Inside toxic classrooms of Kashmir where humiliation is norm

The normalized classroom culture of humiliation and toxic moral policing are continuously casting shadows on the overall personality development of students.

It was supposed to be a pep-talk on school life until Amber recalled her campus crisis and broke into tears. As her friends took turns to console her, she started voicing her anguish.

In her third grade, Amber was once playing on the school swing during a lunch break. She leaned on it in excitement overlooking the lurking danger sign. A few minutes later, she got jammed in it forcing the watchman to come to her rescue. But what happened shortly gave her shudders for years to come.

The child wept bitterly after punished by her teacher for being “reckless”.

“Such hostile and confidence-jolting actions have been normalized by our society in the name of learning and discipline,” says Amber.

“I still remember how some of those teachers tormented our campus life with their mordant moral policing.”

Today, when Amber is in college, she feels that her punisher could’ve handled her campus accident prudently, without “inflicting a moral injury” on her tender mind.

Based on these largely unexpressed campus experiences, Kashmiri students affirm that the education system is far from real and righteous in the valley. They feel that society has only made students respect teachers when it should’ve been a mutual affair.

“Hitting or shaming is a behaviour that should be highly discouraged by society at large,” says Yasmine Selma, founder and lead counsellor at Healings and Feelings. “We should all be uncomfortable with this way of acting out and should forbid it.”

Parents are equally part of this classroom cancel culture, Selma, a native of Brussels settled in Srinagar, says.

“Some parents normalize this behaviour and allow teachers to act with their ward in the same way. The previous generation suffered humiliation at school, home or office and would simply not see any wrong in the same behaviour being repeated today. Therefore, blaming teachers for this toxic behavior won’t do. We as a society should reflect on our inability to act against the wrong. If we want healthy teaching, we need a society that can produce healthy members, and that’s the job of all of us.”

But in absence of this collective will, many strife-stricken students of Kashmir end up loathing their school time for giving them a hard time. A few, like Aayat, term it as a traumatic timeline.

Years later, the college student still feels a resounding slap on her face and loses her calm.

“My schoolteacher justified that humiliating act saying I was showing attitude by playing with pencil while she was teaching,” Aayat recalls.

“She was a toxic woman, rather than a levelheaded tutor. For such bitter and delusional teachers, students are soft-targets. Under the cloak of nobility, they act like bad workers who only blame their tools.”

And when the same teacher slapped Aayat again in a school ground for her “improper headgear”, the incident affected the student so much that she still feels embarrassed about it.

“A scene was created over a small thing,” she says. “Students were staring at me and I felt humiliated. I wanted to do anything extreme to overcome that insulting feeling.”

As a student, Aayat says, you always look up to your teachers and want to emulate them, but when the same teachers taunt you for your weaknesses, you end up losing more than a trust.

“I never knew that my math weakness would make my teacher to taunt me repeatedly in front of an impressionable class,” she recalls.

“I don’t think I deserved that nasty treatment from my teacher who kept throwing those verbal insults at me: ‘You won’t do anything in your life!’.”

This ‘mean’ lecturing, Aayat says, is enough to demoralize and discourage students for pursuing further education.

“Instead of helping the weak students, our teachers would all the time give attention to toppers and thus divide the class between toppers and average students,” says Aayat.

“Fact remains that weak students need teachers’ attention more than anyone else. They come to school to learn and overcome their weakness and not to become a subject of scorn for their teachers.”

To counter this ‘campus curse’, counseller Selma talks about the necessity of good parenting and bats for the good training and mental health of a teacher.

“Teachers should learn communication skills before they start teaching,” she says.

“When teachers don’t understand how to handle a student, they can go to the school counsellor where they can be heard, supported and assisted because a teacher’s behaviour can impact the student in a positive or negative way.”

If the teacher provides positive reinforcement, the students will have high chances of developing good confidence and self-esteem, she says. “But if the teacher insults the student in front of all, the student will eventually become demotivated.”

Even if the student had initially high dreams and high self-esteem, he could start doubting himself if his teacher repeatedly tells him: ‘You’re good for nothing!’

“This humiliating remark would eventually develop a limiting belief system in students, like avoiding coming to school, taking exams or voicing up their opinions,” Selma says.

Apart from schools, this deep-rooted moral-policing has spread its tentacles in colleges and universities as well.

A college-goer Parsa Mahjoob recalls an incident where her routine campus visit turned toxic. Braving toothache, she once went to seek her teacher’s help, but returned with a taunt—“Stop this drama!”—and tears.

The teacher also commented on Parsa’s family teachings, and humiliated her further.

“It’s quite a normalized behavior where teachers think they can treat their students the way they want,” Parsa, a budding scribe, says. “This has to change for the good of the society as these early-life-overlooked assaults impact one’s adult life.”

Narrating the similar early-life incident, Aiman, a college-goer, says she was once eager to wish her teacher on Teacher’s Day. In excitement, she had even forgotten her English notebook. This annoyed her teacher so much that he threw the chocolates she had brought for him.

“I cried like anything that day while going back home,” Aiman, then Class 3rd, recalls. “I was trying to stop my breath because I didn’t want to live. The teacher even called my mother, but she supported me because she knew it wasn’t a big issue.”

She was so shocked by the incident that she kept an English notebook with her for days to come.

“Before punishing the student, the teacher should inquire,” Selma asserts. “It’s easy to humiliate a child but exceedingly difficult to mend a broken soul. That’s why the teacher should learn non-violent communication skills and approach the student with the same.”

But since the trauma of humiliation can impact students terribly, Selma suggests that there should be a series of things done, before reaching a point where one needs to take action against the student.

“And action should come only when a mistake is repeated many times,” she says. “A trust should be built between the teacher and student and then the solution can be established.”

But Mahnoor Khan could never build that trust and ended up facing a tough time.

She recounts an incident where her teacher had found a letter in her bag.

“That letter was my best female friend’s gift on my birthday,” Mahnoor recalls. “We vainly tried to tell our teacher that it’s our thing, but she didn’t listen and called our parents.”

The teacher made the scene by reading the letter in front of the whole class and their parents.

“Between the two best friends, it’s very common to talk in coded language, in which the letter was written,” Mahnoor says. “Instead of guiding us, she decided to shame us.”

Selma says a teacher needs to understand that students go through so many changes in their teen age.

“The teacher should guide them and certainly not label them because this is also the age where they build their personality and are more prone to developing anxiety, anger issues, depression and can get into drugs,” she warns.

However, this normalized classroom culture of humiliation can be tackled with a proactive student stand.

“Students should reach out to higher authorities or elders if they’re bullied by teachers or by a fellow mate,” Selma says.

“And most importantly, parents and teachers should get into communication courses available online to understand and help their children to grow positively.”


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