The rising tide of bullying in India has parents, psychologists and counselors very concerned for the welfare of young students. Many parents consider bullying a threat to their children’s academic future. Despite signs of primary bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying in Indian schools, teachers and school staff are often slow to act in protecting their students. Sumit Vohra, father and founder of admissionnursery.com in Delhi, says, “Bullying is sadly not taken very seriously by school authorities in India. As a parent, I have noticed many so-called ‘rich kids’ bullying children from economically weaker backgrounds.” Vohra further notes that reported instances of bullying are often ignored by schools or schools simply warn the perpetrators and then let them go. Such actions can frustrate the efforts of parents and students who want to stop bullying and create a safe school environment. By not taking decisive action to stop bullies and their harassment, teachers send the message that bullying is tolerated to some extent in their schools. Student victims don’t know how to deal with bullying as they can’t trust their teachers for help and support.
A passive stance against bullying can instill fear in students that they’ll be the next target. According to Ambrish Saxena, Director of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Students in Delhi, “… affected students remain under pressure of being manhandled. They are scared of taking independent decisions. It results in their weak personality and lack of initiative.” Saxena believes it’s important for educators to take a stand against bullying and protect all children in their care. By keeping an eye out for bullies, teachers may be able to curtail abusive activity before it even begins. At the same time, teachers need to safeguard all of their students from physical or verbal abuse, especially those who are weak and need extra care. Constant vigilance can do much to reduce problems with bullies and raise the standard of education in schools across the country.
When it comes to bullying, no two schools are exactly alike. A program that may work well in one school may make little difference in another. Although laws against bullying can be helpful in setting a uniform safety standard, schools and teachers need to evaluate their specific bullying situation and come up with ways to remedy their problem. Anti-bullying programs give teachers a means of how to handle bullying so they can take decisive action against abusive acts.
Recently, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had their schools create anti-bullying committees to handle bullying situations as they arise. The Board also approved stricter action against bullies, ranging from warnings to expulsion from school, if warranted. Not everyone believes that stricter punishments are the answer. Unless all schools have the same standard, punishments may do little good, as evidenced by a high profile bullying incident that occurred in a prominent Delhi school.
In 2014 a bullying incident was caught on video at the Modern School in Delhi, a prestigious institution whose students come from top political families, industrialists and bureaucrats. Parents and students were outraged by the abusive behavior a young tween of lower economic standing experienced at the hand of 11 year old schoolmates. After the video went viral, school officials had little recourse but to have the bullies expelled. Not long afterwards, however, these same bullies were accepted into two other prominent schools in the area, defeating the purpose of their punishment.
Indian counselors feel that students with a history of bullying need help in overcoming their abusive nature. As school bullies are often victims of bullying behavior at home, they advocate working with parents or family members at the home level. Improving a child or teen’s situation at home could help resolve bullying issues at school. At the same time, counselors believe schools should institute programs that offer help and support to victims so they can move on with their lives.
Research conducted by Tanya Valecha, principal of Rustomjee Cambridge International School, in Dahisar, suggested yet another approach to combat bullying – the use of counseling combined with humor to help change bullying behaviour. Her innovative research won her the Global Teachers Accreditation (GTA) award. For her research, Valecha interviewed class 8 and 9 students to get their input on how to tackle problems with bullying. The majority of those who participated in the study were against bullies being punished with harsh disciplinary action. Instead, they suggested bullies lose school privileges and that counselors use humor to help change their behavior. Students also recommended schools set up a system where students can report bullying offenses anonymously so students wouldn’t feel intimidated to open up.
Some time ago, a teenager posted pictures of a sleepover with friends. The next morning, he awoke to a slew of jeering comments from classmates, alleging that the pictures were of gay encounters the boy had had. The more he tried to staunch the onslaught of comments, the worse they became. Victimised and backed into a corner, the boy swallowed every pill in his parents’ medicine cabinet, finally alerting his parents to the gravity of his problem.
