When a 38-year-old HR executive recalls his childhood, one of the clearest memories is his mother whacking him for bunking school when he was in class IX.
"When I was a child, hitting was common. If I misbehaved, my mother would hit me using anything that she could lay her hands on, be it a ruler or a rolling pin," says Nagesh Raikar, a Malad resident.
Raikar had vowed that he would never hit his child. But, he finds his patience running thin when dealing with his 12-year-old. "I try to be patient when my son misbehaves. But if I catch him bunking school, lying or stealing, I raise my hand. As a parent, I realise that I have no choice but to be strict so that my son realises the severity of what he has done and does not repeat it," he says.
Like Raikar, every modern-day parent faces similar situations. At times, it becomes difficult for them to spare the rod.
Last week, a couple from Andhra Pradesh was arrested in Norway for "gross or repeated maltreatment" of their seven-year-old son by "threats, violence or other wrongdoing". Many criticised the Norwegian authorities of "overreacting" and not understanding the Indian way of raising children.
Beating is no longer acceptable in schools, then why shouldn’t parents avoid it?
"Any form of punishment causing physical or mental trauma leaves behind scars such as low self-esteem, low self-confidence and even aggression," says Suryakant Kulkarni, state representative of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
"Parents hit children, believing that fear will discipline them. But this can lead to fear among children, affecting their personalities and in some cases even triggering suicides," he said.
Dr Samir Dalwai, developmental and behavioural paediatrician at New Horizons Child Development Centre, says that research shows that corporal punishment makes a child dislike the perpetrator, reinforcing negative behaviour. "And yet, parents in India believe that only a good beating can reform. If that was the case, with the amount of hitting that has happened in India, we would be the most well-behaved nation in the world," adds Dalwai.
As long as corporal punishment is socially acceptable in the country, physical abuse in guise of discipline will continue. "Punishing children is regarded as normal. The justification of corporal punishment sustains its practice as the child may not think that his/her rights have been infringed upon," says Kulkarni.
A study, Child Abuse in India - 2007, by Ministry of Women and Child Development, found that 69% of children are reported to have been physically abused. Moreover, 52.91% boys and 47.09% girls were abused in their houses; 88.6% were abused by their parents.
Such statistics should be a wake-up call for parents. "Parenting can evolve only by putting in place an effective problem-solving mechanism that will ensure the safety of children and guide parents on dealing with misbehaviour in a non-violent way," says Kulkarni.
The National Commission in 2007 submitted guidelines on positive discipline that would have helped create such a mechanism. But none of the states, including Maharashtra, bothered to implement them. With demands of banning corporal punishment growing louder, the suggestions are now being considered.
Positive discipline means punishing children through non-punitive measures or removing the negative side of punishment. It’s based on the premise of treating a child with respect. Psychiatrist Harish Shetty says positive disciplining involves not using the preferred tools such as threat, bribery or blackmail to discipline children. "By doing so, we are treating children as unequal. But children have as much right as parents on how they should be brought up," he said.
Firoze Patel, additional police commissioner, says punishments such as wielding a cane, hitting and belting a child is not right. "But parents and teachers use such punishments although they are ineffective and have potentially deleterious side-effects. Punishment should be aimed at inspiring a child," he added.
While armchair philosophers might preach about ideal punishments, parents feel otherwise.
For instance, a liberal parent in the United States might "ground" the child for misbehaviour. When a child is grounded he/she is not allowed to meet friends and has to stay home all day. Such a punishment will give the child time to retrospect on his behaviour.
But do such punishments work in India? Living in cramped flats, the punishment would end up annoying parents. "I would rather my child plays downstairs. If children sit at home all day, they will watch TV or get hooked to the computer," says Sangeeta Sawla, 50, a homemaker from Ghatkopar.
Janie Fernandes, 42, a mother of two boys, says that unless a punishment is strict, children will not understand the seriousness of their offence. "At times, I cannot take a soft approach," says the Andheri resident.
Psychologists say teachers need to be stricter with those who are habitual offenders or troublemakers but parents should first get to the root of such behaviour. "You might find that back-benchers play pranks because a teacher’s voice is not audible or the teacher is unable to hold their interest. Teachers can solve this by actively involving such students in the class," says Dalwai.
Offensive behaviour can be resolved through intervention by friends, teachers, family and mental health professionals.
When it comes to parenting, parents generally take hold of the wrong end of the stick. Some parents either end up mistreating children in the guise of discipline or overprotect them by not saying anything even if they misbehave.
Lina Asher, founder and chairperson of Kangaroo Kids Education Limited and author of parenting book, Who are you kidding?, says: "While doing away with punishment, parents should not overindulgence or pamper children."