s a lesson for those who think sparing the rod still means spoiling the child.⊕