Guest Post by wordssetmefreee
In the following case, do the people who ragged the student understand that what they did is inherently wrong (let alone understanding that it’s a crime)?
And yet another case where the parents think their son was ragged and tormented and consider his death suspicious (not an accident):
In the above case, I wonder if the student shared with his parents that he was being tormented? If so, did they listen? Did they take it seriously? What specific actions were taken to curb the ragging/bullying?
Bullying is a universal problem. In the US, we deal with it in high school and the earlier part of undergraduate college. In India, we have the added problems of lack of recognition of bullying as a crime (both in homes and colleges) and improper (or lack of) law enforcement.
There is a third very important factor specific to our society – the hierarchical/power culture that pervades through many other abusive relationships (rich versus poor, elder vs younger members of family, groom’s parents vs bride’s parents in weddings and post-wedding life, upper caste vs lower caste, land owners vs farmers, upper class vs laborers, well connected vs man-on-the-street, politicians versus common man), and we can almost see this naturally extending to the campus arena – seniors versus juniors. Once again, respect is demanded for no logical reason. Respect is taken, not earned. Appeasement is seen as the only way to peace and being left alone. Fear is mistaken for respect and power drives the relationship.
I’ve known people who consider ragging as “part of life” or a “milestone in the journey to adulthood”. Some have referred to it as “character building” and a “rite of passage”; others consider it “harmless” and “fun” and for these, ragging seems to bring back nostalgic memories of their student years.
My cousin graduated from the Naval Engineering College at Lonavala about 15 years ago. The first summer he came home, he was unrecognizable. He was gaunt, bone thin, and developed a skin rash that could only be attributed to stress. During ragging he (along with others) was put through unbearable levels of physical pain and mental humiliation. He came close to quitting a few times but somehow pulled through.
But after he got married ( a few years later), when his wife asked him if the ragging at NEC was as bad as she had heard, he shrugged and replied, “It made a man out of me.”
Ragging, on the other hand, portrayed as amusing or hilarious in popular movies like 3 Idiots and Munna Bhai hasn’t helped either.
Ragging is a form of abuse, period. It can be emotional, verbal or physical. It involves repeated, possibly aggressive, humiliating, or manipulative behavior that is deliberately aimed at asserting power over another individual or group. It is harmful to the physical and emotional well being of students, something that any educational institution by its very definition, should be concerned about. In some cases, it can be violent and result in injury or death. Regardless of whether it is mild or severe, it should be treated as unacceptable.
Ragging, bullying, hazing – this destructive behavior goes by different names and takes on various forms around the world.
But it makes one wonder what goes on in these people’s minds? What are they thinking when they insult, humiliate, or harass someone? I’m on the PTA for my son’s high school and bullying is an ever-present concern at the meetings. We’ve had 2 incidents this year, one of them was milder (inappropriate language toward a gay student), but the other involved consistent, deliberate, and elaborately planned out harassment by a group of people toward one student (consistent because the victim remained silent for a longer period before complaining).
In general, education, awareness, strict law enforcement, and counseling definitely minimize/reduce the problem to some extent. There is no doubt in any student’s mind (at my son’s school) that bullying is wrong/unacceptable/illegal.
However there is another side to bullying, one that educational institutions have little control over – the student’s home environment. Despite the education and awareness that is routinely dispensed at the school in the form of talks, fliers, help lines, seminars, text alert systems, counseling, and assertiveness training, bullying still happens. Why? That’s because we don’t have complete control over the environment that creates bullies. How much of bullying happens because some children/youth grow up never learning that it is a serious crime? How many of them have heard it being referred to as something that is “part of life” or a “rite of passage”? Or things like “boys are by nature aggressive” or “boys don’t cry” or “conquer or be conquered”? How many of these children grow up being bullied by the adults who raise them?
