Bullying the big ‘B’ in schools
I couple of days back, at a little past 6.p.m, I was rushing through the last few things for the day, getting ready to dash for the bus, and psychologically preparing for the tiring task of standing the 45 minutes home, when I was a distracted by the incoming mail as it popped up in Gmail window. It said an old school friend had tagged me on Facebook.
It has been nearly 4 years that I have left Goa, a lot more since I lost contact with people and events in my village and so it has been years. But my school stands large and looming, not just physically but also in my minds eye. My twelve years of school were right there. Twelve years of memory, imprinted on a developing mind can fill up a rather large space, even now when tons of experiences and day to day life clutters on. My school, the village can still be recalled, a large bulky volume? and so that mail from this old school mate instantly filled me with a warm glow. The same kind as soft golden wine would bring, on a tiring day.
I accepted the invitation to add him to my Facebook instantly, saved his mail id and sent him a brief mail in minutes. He was excited that I was online and had written back to him so fast. Our words instantaneous, warm. In my minds eye I could see him, sitting somewhere at a desk with that huge ear to ear smile that always filled his face, that unforgettable sparkle in his jet black eyes. The pictures that filled my mind were old ones, his hair straight and falling over his forehead, and then some other thoughts intruded into the forefront.
I have worked ‘officially’ on disability issues for a little under a year, but my friends with disability have had a lasting impact on my life. My time with them has since coloured my perception and it popped up here too. My old school friend and fellow villager from Saligao, Goa was also a person with disabilities (PwDs), thought he probably would not fit in with the definition used by the government. But he definitely was my first exposure with a PwDs. Then, I didn’t know about ‘disability’ as an issue and would have described him as someone with a strange gait.
Some more memories, of kids in maroon short pants and pink shirts, running after each other on the playground. Kids have endless and uncontainable energy and in my minds ear I could hear, calling names……, names that weren’t pleasant. They were used to tease. Relentlessly through the day, for years, and the warm glow, wasn’t all that warm anymore.
I particularly remember this school mate being teased and bullied for having a deformity and can empathize with him because I myself was bullied and teased. Relentlessly, for years. I was tiny, still am, and that became point of ridicule. If somebody told me children as little as five and six years of age can tease, to the point of harass and bully each other, I would never have believed then, definitely not if I had not been a victim myself.
In my minds eye, images are fresh, like they happened yesterday of yet another classmate who was again constantly bullied. His bag hidden in the bin, in the sink, I can still see him frantically searching for his bag even while the other kids ran around teasing and laughing.
Undoubtedly, bulling and teasing that actually amounts to harassment, is an issue in schools. I know it is a big and recognized issue in schools abroad, I don’t believe it is recognized as a serious issue in schools in India or in its numerous States.
Bullying gains an additionally serious dimension when the person being bullied is a person with disabilities. I know I carry the scars of the constant bullying and harassment, I’m sure my old classmate carries them too, since it was a lot harsher for him.
When I look back I’m filled with anger. Couldn’t the teachers see and hear the bullying, I never heard a single teacher voice her disapproval nor did I hear a reprimand. I wonder if teachers have since become aware of the issue of bullying, if they take a stand about it now.
In hind sight I feel shocked, that not a single teacher in my school was sensitive enough to see this boy’s pain, forget about address it.
Children with disabilities have a huge battle when it comes to simply attending schools. Finding an accessible school is a big challenge and additionally is the burden of being bullied.
If there is something I’d like to advocate from this rambling piece is that bullying in school should be addressed with zero tolerance. Parents, school children and most importantly teachers need to make themselves aware about the lasting effects of bullying.
If you are a parent in India reading this, please raise the issue of bullying in your Parent Teachers Association (PTA), if you’ve a student please take a stand against bullying. School should be fun, I would not wish anyone to experience the pain I or my classmate with disabilities did, simply because other children had not been taught to be sensitive.
If you are a teacher, please sensitize your students to issues related to disability. After all these are the students who will grow to be parents themselves, doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, shopkeepers, bureaucrats etc. Insensitive children make insensitive adults.