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The bully inside

india Updated: Apr 12, 2009 01:21 IST
Sanchita Sharma

In a story chillingly similar to that of Aman Kachru, the medical student who died of head injuries in February after being ragged, a college student in Coimbatore risks losing vision in one eye after being beaten up by other students.

Bullying and ragging have become institutionalised in schools and colleges the world over, with no week passing without reports of a young person – usually boys — getting physically hurt.

On Friday, a teenager shot dead a student and wounded two others at a vocational college in Greece before shooting himself. The 19-year-old left a note accusing other students of bullying him. “I have no reason to continue living. But, unluckily for you, I’m too selfish to leave and let you keep living ... ,” read his post on a social networking site.

Women too bully, but do so in more insidious forms, such as verbal abuse or social exclusion. Violence in less physical form may not cause injury but can lead to depression, insomnia, low self-worth and weight gain.

Some experts blame the educational system, which they say is too boring to hold the interest of a teenager looking for excitement. What’s more, few colleges offer young adults a channel to express their aggression, such as organised sport.

Blaming the education system or the popular media — television, films, popular fiction and video games — for de-sensitising people into thinking threatening, bullying and beating others acceptable is an over-simplification. Sure, media desensitises to some extent but it’s an adult’s job — as a parent, teacher or mentor — to underline that in the real world, violence is a not a justified means of conflict resolution and beating an opponent does not solve a problem.

It is not just the violent act itself but the context in which it is presented that can make the difference between learning about violence and learning to be violent. Young adults need to be taught to factor in the human cost — the suffering, loss, hurt and sadness — around an act of violence.

Parents and teachers should not dismiss bullying as a part of growing up and expect their children to cope with being heckled or teased by their peers. They should underline that bullying and being bullied is not normal and by definition an unwanted power relationship.

Children who are on their own more without adult supervision are more likely to succumb to peer pressure and turn to bullying as a means to assert themselves socially. An isolated child left to himself most of the time but pressurised to behave when adults are around may vent aggression through bullying and other violent acts.

An effective way to stem the rot is to start at home. Identify if your child is a bully or a victim by talking to him and/or her about their lives, hopes and fears. It will work better than imposing ineffective bans, which we as a society seem to be so good at doing.