Bullying and Ragging

Last week I got to see the interview I did a few weeks ago with Seema Chandra of NDTV for the ‘No Kidding’ series on NDTV Good Times. By the time i finished watching i felt quite disturbed (and it wasn’t just the realisation that i need to lose some weight and get fit!!). It was not for nothing that NDTV felt the need to preface the programme with a caption stressing that views expressed in the programme were purely those of the participants and not the TV company.

So, what’s got me so troubled? Well, two thirds of the programme consisted of people (including me) talking about prevention of bullying, the unacceptability of ragging, helping victims and improving children’s communication skills so they don’t feel the need to bully.

Then, in the final segment of the programme we got to hear from some children, including a number who attend boarding schools. According to these youngsters;
a) bullying today is not as bad as it used to be (their seniors tell them so)
b) It’s OK as long as nobody gets physically hurt,
c) It’s frequently justified, for example if someone is ‘spoiling the atmosphere’,
d) It’s easy to avoid if you make sure you fit in and ‘play by the rules’,
e) It’s normal for juniors to be made to run errands and other humiliating and belittling stuff, especially if they have put up a weak sports performance for the school,
f) It doesn’t really happen with girls.

Now, do you share my worry and concern? If this group of children were truly representative, then it appears we are bringing up a generation where both the bullies and the bullied have all bought in to the same set of myths – myths based upon survival of the toughest, a cynical belief in a dog-eat-dog world where the winners have the right to win by whatever means, regardless of who gets hurt along the way. Victims should just take it, develop a thick skin so they can take the hurt without it showing (or go out and train themselves up to behave uglier and harsher than the next guy!).

One thing these youngsters need to know – seniors have always told youngsters that “it used to be worse”, “we got it much harder” in order to excuse away their own demeaning, belittling power games. They were doing it when I went to school (and that was a very long time ago!!).

The fact is that bullying and ragging share one basic attribute – it’s about control. In the case of ragging it’s about – “we put up with being controlled, humiliated and subjugated when we were juniors. Now it’s your turn.” Even people in authority will seek to joke away the kinds of initiation rites that new students in colleges are made to go through, all too ready to ‘tut tut’ when the press get hold of pictures or stories and the ugly face of their institutes is revealed for all to see.

In the playground power battle it’s about the ‘in crowd’ making sure that those on the outside know that they are lesser, lower. As for those who want to believe that it doesn’t happen with girls – i say, stop kidding yourselves. Girls may not resort to physical violence so often, but they can have their own ways of controlling, of exerting power that are more subtle and invidious. Name calling, ostracism, passing comments on dress, physique, appearance etc. The reality is girls go for these routes largely because they know that such words can hurt a girl far more than a boy. Many girls take such words to heart and carry them, internalise them and believe them to be the truth about them as a person.

What kind of a world will it be, if every young person grows up believing that their one true measure of success is whether they ‘fit in’, conform to the expected norms set down by the ‘in crowd’, comply and take what comes to them if they step out of line or ‘spoil the atmosphere’ by daring to be different. When geneticists produced Dolly the sheep people worried about biologists and cloning. If our youngsters carry on this way, the biologists won’t have to bother – the young will be turning themselves in to clones willingly.

For those of us who run educational institutes or teach children we have to be concerned when even the victims are justifying away the practices – believing somehow that there is something innately justified in their enforced victimhood.

I believe every student who engages in bullying or who is the victim of bullying becomes in some way stunted in terms of their self worth, their self image. As a result, their ability to fulfill their potential in education, or indeed in life, gets impaired. That can never be a state of affairs that we settle for.

Yes, there are people who live in this world as though it is dog-eat-dog, survival of the strongest. However, such people are usually, in my experience, not the most successful and certainly not the most satisfied with their lives. They practice life from a scarcity mindset, believing that there are finite resources and if they want their desired cut of the cake then they must fight for it, by fair means or foul.

On the other hand there are far more effective role models – people who see life from a mindset that all is plentiful if people share, collaborate, work to their strengths, appreciate the contributions of others, celebrate differentness and find richness in their own lives from being positive towards others.

Am I being too naive and idealistic? Have I missed something, to the extent that the ‘survival of the baddest’ really is the only effective way that our young people will succeed in life?

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