India finally has strict “anti ragging” laws that lead to immediate arrests. The arrests are now becoming a deterrent for many. However, I am shocked to find that the very list of acts that are considered “ragging” are at most “bullying” at boarding schools and often the boys are let off with a warning or as the maximum punishment they are suspended or asked to be withdrawn. Why should the Indian penal laws not be applied to a school? You may say that the school boys are only in late teens but do not forget that there are several crimes in various cities including murders which are committed by teenagers today. Teachers cannot hit a boy, cane a boy or even give him unnecessary harsher punishments. But I have heard of boys being kicked and hit by hockey sticks for not cheering loudly for the house and in a boarding school, a boy was beaten up for playing badly in the game that led to the house losing. One of the boys almost lost his hearing when slapped so hard that his eardrums… One was kicked last year on his hand that he suffered a fracture but had to make up a story to the school hospital due to pressure from the seniors and the regular drama around “sneaking” that leads to boycotts. If bullying is “tradition” which cannot be reported, heck with such a tradition.
In my opinion, bullying in boarding residential schools are far far worse than the ragging that happens in colleges. Ragging lasts for a few weeks or at most a few months and ends with the “freshers night”, while bullying leads to juniors living under fear for years and then waiting for their turn to become seniors so that they can find their “slaves”. Further the victims of bullying are often younger in age too.
I have been looking for good and clear opinions on this topic from various informed teachers who have seen it first hand and are in a position to comment. Unfortunately most who are in that position remain “defensive” or hide behind the cowardice of statements such as “these make a boy into a man”.
However, I came across a 2009 newspaper article of Mr Dev Lahiri where he goes to detail the difference between bullying and ragging. Mr Lahiri has taught me at The Doon School and then later he was the Principal of the Heritage School in Kolkata where my children went for some early schooling. In 2009, he wrote the article while being the Headmaster of Welham Boys School in Dehradun. The article BULLYING: A SCHOOL MASTERS PERSPECTIVE from Times of India of June 2009 can be found on this link. I am quoting from that below…
When I took over a school in 1991, I found that it was commonplace for senior students to entertain themselves by hanging little boys out all night from the first floor windows, to break their arms with hockey-sticks and to proudly autograph the plaster cast, to brand their slaves with electric irons all in the name of tradition. And this school was being run by the HRD ministry! I had to wage a battle to combat this menace. There was a large section of the alumni which felt that I was diluting the character-building ethos of the school. So, what are the remedies, if any?
Any attempt to answer the question must first make a distinction between bullying and ragging. Incidents of the nature I have described are tantamount to bullying. This is the kind of sadistic behaviour displayed by a senior boy (or a group of boys) in order to give sanctity to the pecking order, particularly in old boarding schools. Over a period of time these sadistic practices become part of the hallowed traditions of the institution.
Bullying in day schools tends to be different. In a day school, it’s less of a cultural thing and more of an individual or gang-related phenomenon either a powerful individual attracts the support of a gang of admirers who then proceed to prey upon the weaker ones, or there is a proliferation of gangs who fight each other over different issues (in a co-ed school, for instance, mainly over the attention of girls).
It may seem that bullying is purely a male phenomenon. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There is a great deal of bullying among girls as well albeit of a different kind. Girls will not indulge in physical violence, but their bullying takes on far more subtle and psychological dimensions.
Ragging is different it’s a sort of initiation-rite practised in colleges. It was fairly prevalent in the US and was known as hazing. It drew its inspiration mainly from the harsh practices of US military academics, meant to toughen would-be officers. These rites of initiation, which can range from the ludicrous to the sadistic, do not usually last very long, and are terminated after a welcoming ceremony which is held a few days/weeks after the opening of the new term.
In TV debates many experts claimed that most bullies are from maladjusted family backgrounds, and had probably suffered some deep emotional scarring in early childhood. My experience has been quite to the contrary. Most of the bullies I have dealt with have been from perfectly normal and happy backgrounds, and carried no emotional baggage.
What Mr Lahiri stated in 2009 is so true even today in 2012. It continues to exist and there are several schools who have a very tame attitude towards it. And some of this does die out or not emerge out simply due to the hallowed tradition of those schools. A false and misplaced tradition in today’s times.
Answering as to where do things go wrong, Mr Lahiri, states…
Well, the answer is partly societal. We are quite simply, a nation prone to bullying. Our caste system is perhaps the most sophisticated attempt at legitimizing bullying. Children learn to bully servants from a very early age. If we happen to occupy a position of authority or influence or wealth, we encourage our children to flout rules, and then flaunt our authority when they’re caught in the act. We use bullying tactics by approaching friends and relatives in high places to secure admission in institutions, or even jobs for our kith and kin.
At a very basic level, what happened to Jessica Lal was the ultimate tragic consequence of an act of bullying. We behave in foreign countries only because our bullying tactics do not work there.
The role of parents, therefore, has to be seriously evaluated. What kind of role-models are they at home? What is their reaction when their children do something horribly wrong? My own experience tells me that many parents when confronted with something wicked their child has done, just go into denial, or worse, into outright aggression.
The biggest challenge for schools is to provide an atmosphere that is free of fear. They must create an ethos and an environment where the persecuted can speak out. A clear message must go out that certain forms of behaviour are just not acceptable. There will be times when harsh decisions will have to be taken. In our country there will inevitably be pressures political, bureaucratic and others but an institution has to stand firm.
The other pillar of the crusade is vigilance. No institution can afford to let its guard down in the mistaken belief that it has permanently rooted out the evil, because this pernicious practice has a way of creeping back. Staff must be trained to look out for the first tell-tale signs dropping grades of a hitherto good student, an apathetic attitude, sullenness that indicate a brewing problem.
Bullying can often be the product of boredom the pursuit of an unchallenged mind. Institutions that provide their students with meaningful activities, intellectual and physical, are more likely to avoid this curse, than those that do not. Schools have today become so obsessed with marks and tuitions, of sending as large a contingent as possible to IITs, that the good old business of school teaching in its most complete sense, of imparting values in the classroom, has totally fallen by the wayside.
Bullying is not going to be eradicated by a Supreme Court edict or a Presidential decree. It will require the active cooperation and engagement of all segments of civil society, if this evil is to be wiped out.
I donot know what will fix the issue and who will bell the cat but my message to parents is that…
- Trust your child and what he tells you. Never tell them to “manage” or “survive” as these will lead to incorrect development in his personality. Take it up. We must.
- Have faith in the school and what it tells. However, the first response of any school is to become defensive and underplay things.
You child is your child and what he is experiencing should always have priority. He may manage or survive but then rest-assured he will not attempt to change the tradition of the school at all. He will become a part of the tradition too and hence will also bully when his turn arrives. Is that what you want? Maybe you do. If yes, enjoy the bullying!!!
A bully is a bully and some say that a bully is actually a coward hiding behind a facade. They often hide when they are taken on. Remember, with ragging a criminal offense, even bullying can be complained under the same act and hence even there is a threat of police action…. Maybe it is time that someone is indeed reported this way and that will set things right for all else.
My appeal to teachers and educators and management of schools is that they ensure that they are not preparing top-rankers who can get into the best of colleges but also good human beings who are compassionate individuals. This helps in turn reversing the societal trends and makes the world a better place generally.