Bullying appears to be on rise at educational institutions across Bangladesh as their authorities usually ignore the practice by teachers and students, psychotherapists and educationists said.
But victims, they said, suffer from mental traumas and lose their interest in going to their seats of learning and even become self-destructive if subjected to the torture for long.
‘I’ve got several patients who are going through very complicated mental traumas because of bullying by their classmates at schools,’ psychotherapist Shaheen Nafisa Siddique told New Age.
‘At present a 15-year-old boy is undergoing counseling here, who used to cut his arms. He developed this habit of self-inflicting injuries as he was bullied by his classmates over his chronic illness,’ said Nafisa, the head of mental health and psychological support at the BRAC Institute of Educational Development.
In fact, she said, bullying has emerged as a social problem over the years as hurting others has not been treated as an offence in society.
‘Not only at schools, but also at universities, workplaces and even at homes people face the problem. It is increasing everywhere and in many cases victims reportedly committed suicide,’ she said.
There is no recent study on the intensity and nature of bullying in the country.
But UNICEF-released report ‘An Everyday Lesson: #ENDviolence in Schools’ in September 2018 stated that in Bangladesh, 35 per cent of students aged 13 to 15 reported being bullied one day or more in the preceding 30 days or being involved in a physical fight at least once in 2014.
Parents pay attention to the problem only when children show destructive behaviour, Nafisa said, adding that bullying, however, remains unnoticed and unaddressed even though it is commonplace.
A High Court bench in 2018 in a sou moto rule following the suicide of Viqarunnisa Noon School student Aritry Adhikary directed the government to prepare an anti-bullying policy to help prevent students from taking their own lives.
A ninth grader, Aritry Adhikary took her life after her teachers mistreated her parents in her presence, after subjecting her to insults in the exam hall.
In last July, the High Court ordered the government to set up complaint boxes in educational institutions and to sensitise students to place complaints about discourteous, annoying and indecent behaviour, and intimidation, said advocate Ainunnahar Siddiqua, an intervener during the hearing.
‘We also suggested appointing psychiatrists at all schools and forming anti-bullying monitoring cells,’ she said, adding that the High Court also ordered the government to consider the suggestions for the draft policy now under process.
But, parents of both reputed English and Bangla medium schools said that children frequently faced bullying by both teachers and peers, rendering them reluctant to go to schools.
‘Teachers use abusive words with students in classrooms and intentionally try to insult them in front of classmates if they don’t do coaching under them,’ a parent of a Viqarunnisa Noon School tenth grader alleged.
‘And her classmates, too, bully her by calling her such things as chhagal (goat), goru (cow) as addressed by teachers,’ the parent said.
Sometimes, he said, demonstrators at the laboratory also insult and intentionally touch students (female).
Students of Ideal School and College, South Point School and College, Narinda Government High School, Willes Little Flower School and International School Dhaka in the capital said that teachers not only bullied students but also maltreated parents if they complained against such actions.
Besides, they said, there are gangs of notorious students in those schools who physically and verbally assault children outside their groups.
In October, the parents of a girl student in a legal notice asked the director of International School Dhaka to pay damages for bullying of the student at the school.
They demanded Tk 84,70,21,900 as compensation for not taking action against constant bullying of their daughter by her classmates since she enrolled in the school in September 2017.
They complained that the devastated and frustrated girl became very disruptive and violent at home and stopped speaking to them and threatened to commit suicide after the school authority in an email asked the parents to withdraw their daughter from the school.
The legal notice mentioned that the girl was particularly bullied in physical education classes by her three classmates over her body shape, skin complexion and weight.
‘People usually bully others due to the primitive instinct of demonstrating power or superiority over others,’ explained Dhaka University clinical psychology department associate professor Kamal Chowdhury.
‘They don’t realise that the victims might undergo mental traumas, alienation, or even become self-destructive,’ he added.
In most cases, he said, those who bully others either have weaknesses which they want to hide or have themselves been bullied by their peers, teachers or family members.
So, they need counseling while the victims require support from their teachers and parents, he offered.
‘The problem of bullying at universities or higher educational institutions is even more complicated as more power factors are involved there,’ he observed.
He went on to say that cyber bullying was increasing these days alarmingly, he added.
‘Teachers should be trained in controlling classes without bullying or giving corporeal punishments. At the same time they should be empowered to take alternative actions,’ he suggested.
Viqarunnisa Noon School and College principal Fauzia Rezwan, Ideal School and College Principal Shahan Ara Begum, South Point School and College Principal Hamida Ali and Willes Little Flower School and College principal Abul Hossain claimed that bullying by teachers and students decreased because of their interventions.
‘We instructed the teachers not to be over-strict. And the school board has also approved appointment of a psychiatrist,’ Viqarunnisa’s Fauzia Rezwan said.
The anti-bullying policy, with provisions for punishment of offenders, is in the final stage, said Abdul Mannan, director of Secondary and Higher Education.
A member of the policy-drafting committee, Mannan also said that following the High Court directive the policy set guidelines for keeping complaint boxes at the institutions.
‘We are also trying to sensitise the teachers,’ he said.
Professor Kamal Chowdhury, however, advised that those who bullied should not be punished rather be assisted to overcome the problem.
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