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Catching The Bully By His Horns

Vicious bullying is becoming rampant among Indian students in Singapore and little is being done to correct this. Some parents speak out

4/1/2017 2:24:56 AM
written By : Nithya Subramanian Print
  • A teenage girl with a mild developmental disorder related to social behaviour, who studies in a top Indian international school, is bullied by her classmates who gang up against her for a sustained period of time. She also suffers a family tragedy. Instead of being supportive, her schoolmates keep harassing, belittling and even physically harming her. One day, her mother finds shoe prints on her back but her daughter is too afraid to say a word. Now although she is in her final year of college, she still suffers from the impact.
  • A gifted nine-year-old boy, also studying in one of the largest Indian international schools in Singapore, is physically harmed by a group of boys who go as far as poking his buttocks with a compass. His wounds are so severe he is unable to sit without pain for a week. He often comes home with bruises on his arms, but what leaves the worst impact on his tender mind are the insulting words and filthy abuses they use. 
  • A smart girl in her early teens Sunita (name changed) who is very dark skinned is mocked and teased about her complexion so viciously and for such a sustained period that she can take it no more. Unable to find support from her peers or her school, she is forced to drop out of school. Her parents even contemplate taking her away from Singapore for good. Away from the taunts of her schoolmates, she completes her O and A levels as a home student and is now an undergraduate in Britain’s highest ranked university.
  • A pretty and vivacious girl Priya (name changed) is frequently harassed, stalked and “eve-teased” by a gang of boys in a well-known Indian international school. They do the same to her friend, who might not have been the only other victim. Despite being an outspoken girl, Priya is afraid to confront them openly as she knows the harassment will get worse and the school will do nothing to stop them. One of the boys even stalks and harasses her on social media. Several years on the girl has a successful career but has never forgotten her ordeal which she often cites to comfort worried parents.

Shocking but true. These are real life examples of the torture and fear many young children and teenagers have to undergo in school, their angst often unbeknownst to parents and ignored by school authorities.

How many of us taste our words before spitting them out? Bullying is not a new phenomenon and for decades has been considered a ‘western’ problem with Asians and Indians conveniently sweeping it under the carpet. But increasingly the voices of dissent are growing louder and parents of bullied children are starting to speak up.

India Se spoke to several parents whose children have been victims of bullying and one unanimous sentiment stands out – the Indian community is shockingly lax when it comes to instilling etiquette and good behavior in their children, particularly sons. Parents are as much to blame as the educational institutions, say experts.

Finance industry professional Nandini Vijayaraghavan’s teenage son, was a victim of long-time aggressive bullying and had to change schools. “Indians place very little importance on decent behavior and etiquette. They believe that nobody can say anything to my child, but my child can say anything to anybody,” said Nandini (the only parent who agreed to be named) as she recounted her son’s harrowing experience. 

Cecelia Thomas (name changed on request), whose daughter (Mary Ann; name changed), has a mild developmental disorder corroborates Nandini’s view. She said in Mary Ann’s case not only was her daughter harassed and abused, even she, as her mother, was a target. And the abuse was not only by Mary Ann’s classmates but even by some of the parents. They would make insensitive comments about her (the mother). “They would bring a child who was temporarily going through an odd behaviourial phase and ask me, ‘Is this your daughter Mary Ann?’ And I would reply: ‘Yes, every child is my child and all are equal.’ But the taunt was something that hurt the most.”

Insensitive comments, outright rudeness and a deplorable lack of basic etiquette among these parents, is in stark contrast to their academic, professional and material success.

“Children do not realise that not everyone is the same. Those with learning disabilities and gifted ones are both equally targeted because they do not fall within the majority. Just because my son read Shakespeare and did not play sports, he was targeted and faced severe physical and mental abuse,” said Nandini. Her son’s counselor, in fact, took photos of the boy’s bruises and encouraged her to not just register a complaint at school, but also with the police and the Council of Private Education to place things on record.

While children on the left or right of the curve are usually victims of bullies, those in the centre, too, are not spared. A top woman professional’s daughter was often the target of nasty comments and sexual innuendos because she was out-going, confident and good-looking. Some of the boys of a particular gang in her class who harassed her, were also known to peer up the skirts of girls going up or down stairs and uttering obscenities at her and her friends. She chose to sort it out directly and risk more harassment, but her parents found out and intervened and the harassment stopped immediately. One good thing that came out of it is that the girl is now a strong advocate of women’s rights and often uses her experience at seminars and workshops on gender problems and to help women who have suffered abuse by men.  

Since students spend a lot of time at school, counselors and psychiatrists believe that the school has to play an important role in curbing bullying.

 

 

 

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