Bullying in Indian schools is more normalized than ever because many key stakeholders do not prioritize alleviating it and continue to deny its existence. When I was surfing on the internet to find some answers or rather, to seek validation that I am not the only one who is a survivor of bullying at school, I stumbled upon numerous individuals online who were alien to this concept. But I was exposed to another world after I discovered some answers on quora. It was a season of reflection for me as I learnt that most Indian schools have an environment conducive for bullying but only targeting some people. We, these people, don’t fit some boxes that society draws and normalizes.
Since we gain social consciousness, we are fed with content that is rooted in the binary. In schools, we are taught that a kid can be either good or bad. A very good example would be movies where we see the hero and the villain (and the hero ‘wins’), but the truth is that we all are more complex than that. This box that society draws can be with regards to gender, sexuality, caste, religion, or any other social attribute that you possess. However, the truth is that we all are different and unique in where we stand. It is high time that everyone realizes that when we start recognizing people beyond these boxes it’s a door to acceptance and healing. During my time at school, I was ignorant about this and always wanted to be the ‘good kid’ who did everything to check all the boxes. I was taught to not draw a lot of attention to myself. And this was sufficient till I grew to have my own thoughts. These thoughts needed space to be expressed and might not fit in the ‘good kid’ category. We are so used to content with tropes like bullies or bad kids that we forget the real and lasting consequences that these experiences have on people’s actual lives.
They’d forcefully squeeze the bottle, when I would lean in to take a sip, leaving me with water dripping down my mouth and ruining my clothes; the disappointment and my dripping wet state left a vivid and lasting impression on me. It might seem like a small incident but it eventually added up to become a cause of trauma for me. I think intentional pranks for a prolonged period of time aren’t funny. It turns into something horrific and intolerable that the bullied person might live in anticipation of. A series of such events can cause such a bad impact on mental health. What do we have at stake? Someone’s future, struggle with identity, mental health and so much more emotional trauma.
I can recall how awful bullying was for me in middle school. I used to come home every day and sit near the kitchen cabinets, weeping and telling my mother how the day went. Sometimes it might have involved pulling the rubber band in my hair, commentary and venomous remarks on how my body looked, or even outright disrespect for my actions thereby degrading my very existence. Sometimes it wasn’t even as visible with the double-faced peers who masked their jealousy by putting others down. In some of these situations, teachers have their tongue-tied. There’s a fine line between criticism and hate. When this line is crossed, everything seems faint.
It was my mother who urged me to let go of their comments. It’s like a bubblewrap of their terrifying taunts that had to be broken for me. Fortunately, the lockdown was the route of escape that I needed to shield my inner self and allow myself to understand my talents beyond the taunts. I am very grateful and privileged to have gotten the time I needed to hone my writing and finally speak up using this medium.
I have started to question the children who are naive, yet filled with such toxic attributes. It’s a reflection of the environment they come from, moreover a mirror for our society. Why is being different a cause for punishment? Children are not born with their own thoughts. We have shaped the pot and made it half hollow. When kids are in the phase of exploring who they are, it’s essential that a safe space is provided. If there’s a lack of the same it can lead to catastrophic harm.
Late Arvey Malhotra, a 16yo old student of a school in Faridabad, committed suicide due to enduring relentless bullying which lead to spiraling depression, and no actions were taken by school authorities about the same. The insensitive institutions have yet to fail to take any steps or even recognize the incident, fearing that it might add a black dot to their so-called merit chart.
The bitter truth is that, the suicide of Arvey could have been easily prevented if only the bullies were less captious and sensitized to his mental health and sexuality. His single mother, Aarti, who acquired a livelihood by working as a teacher in the same school, is reportedly heartbroken by the lack of justice that Arvey received in his lifetime – arguably so!
The real question that this merits circles back to whether it is a crime to be different. Schools have turned into a hub of mockery when anyone is slightly different than the normative-ized. This was the opportunity where schools could have come forward and raised awareness about bullying or sensitized about inclusivity and providing a safe space for young people to explore. But this hasn’t been the case, tragically.
The unfortunate reality is that this is just one of the many cases. There are students who still walk to their schools terrified and uncertain of what may come next. However, their bullies often escape being held accountable and lose the opportunity to be sensitized to a host of human emotions. It leaves a lasting impact on the mental health of the survivor and we should stop brushing mental health under the carpet. It is ignorant to deny the existence of air just because you cannot see it because when we breathe, we feel air gushing into our lungs and it’s everywhere. Mental health is just like it. Bullying directly affects mental health and its consequences cannot be denied anymore. We shouldn’t push more students towards the edge of the cliff. It’s high time we take a step back to introspect and prioritize bullying and mental health as a systemic initiative in our institutions.