A Delhi teen asked her mother for her debit card to buy clothes online. Weeks later, her mother noticed inappropriate lingerie and clothes in the 13-year-old’s closet. It transpired that when the girl had posted her pictures and received very few “likes”, she decided to pose in revealing clothes to attract more attention. The “likes” kept compelling her to pose in more and more revealing clothes. It was only after the parents consulted a counsellor that they realised that the conscious withholding of “likes” by her peers was an indirect form of bullying.
Three out of 10 parents in India say their children have been victims of cyberbullying and a majority of them through social networking sites like Facebook, according to an online global poll. The poll surveyed 18,000 adults in 24 countries, 6,500 of whom were parents. It showed the most widely reported vehicle for cyberbullying was social networking sites like Facebook, which 60% cited. Globally, mobile devices and online chat rooms were a distant second and third, each around 40%. In India, it is evenly split between social networking sites (55%) and online chat rooms (54%).
Case #1: Radha (name changed), 12, was often patronised for being a quota student and manhandled by her strict convent school seniors. Her worst nightmare soon became a reality when she was cornered in the school bathroom and bullied for being poor and unhygienic. She and her family were called names; and to top it all, she was forced to lick her seniors’ shoes. A few days later, Radha committed suicide.
Case #2: Imtiaz (name changed), 10, was constantly mocked and mimicked by his own classmates for being dyslexic. After a few months of bearing this intolerable behaviour by his classmates, Imtiaz’s parents filed a complaint against them. As a result, he was dismissed from his school for not being able to ‘fit in.’ Imtiaz is now home-schooled.
Case #3: Mohit (name changed), 13, was cornered by a group of classmates in the washroom who committed illegal sexual acts on him including touching his private parts. He was teased for being thin and weak, and because he was ‘too shy.’ After filing a compliant against the bullies, he faced even more intimidation. In fact, bullying impacted him so much so that he had stopped talking to family, friends, exhibited indifferent attitude and his school grades dropped significantly. Mohit was recently diagnosed with a Type-A cluster personality disorder.
Radha, Imtiaz and Mohit are among a third of all students aged between 12 and 18, who reported having been bullied at school globally. This statistic was first listed by the US-based National Center for Education Statistics in 2007. Sadly, these numbers have only escalated in India over the last couple of years.
“School bullying has become a menace in India and many cases have been identified and reported. Recall the incident that involved a Sikh child who was been bullied because of his turban, or the Kolkata-boy who was locked up in the school bathroom, or the case of a video made in a Delhi school,” says Kamna Yadav, clinical psychologist at ePsyClinic.com, Delhi.
In a 2012 survey commissioned by Microsoft Corporation to determine how pervasive cyberbullying was on a global scale, India ranked third highest in the world, after China and Singapore. Approximately 7,600 children, ages 8-17, from 25 countries participated in the survey. Taking into consideration that cyberbullying was defined differently in different cultures, survey participants were simply asked to report “negative online experiences,” from their perspective, which could have adverse effects. Some examples included teasing, name calling, insults, mean comments, etc.
From India, 22% of the children surveyed indicated they had experienced unfavorable treatment online; 29% said they had been teased or ridiculed and 25% said they had been called bad names. Survey results also indicated that 70% of the children knew about Internet bullying and 79% worried about cyberattacks. A whopping 77% of Indian children reported being victims of bullying on or offline. “India (was) one of the few countries where the rates of online and offline bullying were equal,” a survey official said.
Indian parents, however, feel that online bullying behavior is manifested more than traditional bullying. As online posts are permanent, one of parents’ greatest concerns is that the material their kids post online will one day come back to hurt them in the future. A report by Norton Cyber Security Insights indicated that almost half of Indian parents felt their kids were safer from bullying on a public playground than they were online.
By 2017, an estimated 134 million Indian kids will be connected online. In a Telenor India press release, the company shared the following safety norms to help parents protect their kids from harm. “Set rules, critique content and openly communicate with kids. Keeping kids safe means setting guidelines and having critical and non-judgmental discussions about internet behavior.” This is great advice for parents who want to see their kids benefit from the Internet without suffering negative repercussions.