“Crumbling under depression, I wanted to kill myself at the age of 12 because I couldn't stop them anymore,” recalled Sumaiya Khan, now a 19-year-old A-Levels student. She used to go to an English school and had a bitter experience there. She felt inferior facing bullying at school and at one stage began to show symptoms of anxiety. “The bullying went from bad to worse; they called me terrible names, called my parents poor, made fun of my hair and grades,” she said. She alleged that the teachers actively partook in the bullying and that complaining against any bullies to the higher authorities did not work. She eventually left the school after finishing 5th grade.
Some other students were bullied but did not have the opportunity to change schools. Now an alumnus, Mahamuda Akter Monisha termed her experience as a ‘nightmare’. “(That school) may seem like a perfectly disciplined school from distance. However, the school authorities would degrade and slut-shame the students immensely while shattering our self-confidence. I faced bullying at school the way some of my peers faced. When I first joined the school, the kids would make fun of my English because I wasn’t very fluent in English back then. This elitist mindset was directly influenced by the school authorities, and the teachings we received from our teachers back then.” She said she had a hard time after graduating from there because of fear and paranoia of sticking to certain standards and not exploring her confidence due to her traumatic experiences.
Bullying has pushed some school students to go to the extent of committing suicide or attempting to do so. Most victims of bullying blame a generation gap and authoritarian attitude for not supporting the kids the way they need. Even worse, teachers degrade them in front of their peers, which encourages the bullies to go on with cruelty.
So, even as adults, they are unable to cope with complicated social problems and develop mental illnesses such as depression. That sometimes leads to an unfortunate choice of terminating one's life. AritryAdhikary, a 9th grader from Viqarunnisa Noon School, was one who committed suicide because her instructors humiliated her parents in front of her besides insulting her terribly in the examination hall.
We have either been bullied or bullied others in our childhood, some of us carried this trait way into their adulthood. While some of us did attempt to stay neutral but were caught up in the act of being the participant or the victim once in a while.
In Bangladesh bullying is only thought to be physical and humiliating, as it correlates with the ragging culture at specialised schools and universities. Yet, we fail to understand that there is more to bullying than just that - sometimes it can scar people for life.
Sometimes bullying can also result from blatant sexism. Myma Islam, a 17-year-old student from an English school, said she was inappropriately touched by a peer at the age of 14 but slapped the wrong person while attempting to protect herself though she apologised to him immediately. Authorities took Myma, her harasser, and the innocent boy to a room but vilified only her. Nothing was said to the ‘culprit’ boy. “The In-charge of the building shouted at me hysterically, and blamed my dress to be the reason. I was only 14; I was wearing my school uniform which is a white Salwar-kameez with a blue orna (shawl). Luckily a teacher took my side, and gave the boy detention and also preached to him about respecting girls. Sir couldn’t do much more because he didn’t have power over the In-charge.” She mentioned that she had always been very proud of herself before that day, but at that very moment, all her confidence was shattered. Myma Islam left the school eventually.
Hurling something at someone or screaming rude remarks at them is a form of direct bullying and propagating rumours about a fellow student is indirect bullying. Cyberbullying includes harmful remarks on social media or misleading private messages, group chats or even talking about a person in demeaning ways that would shatter them. Saying or writing malicious things, encouraging others to gang up on an individual, deliberately ignoring individuals who do not match up to the regular societal expectations or cannot accommodate themselves to their school’s environment, or maybe because they are physically or mentally challenged – all such acts have terrible impacts on persons at the receiving end.
Have we ever thought about how we could help these individuals? Do we empathise with these adolescents or young adults who were constantly being disregarded or bullied at school? Parents and teachers need to ask students not actively or even indirectly participate in bullying. Children should be made to feel safe to open up to their authorities about bullying at school. A little bit of acceptance and empathy can go a long way!