A group of young students circle around a boy in the playground of a school, hurling the foulest sexual invectives in Hindi... The camerawork is unsteady but the intimidation rings loud and clear. The shocking video shot at a high-profile school in Delhi did the rounds of social media networks last month, once again highlighting how rampant bullying is.
The victim, it turned out, is a student of the economically weaker section (EWS) — according to government norms, Delhi schools have to set aside five per cent seats for poor students. He is also a year older, in class VII, compared to his aggressors who were all in class VI. But that didn't make him any less vulnerable to the bullies, who were all clearly better off.
Captured by a mobile phone, the footage of the incident in a school with wards of top politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists among its students went viral, triggering discussions amongst worried parents, students and teachers.
This is, after all, not the language used by children of 'respectable' families. And the bullies are just 11-year-olds, too young one would think to be aware of such abuse, let alone spout it.
"Bullying is a form of aggressive behaviour. And as you can see all around you, aggression is increasing at every level of society," says Dr Poojashivam Jaitly, a clinical psychologist, school consultant and founder of the Center for Child Development & Adolescent Health at Moolchand Medcity hospital in Delhi. Bullying, she says, has become a menace with cases of violent bullying reported from primary and even pre-primary classes. "We are getting cases of children in class I forming groups and bullying."
Groupism, by children who share a common trait and gang up to go after others who are 'different', often leads to bullying. It could be social or economic status, but children who are too fat, too tall or too thin are also especially vulnerable to vicious teasing.
It can leave an indelible scar on young minds. A teacher in the primary section of a Gurgaon private school recounts the case of a student whose grades had suddenly, inexplicably dropped. His parents reported that he'd become extremely reluctant to go to school and would vomit or complain of stomach ache just as he was leaving for school. Probing revealed that a group of boys in his class mocked him for being overweight. They would hide his stuff and harass him. "They dared others to go hit him, poured ink or colour on his clothes, and once even had him take off his shirt inside the school bathroom," the teacher says.
The bathroom, incidentally, is a favourite of bullies. It was where 11-year-old Oindrilla Das — in a much publicised case of bullying in Kolkata in September last year — was locked up by her seniors in school. It traumatised her so much, her parents allege, that she died a few days later.
The school bus is the other haunt of bullies, as is the playground — all places where children are not supervised much.
Why do children 'bully'; why do they behave in a way that, as the above instances show, is often borderline criminal? Counsellors give a variety of reasons — exposure to the media and the lack of parental monitoring, degradation of social values, psychological or physiological causes set off by puberty and bad role models.
"One common complaint about many children is that they hit their classmates. Often they might have seen such behaviour at home, between their parents, for instance, or in the neighbourhood," says Jaitly.
Counsellors stress that the bully often needs as much help as the bullied. Punishment is often not the answer. "Bullies are often bullied in the family, and derive a certain feeling of power by bullying someone else. Parents make it worse because they don't want to face the issue; they are in denial, they want to cover up their inadequacy and neglect," she adds.According to Preeti Puri, a student counsellor in Bluebells International School, bullying is a menace and spreading like an epidemic. But regulations alone, will not help. "The reality is that the more we work with getting policies in place, the bigger the problem seems to be getting. Does it help to suspend bullies? Do rules and laws really stop anyone from breaking them?" she says. What will work better, she feels, is empowering the 'abused' because the truth is that abusive people are a reality of the world around us.
In the Modern School case, for instance, the school responded to the public furore, after the video went viral and the media reported on the incident, by expelling the main aggressors. But the boys' parents have got them admitted in two well-reputed schools of the capital. Perhaps, it will take more reports of bullying for parents and school authorities to think of long term solutions, not short term measures.