India 2000 Delhi Supreme Court judgment

Condemnation of school corporal punishment – Parents Forum for Meaningful Education vs Union of India and Another, 1 December 2000

A petition brought by the Parents’ Forum for Meaningful Education and its President, Kusum Jain, challenged the legality of corporal punishment in schools as provided for in the Delhi School Education Rules 1973, arguing that it violated the Constitution. The Petition succeeded and the Court, in a judgment delivered on 1 December 2000 directed the State to ensure “that children are not subjected to corporal punishment in schools and they receive education in an environment of freedom and dignity, free from fear”.

In its judgment, the Court cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments, directly quoting a number of Convention articles including articles 19, 29, 37, and stating (para. 10):

Thus, in a nutshell the thoughts which pervade the various Articles of the Convention are basically protective of the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury, neglect, exploitation, abuse, torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and adoption of means for the welfare of the child in every conceivable way and preservation of the dignity of the child.”

The judgment concluded that corporal punishment violated the Constitutional right to life (paras. 13 -15 and 21):

It seems to us that imposition of corporal punishment on the child is not in consonance with his right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution. Right to life has been construed by the courts widely. On a larger canvass right to life includes all that which gives meaning to life and makes it wholesome and worth living. It means something more than survival or animal existence. Right to life enshrined in Article 21 also embraces any aspect of life which makes it dignified….

“Article 21 in its expanded horizon confers medley of rights on the person including the following rights:-

(1) A life of dignity.

(2) A life which ensures freedom from arbitrary and despotic control, torture and terror.

(3) Life protected against cruelty, physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, exploitation including sexual abuse.

All these rights are available to the child and he cannot be deprived of the same just because he is small. Being small does not make him a less human being than a grown up….

“It also appears to us that corporal punishment is not keeping with child’s dignity. Besides, it is cruel to subject the child to physical violence in school in the name of discipline or education.

“Child being a precious national resource is to be nurtured and attended with tenderness and care and not with cruelty. Subjecting the child to corporal punishment for reforming him cannot be part of education. As noted above, it causes incalculable harm to him, in his body and mind. In F.C.Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi and others, , the Supreme Court held that every limb or faculty through which life is enjoyed is protected by Article 21. This would include the faculties of thinking and feeling. Freedom of life and liberty guaranteed by Article 21 is not only violated when physical punishment scars the body, but that freedom is also violated when it scars the mind of the child and robs him of his dignity. Any act of violence which traumatises, terrorises a child, or adversely affects his faculties falls foul of Article 21 of the Constitution. In saying so we are also keeping in view the Convention on the Rights of the Child which in clear terms cast an obligation on the state party to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, maltreatment, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, exploitation including sexual abuse while in the care of the parent, legal guardian or any other person who are in the care of the child. The signatory state is also obliged to protect the dignity of the child. We have relied upon the Convention in consonance with the decision of the Supreme Court in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India and others, wherein the Supreme Court relying upon the Convention on the Rights of the Child made use of the same and read it along with Articles 21, 23, 24, 39(e) and (f) and 46 to hold that it was incumbent on the State to provide facilities to the child under Article 39(e) and (f) of the Constitution. It was also observed that child cannot develop to be a responsible and productive member of the society unless an environment is created which is conducive to his social and physical health.”

The Government, defending the use of corporal punishment, quoted English common law and the leading case of R v Hopley (1860), which held that a parent or school teacher had a right to use “reasonable and moderate” corporal punishment. The judges stated (paras. 24 and 27):

… It may be noted that this decision was rendered about one and a half centuries back. Since then thinking has undergone a sea change. The United Nations Convention, to which India is a signatory, is a testimony of that change and the importance which is being attached to the child. Law cannot be static. It must move with the time. The rights of the child cannot be ignored.

“Before parting with the case we would like to observe that fundamental rights of the child will have no meaning if they are not protected by the State… The State must ensure that corporal punishment to students is excluded from schools. The State and the schools are bound to recognise the right of the children not to be exposed to violence of any kind connected with education…. India being a signatory to the Convention is obliged to protect the child from physical or mental violence or injury while the child is in the care of any person, may be educational institution, parents or legal guardian.”

Subsequent law reform

Since the above ruling, India has made significant progress towards prohibiting all corporal punishment in schools. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 explicitly prohibits physical punishment, and Rules under the Act provide for implementation of the prohibition through awareness raising, monitoring and complaints mechanisms. The Act applies only to children aged 6-14; it does not apply to unaided minority schools, Madrasas, Vedic Pathsalas and educational institutions primarily imparting religious instruction. However, the Government has made a commitment to prohibition of all corporal punishment, and during the Universal Periodic Review of India in 2012 accepted a recommendation to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings.


Further information

  • The full text of the judgment is available here.
  • For further information on subsequent law reform to prohibit all corporal punishment of children, see the Global Initiative country report for India.