When we consider the recent case of a teacher who beat his student to death, we wonder whether there is a flaw in the system that allows insane people to be hostel wardens. Surely, the process of selection should be rigorous enough to ensure that these people have the character to act as surrogate fathers to students who stay in hostels.
During the trial of religious teacher Hanif Mohamad Ali, we learned that he subjected Saiful Syazani Saiful Sopfidee to cruel and unusual punishment because the boy was suspected of having stolen money. Saiful was only seven years old, for God’s sake.
The incident happened in 2011 at a hostel in Sekolah Rendah Islam Al-Furqan in Arau.
At the trial, it emerged that Saiful had his hands tied to an iron bar as the teacher slapped him, hit his head and punched him in the chest. The torture lasted two hours. Was Hanif trying to extract a confession from the little boy?
The pathologist who examined Saiful said the child had also been strangled for about four minutes. This cut off the supply of oxygen to his brain.
Last Thursday, Hanif lost his appeal and will now face the death sentence for the crime he committed six years ago.
One wonders whether there is any other hostel warden out there who is as perverse as Hanif, or who displays any tendency to be cruel.
Children are often afraid to reveal abuse received at the hands of their teachers. They fear retribution. So they keep quiet until they can no longer stand the pain or humiliation or until they snap. Many run away or withdraw into themselves. Others take their own lives.
What caused so much fury in Hanif to make him forget the values that he must have learned during his training as an ustaz? Has he mental health issues? Was he depressed? Was his job too strenuous? Had he been made a warden of the hostel against his wishes? Was he the only school official around on that fateful night? If there were other teachers or wardens around, why did they not stop him from beating Saiful? Were his colleagues not aware of any flaw in his character?
Perhaps the culture of abuse is more common than we would like to believe. A teacher or warden who has abused a child will never tell on another teacher who is guilty of the same crime. They will protect one another, and so the crimes are never exposed to the outside world.
Has the ministry of education done a thorough survey to see what goes on behind the closed doors of our boarding schools? If it has not, it must start doing so. It owes it to Saiful.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
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