KATHMANDU, Feb 26:
“…she was eight years old
our first day of grade three
when she got called ugly…
…in grade five they taped a sign to her desk
that read beware of dog
to this day
despite a loving husband
she doesn’t think she’s beautiful
because of a birthmark
that takes up a little less than half of her face
kids used to say she looks like a wrong answer
that someone tried to erase
but couldn’t quite get the job done…”
– Shane Koyczan,
‘To this Day’
Whether we see bullying taking place or not, whether we deny its occurrence or accept it, it’s a reality, in every school, in all parts of the world. Bullying can take place outside the boundaries of a school and can take place in the workplace, at home or over the Internet. But the impact of bullying that happens at school, a place which plays an enormous role in the shaping of the child to become an adult, is perhaps the most long-lasting, as suggested by Shane Koyczan in his poem.
Taunted and ostracized for having an Indian origin, a girl in one of the schools in Kathmandu was on the verge of leaving her school.
In another case, Kartika Yadav, 20, recalls being bullied. “I don’t speak much and I’m a quiet person. Because of this, I’ve been behaved to badly,” says Kartika. She also remembers when in grade two and three, how she and a girl from a class were ‘best friends’ but later the girl started to outcast Kartika and ruin her relationship with other girls from her class as well. “I used to come home and cry and I always hung out with my sister’s friends,” Kartika says, adding, “Now, I’ve matured and I’ve come to accept that there’s nothing wrong with me. But I still think that that incident has somehow made me unable to easily make new friends.”
Name-calling, physical torture, emotional blackmail or psychological tortures are all forms of bullying, which as Dr Niti Rana, the pioneer in research regarding school bullying in Nepal and the Chairperson of Rakshya Nepal, puts it, “is a natural human phenomenon which happens in every part of the world. In a school, where different children are put together for a certain time period, when there’s no adult supervision, it’s a natural urge of some children to pick on others,” she adds.
As Dr Rana defines this phenomenon, bullying is any sort of hurtful behavior which causes stress or pain to the victim over a period of time. “The occurrence of repeated acts of aggression, both physical and emotional, is important when we identify bullying,” shares Dr Rana.
According to her, bullying cannot be completely eradicated. “All ‘we’ (the government, school management, teachers, parents and guardians) can do is be aware of the problem, not deny it, try and manage and minimize it by being prepared to tackle it,” she says.
There are many different reasons why particular children are bullies. Dr Rana opines that the feeling of aggression and the want to hurt others might be inherent in a child, but that it’s surely the family, community, school and national scenario that fuel the feeling to surface as acts of bullying.
“The crux of the phenomenon is that it’s very well hidden from adults,” adds Dr Rana. In almost all cases, the act of bullying is unspoken of by the one bullying and also by the one being bullied, due to fear.
This very fact is also something that Sharmila Pokhrel (name changed for privacy), a teacher who has been teaching school students for the past 11 years, has noticed during her years of experience. Sharmila, who herself, along with a friend of hers, was bullied during her early school years, recalls an incident where the girl who bullied her used to put a pencil between her fingers and press it.
“I also have my own kids who talk about their experiences and their friends’ experiences of being bullied, and having gone through it myself, I know how deep this issue is,” says Sharmila. “Teachers in most schools are generally unaware of what’s happening to their students when it comes to social aspects. They have to be aware about the small nuances passed around within the classroom,” she adds, suggesting that the way to make sure that no child is being bullied at school is for teachers to be sensitive and empathetic. One of the ways Sharmlia adopts to be more aware about what’s happening to her students is asking them to write a journal, which is meant to be read by her. From student journals, she’s been able to uncover many issues, such as bullying, that her students were going through. “However, for this, the students have to be able to trust the teacher and be comfortable. The teacher has to keep that trust as well anddeal with the issue sensitively,” she adds.
Dr Niti Rana also says that extreme vigilance at school and home and keeping a constant watch for bullying signs and symptoms is the way to tackle this important and urgent problem of bullying. “We as adults don’t tend to connect the signs to school bullying,” says Dr Rana, giving the example of a torn shirt. If a child comes home with a torn shirt, we normally think that the child must have fallen down when in reality it could be that the child was made to fall on purpose or was manhandled.
On the whole, Dr Rana emphasizes on the need to take school-bullying as a serious issue and advocates collaboration between the education ministry, the school management, teachers and family members to control school-bullying.