A recent report by Unseco published in October 2019 shows that 23 per cent school students of Bangladesh are victims of bullying. Nahid Riyasad writes about the growing culture of bullying
KEEPING Michel Foucault in mind, everything is determined in relation to power, even knowledge and its agenda as well as methods of knowledge production. In a micro-level, in primary and secondary level educational institutes, that power structure is operating in the forms of bullying. In this regard, what are the actions that can be seen as bullying?
According to the education ministry’s submission of the draft of Bullying Prevention Policy 2019, there are three types of bullying. The first is verbal, which is saying or writing something to mock someone or swearing at or threatening someone. The second is physical, which is hitting someone with something, slapping, kicking, pushing, poking, spitting, snatching away or breaking someone’s belongings and making indecent and impolite gesture. The third is social, which is severing relationship with someone or provoking someone to stop being friends with someone because of social status or religious identity et cetera.
The court on July 10, 2019 ordered the government to set up complaint boxes in educational institutions and to sensitise students to place complaints about discourteous, annoying and indecent behaviour as well as incidents of intimidation.
The phenomena of bullying is yet again in conversation after the High Court Division on January 12 directed the government to form anti-bullying committees and teams at all the educational institutes especially the affiliated colleges across the country.
The January 12 directive particularly focused on tertiary level education and for good reasons. The issue was brought to the Court’s attention after country wide protests sparked following the death of Abrar Fahad, a second year student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and technology on October 7, 2019 in an incident of brutal ragging in the hands of ruling party affiliated student organisation members.
The ploy of words needs to be observed closely because bullying and ragging are two completely different phenomena with distinctively separate dynamics and agenda. The first one is a cultural practice but the second one is political practice in campuses.
An example of Tarun Hossain’s case, compared to Abrar’s would further clarify the matter. Tarun was also a second year student of the University of Dhaka’s finance department who plunged to his death off an under construction building at Hajaribagh, Dhaka. Some photos of his classmates harassing him were circulated in social media platforms. According to his friends, he was often bullied for his rural background — for not being ‘cool’ enough — that led him to take such decision of ending his life.
Examining Tarun’s case, two things come up. The first, economic class can be a factor for being bullied and the second, as the policy is especially targeted towards tertiary level education, primary and secondary level schools do not have such issues. Both of the assumptions are wrong because bullying is not a class-specific practice and such cases are only reported when things get out of control of the authorities.
In October 2019, the parents of a girl asked the directors of International School Dhaka to pay 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 girl, devastated and frustrated, 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. Considering the target group of the school, economic class is not a determiner of someone to be subjected to bullying at schools.
As said earlier, such incidents are only reported when the media pays attention to it; however, statistics say that the real picture is rather concerning. A Unicef report titled ‘An Everyday Lesson: #ENDviolence in Schools’ says that in Bangladesh, 35 per cent of students aged between 13 to 15 years reported being bullied one or more days in the past 30 days or being involved in a physical fight at least once in 2014. That is one child in every three. The report was published in 2018 based on the incident of 2014.
The report says that bullying disrupts education of nearly 150 million students in their early teens globally. The report also says that though both boys and girls are equally at risk of being bullied, girls experience verbal or psychological abuse whereas boys are more at risk of physical violence and threats.
A recent report by Unseco published in October 2019 shows that 23 per cent school students of Bangladesh are victims of bullying. The report further stretches on the adverse effects of bullying on physical and mental health of the young students. Victims of bullying are nearly twice as likely to feel isolated, unable to sleep at night and contemplate suicide. Bullying incidents seriously impact students’ learning capacity.
Shaheen Nafisa Siddique, the head of mental health and psychological support at the BRAC Institute of Educational Development illustrated the effects on a victim by sharing one of her cases. ‘At present a 15-year-old boy is undergoing counselling 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,’ she told New Age on November, 2019.
The anti-bullying policy was drafted following a High Court order after the suicide of Viqarunnisa Noon School student Aritry Adhikary suicide. In the High Court order, the government was asked to prepare an anti-bullying policy to help prevent students from taking their own lives. Aritry Adhikary, a ninth grader, was found hanging from the ceiling of her home in the capital's Shantinagar on December 3, 2018 hours after her parents and she were insulted by some teachers at the school. The nature of her incident was not similar to peers bullying their peers but Aritri could not withstand the verbal abuse and chose to end her life.
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 told New Age that teachers not only bullied students but also maltreated parents if they complained against such actions. The students also complain about presence of gangs of students in their school who physically and verbally bully students outside the schools.
The University of Dhaka clinical psychology department associate professor Kamal Chowdhury described to New Age the mental setup of those who bully others. ‘People usually bully others due to the primitive instinct of demonstrating power or superiority over others,’ he said while adding, ‘they don’t realise that the victims might undergo mental traumas, alienation or even become self-destructive.’
Where does children and adolescents are learning to dominate or show power over others? Where is the root of this power play? As the smallest component of a state, families are the first learning place of a child. In a recent report, at least 88.9 per cent children from age 1-14 are facing violent behaviour from either of their parents or care-givers in Bangladesh.
A survey titled ‘Multi-pole Indicator Cluster Survey-2019’ jointly conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Unicef shows that every nine out of ten children are subjected to such behaviour in their families which can explain the alarming rate of bullying in primary and secondary level schools.
Mekhala Sarkar, associate professor of psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health insists that both families and teachers should play important role in addressing bullying. ‘When a child is humiliated in front of other students or in family, it hurts their self-esteem as well as teaches them that it is ok to insult someone because children are excellent observational learners’.
‘The victims of bully lack social skills, so they are often afraid to protest bullying. On the other hand, the perpetrators also lack self-esteem and they want to hide that through showing power over others. In this scenario, more social engagement and sports are excellent ways to fill the gaps in both groups. Also, parents and teachers should find out alternative methods, if a child need further punitive measures, like paying less attention instead of insulting children in families and in classrooms’.
The discussion brings two important points to forth: the upbringing of the children and teaching method — both these issues are directly linked to bullying, even if they appear unrelated at the first glance. These two issues have one aspect in common that is the punitive treatment of children at school or home. The National Children Policy 2011 and the Children Act 2013, both give protection to children from any kind of physical and mental punishment in educational institutes and home.
Despite several laws at place, a survey jointly conducted by Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust and Save the Children shows that 67 per cent parents endorse use of physical punishment in school to discipline their children and 79 per cent of the parents admitted to hitting their children at home.
So, the entire learning period of a child, be that at home or at school, is dominated by intimidation by their parents and teachers. And what they learn from such scenarios, they apply that on their peers which is — bullying. It is also true that corporal punishments are so deeply rooted in our culture that overnight criminalising it might not bring any good. However, we also need to think of alternative ways to make the learning of our children enjoyable and more meaningful.
Under such circumstance, forming an anti-bullying cell in educational institutes might be a quick solution to a problem that is culturally accepted. The parents and teachers should think about the effects of their teaching and parenting techniques on the children and how that process is affecting other children in turn.
Only a congenial and reciprocal upbringing and education system could solve the culture of bullying. At the end of the day, children behave like what they learn at homes and at schools.
Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team
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