In class today, we talked about corporal punishment and its prevalence in schools in Mississippi. In this post, I would like to discuss corporal punishment as I have witnessed it in my home country of India and offer a reason based on cultural relativism for why I think it exists even today despite being illegal.
Although there are many forms of corporal punishment, the one I have witnessed most commonly in Indian schools is the spanking of students by the teachers. What I found particularly surprising from my experience was that in one of the schools I attended, students from all grades were subject to this form of corporal punishment. This included children of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest. Supposedly, this instills in the children a sense of discipline, but does it really do so directly? I strongly feel it does not — instead, I believe it instills in students a sense of fear, which in turn “disciplines” them. That is, students are taught to behave properly out of fear of the consequences of misbehaving. This is especially powerful in extreme cases of corporal punishment, which in India can include forcing students to sit outside on their knees in blazing hot temperatures (often upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit) for hours on end.
Given this information, I ask a stupidly obvious question: is corporal punishment moral? Of course, I believe not. How then is there justification for its prevalence in India? From a cultural relativist standpoint, I believe that those who support corporal punishment in India fail to see that an objective moral truth regarding this practice exists (even though the Indian government has declared it illegal). That is, these individuals do not realize that corporal punishment is morally wrong and would likely argue that since society does not condemn the practice (i.e. it is prevalent despite having been declared illegal by the government), it is morally acceptable. However, I feel that the value behind corporal punishment is the same as that behind any other form of child disciplining: to teach children what is right and wrong. Why, then, do teachers in India exercise corporal punishment to teach students right and wrong when the same goal can be accomplished by more humane methods (i.e. timeouts)? Personally, I feel it is because throughout Indian history, disciplining children by corporal punishment has been the norm, so society has come to accept it as moral. That being said, when will all of Indian society realize it is immoral?