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Boarding school bullies

india Updated: May 05, 2009 16:15 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi

Having a child in a richie-rich boarding school has always given parents bragging rights, but what goes on behind the closed doors can sometimes be ugly, as is evident from recent incident at Lawrence School Sanawar.

Whipping, near-slavery and more humiliation have been allegedly heaped on students at the plush boarding school, an institution that has Omar Abdullah, Maneka Gandhi and Sanjay Dutt among its alumni.

The school has just expelled seven students for allegedly beating their juniors with wet leather belts, rods and sticks over not complying with their ‘instructions’ to cheer loudly at a girl’s match. The beating left six of the juniors with eardrum damage.

Headmaster Parveen Vashishtha refuses to call it ragging, but the fact is that like ragging, school bullying perpetuates its own chain of violence. Take the case of Ekus (name changed), a Class VIII student of Lawrence School who is currently home on medical grounds. His parents are worried he might not be able to finish his class assignments, but Ekus tells them, “Don’t worry, my seniors make me do all their homework. I will get mine done by a junior, too.” Ekus and his other classmates are made to do all the chores for the seniors — from doing assignments to polishing shoes — and the punishment for not complying can be severe. “If we resist, they sometimes whip us with a wet towel,” he says. The latest incident has the boy terrified, and his mother is considering a day school for him.

Rich Delhi parents like Deepika Puri, whose son is at a famous boarding school in Himachal, are also very worried about their children’s safety. Another mother says on condition of anonymity, “My son was in this very prestigious boarding school in Lucknow, but we had to take him out after he hinted at sexual abuse by senior boys.” Manik Sachdeva, 22, an ex-student of the popular Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, recalls, “The first few years of my boarding school were a nightmare. Seniors would beat us up for no reason at all. They used to get all their work done by us. However, later I became good friends with some of them.”

To ensure that students don’t get sucked into this circle of violence, where being bullied, they become bullies themselves, Psychiatrist Dr Bhavna Barmi, suggests “a certain assertiveness training” for juniors so that they can stand up to violent seniors. She also suggests a forum where students can speak without fear.