Rajesh (name changed) was in class 9 when he first encountered bullying. At first, he took it lightly and somehow tried to take it in a stride. But as time flew by, the bullying and mocking continued. Rajesh was born squint-eyed and often would be called names like ‘bhenga’ and ‘tedi aakhe’. They’d even mock him with the phrase “Looking London talking Tokyo”.
He recalls, “At first I thought this is just for fun. I tried my best to take it in the lightest way possible but realised that it has gone too far when I became a laughing stalk in the class. I bore the pain for four long years until my class 12 board exams were over.”
His parents never knew about the incident until this year. A shocked mother expresses, “I wish I had known anytime soon. I would’ve put a stop to it. It's appalling that he got teased and bullied for something that wasn’t even his fault.” She then adds, “Through the years I never knew the pain he went through. I always criticised him for being so ungrateful towards his school. Now I know why.”
Many celebrities too have experienced bullying in childhood. Actor Priyanka Chopra, for example, experienced bullying when she was in school in the United States during her teenage years.
In an interview, she once revealed how she was bullied by a freshman named Jeanine. “She was supremely racist. Jeanine used to say, ‘Brownie, go back to your country, you smell of curry,’ or ‘Do you smell curry coming?’ You know when you’re a kid, and you’re made to feel bad about where your roots are, or what you look like? You don’t understand it, you just feel bad about who you are. I told my mom, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,” she recalls.
Despite being bullied during her school days, her mother made her enter in the Miss India beauty pageant and the rest as one knows is history.
A report published by the UNICEF points out globally, 150 million students aged between 13 to 15 report experiencing peer-to-peer violence in and around their school. About 720 million school children live in countries where they are not fully protected by law from corporal punishment at school. Globally, slightly more than one in three students aged 13-15, experience bullying, and about the same proportion are involved in physical fights.
The report further points ot that in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, 78 per cent of 8-year-olds and 34 per cent of 15-year-olds have reported being physically punished by teachers at school at least once a week.
Psychiatrist Dr Sameer Malhotra reveals kids in schools tend to form groups more specifically from classes 5 and 6 wherein they have certain rules they expect their peers to follow. “You have to conform to those rules in order to be accepted into the group,” he explains, adding, the rules of groupism in schools lead to a student getting bullied. “If a person is rigid in his or her own stance, that person finds it difficult to get into a particular group and if you are not in a group, then you are a social outcast,” he adds.
Methods of bullying have also moved online. This form of bullying is called cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying has been an issue that has been hard to tackle despite having laws pertaining to the crime. A recent report points out that cyberbullying is most prevalent in India. It says that bullying happens in WhatsApp groups, where often a particular friend or peer is being rediculed.
Exploring the mindset of a bully, Dr Malhotra says, “What is seen is, people who have come from disturbed family backgrounds or the ones who are not performing very well in whatsoever subject they are in. At times, they have low self-esteem, a feeling of jealousy and inadequacy within themselves.
As a result, they try to demean the other person to feel good.” He also adds that it has been observed that bullies tend to have a streak of sadism in them with uncontrollable impulses.
Despite having anti-ragging codes in schools and colleges, there are many instances of bullying with very few reporting about it. On this issue, Dr Malhotra feels that a multi-pronged approach is needed to tackle the issue saying, “We must sensitise school children that a person who is inadequate in terms of personality or a person having certain problems is most likely to become a bully.” He then adds, “At the same time, if you’re being victimised, there must be a platform where you can raise your concern.
Many a times a victim is intimidated and threatened with dire consequences. Dr Malhotra emphasises the issue needs to be dealt keeping in mind the anonymity and confidentiality of a victim with a more sensitive and sensible approach.
The painful reality of bullying is that when a child is bullied, he, either by choice or by compulsion, keeps the pain and agony within, and avoids expressing it. It has been seen that parents get very concerned when they come to know their child has been bullied. However, on the other hand, they often remain silent spectators if they find their child is the bully.
Opening up about being bullied is often very difficult for the child. However, the stages of victimisation, if escalated can often lad to early prevention.
Children who are bullied can often feel very isolated, but parents can support and comfort by encouraging them by being a friend. If bullying is because of ethnicity, disability or being perceived as LGBT then the school must intervene.