HYDERABAD: Vijay Mogli was dragged out of the hostel of Hyderabad Public School on wintry nights, stripped nude, made to do frog jumps or imitate Mehmood’s and Johnny Lever’s fake Tamizh accents. Sometimes he resisted - when pencils, erasers and chalk pieces were pushed up his posterior - only to be footballed and kicked. Amidst ‘bastard’, “We’ll slit your dad’s throat!” and “Rape your mother”, the 13 year old would sometimes apply kohl, lip gloss, nail polish or use a “girly school bag” to express his gender identity.
Fourteen-year old Raunak Banerjee was afraid of heights. On June 29, the ninth class student of Baldwin Boys’ High School jumped off the 10th floor of his apartment in JP Nagar, Bengaluru. His suicide note read, “One of my schoolmates bullied me, it has been happening and it is intolerable. Those who I considered my friends have betrayed me.”
Hari (name changed) was assaulted by 10 students of class nine of the neighbouring school in Mumbai and had instructed him to bring liquor for them. Failure to do so would result in being beaten in publicly, they had threatened. Hari bought the bottle and hid it in his bag only for it to be discovered by his father. Shamed and dejected, on January 24, the 15 year-old wrote a suicide note and went to the railway station to end life.
While Hari’s mother traced him before he could take the extreme step, Vijay with his scarred sense of self and tag of “gender non-conformist” decided to confront the demons of his past head-on. After two decades passed he decided to enter his alma mater – the place where he witnessed impunity and violence – as Vyjayanti and not Vijay.
Unfortunately, Raunak wasn’t so lucky.
Bullying is more rampant than we would like to believe and often has tragic consequences. A study conducted by research agency IMRB and ParentCircle (2015) reveals that every third child is bullied in school. The pan-India survey was done on 2,700 respondents with equal number of parents and children.
While principals and school authorities admitted occurrence of bullying on school campus, they said that it mostly depends on the “kind of school your child attends. Bullying does happen but in schools it is a small thing,” says Maya Sukumaran, principal of Geetanjali School.
Uday Kumar, registrar of an international school in Bachupally says that CCTV surveillance in classrooms and corridors helps them to track children. “There are no committees as such but our teachers are approachable and we also have a counsellor who holds regular session with the students. Ragging and bullying is not something we tolerate.”
Counsellors, meanwhile, did not play it down. “Bullying is quite rampant,” says Rina Reddy, a child psychologist and former school counsellor. “Also It’s not about what the parent, counsellor, teacher or principal considers as bullying but what the child finds hurtful and offensive,” she explains. The counsellor adds that only few kids complain about being bullied. While some fear the consequences following the complaint, others don’t believe that the authorities (parents, teachers or counsellor) can do anything about them being bullied or would even consider what they are going through as bullying.
Hari, for instance, later told the police that he had confided into his class teacher after he was assaulted by the bullies. The teacher, however, according to Hari, told him to ignore the incident and warned him against speaking about it to anyone.
Scores of parents were shocked and broke out in a cold sweat when they read about the 14-year-old Raunak plunge to his death because of bullying in school. “Like every parent I have always liked to believe that my child is taken care of in the school. Teachers have to take every complaint seriously and not treat it as minor aberrations,” says Humera Shafeek, mother of a 12-year-old son.
Member of State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights Achyuta Rao agrees that schools despite charging hefty amounts do little for the holistic development of children. “Bullying is more prevalent in public schools. And its is not just school, even parents and media is to be equally blamed. It is a trend among parents to leave their children in hostels. Cut off from families, these children divert their energies in seeking attention by bullying other children,” he says.
The child rights activist also rues that despite there being a provision for all school to have a trained psychologist or counsellor, most, if not all, overlook it.
Vyjayanti, an activist, agrees that several city schools, indulge, mostly if not always, in blaming the survivor and in hushing things up to protect the school’s image. “Despite the Supreme Court criminalising ragging in 2001, structural violence mutates rapidly like a virus and takes other forms as bullying. Educational institutions are seldom the first to report violations to the police but always the first to hush things up!”
Is there a way out?
At a recent policy research conclave at Geetanjali School one of the topics discussed was bullying. A group of class XI students conducted a survey in their school and found that 45 per cent of the students were ‘extremely concerned about bullying’. Accordingly they came up with a two pronged approach to deal with the menace. “We have a prototype for an ID card that will have a panic button which will alert authorities when pressed by any student in distress. Of course this is just a prototype but school management is keen on taking it forward. The other thing that we suggested is about starting a blog, which will work like a support group, where students can write anonymously,” explains Yamini Undurchi, a member of the team.
The school principal Sukumaran says schools should focus on making older and younger students work as team and not aggregate them. “This instills a sense of responsibility in children,” she adds. While agreeing that there is a need for a single window to deal with bullying cases, she quips, “Only for big incidents. But steps should be taken so that no such incidents happen.”
For School counsellor Rina, confidence-building, anger management sessions and workshops on regular basis are must to deal with both bullies and bullied. “Group sessions and workshops must be held in classes at least twice a month to spread awareness about what bullying is and the impacts it has. These workshops should be followed up by team building exercises to promote comradeship between peers,” says Rina.
Vyjayanti, who faced the worst form of bullying, agrees that schools need to have awareness campaigns to lay strong foundations of psycho-social and psycho-sexual development and education of students. “But it’s essential to have trained counsellors who enjoy autonomy and aren’t just there as stooges of the school management,” she cautions.
According to the IMRB and ParentCircle survey 85 per cent of bullying occurs in school and of 80 per cent aren’t even reported to elders. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 2014 Health for the World’s Adolescents report showed that of the 109 national health policies reviewed, 84 percent made any mention of adolescents and only a quarter discussed mental health. Such findings are a wake-up call for picking up issues right at the beginning; Because, bullying cannot and should not be tolerated.