We can only look at the behaviors of bullies and find some common underlying issues. Numerous studies indicate that most bullies tend to exhibit the following traits:
- lacking a sense of control over their own lives
- anger that is not dealt with constructively and often misdirected
- low self-esteem
- may have witnessed violence or aggression at home
- may have seen power being used unfairly at home
- may have been bullied by others
- lacking in empathy
- lacking in remorse
- may have experienced harsh, physical punishments at home
- possibly exposed to only win-lose situations and have seldom seen win-win relationships
- insufficient or inappropriate socialization during childhood
And then, there are the passive bullies, the ones who don’t initiate the bullying but quickly join in when someone else gets it going. They seem to exhibit the following traits:
- herd mentality and lack of strong opinions
- hungry/deprived for attention
- low self esteem
- looking for someone ‘superior’ to latch on to
- tendency to exhibit hero worship and unquestioning loyalty
- lack of identity and the need to belong
There is a third group that is worth looking at – people who witness bullying. By silently watching a crime, they are knowingly or unknowingly encouraging it. A study titled “Bullies, Victims, and Bystanders” published on athealth.com concludes that “bystanders create the illusion that the bully has the support of the majority and this perception perpetuates a culture of bullying”. These people tend to –
- not want to get involved and generally don’t take a stand on anything
- may not connect the dots (if it’s him today, it could be me tomorrow)
- may not see bullying as a crime and believe it is amusing
- may be less empathetic
- may not have been taught self-respect and individual rights in their home environment
What can colleges do to deal with ragging/bullying besides developing a strict code of law and enforcing it?
- The first thing that comes to mind in terms of solutions is to have a zero tolerance policy or ‘3 strikes and you’re out’ against bullying behavior. But this does not necessarily solve the problem entirely. Bullies have a way of seeking out victims off campus or on social media, via smart phones or in cyber space.
- It is therefore important for an educational institution to work on the bullying person (or persons) as an individual. Counseling may be needed for the person engaging in this behavior to see his actions as not only criminal but as genuinely wrong and hurtful to others. Counseling may also explore the underlying issues of the individual and find positive ways for him to relate to others and develop acceptable coping mechanisms for issues that cannot be easily resolved.
- I don’t know if we have counselors at colleges and universities, or if they are trained to guide and support students in addressing their emotional health and development, but if we don’t, we should definitely work toward that goal.
A University of Albany study that examined the relationship between parental aggression toward children and the children’s behavior states that “Parents who may displace their anger, insecurity, or a persistent need to dominate and control upon their children in excessive ways have been proven to increase the likelihood that their own children will in turn become overly aggressive or controlling towards their peers.”
While we need laws against ragging/bullying and we need proper ways to enforce them, preventing bullying behavior primarily begins at home. We need to ask ourselves what we are teaching youngsters in our own homes.
On the communication front –
- Are we using positive communication to resolve differences with our children and with each other (spouses)?
- Is the communication style used by parents straightforward and assertive or is it manipulative/sarcastic? Words can often be used in punitive, damaging ways in the form of labeling, veiled threats, and ‘ harmless jokes’ that perpetuate stereotypes.
- Are we listening to our children when they are angry with someone? Are we showing them ways to resolve their conflicts in acceptable, legal ways?
- Are we able to handle our own anger at our own problems in a mature and responsible manner?
- In conflict situations, are we addressing the problem or resorting to personal attacks?
On developing trust and self esteem –
- Do we trust our children when they complain about abuse? Have we taught them how to stand up to any form of abuse – verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual? Do we take their reports of ragging seriously?
- Are we helping build their self-esteem by recognizing their strengths and supporting them with their challenges?
- Are we instilling confidence in them so that they don’t feel the need for approval and/or belonging from the wrong sources?
- Are we allowing them to develop their own identity so that they don’t feel the need to put someone down to feel superior?
On power play –
- Are our children engaging in arguments with the sole purpose of ‘winning’ or are they engaging in discussions with the intent of learning?
- Are we creating a democratic environment at home, with room for different ideas and viewpoints? Are children able to express disagreement without fear? Are they able to express disagreement without shouting or getting abusive with parents?
- Are we refraining from using intimidation and aggression in the form of a loud voice, physical punishments, and threats?
- Are we using our power as adults and parents wisely and fairly?
- Are we showing respect to our children and earning their respect rather than expecting unquestioning obedience?
On values –
- Are we respecting people of all cultures, communities, and backgrounds both in our words and actions? Or do we make casual racist remarks or put down people based on their caste, color, gender, orientation, or economic status? Do we subtly convey our hatred or mistrust for the ‘other’? (Children pick up on their parents’ prejudices even when they’re not overtly stated.)
- Are we teaching them what constitutes a crime? Do our children understand that taking away someone else’s right to be educated in a safe, non-threatening environment is a crime?
The above strategies are helpful not only in preventing children from growing up to become bullies, but also in preventing them from becoming victims of bullies.
Again, it would not be entirely wrong to claim that the emotional well being of children is a low priority in traditional hierarchical families and expecting our existing parenting philosophy to change drastically is wishful thinking. However, cynicism is not the answer. I think identifying and defining the problem is the first step and a prerequisite to awareness building and finding solutions.
Bullying gives people a sense of power. It’s up to us to create and promote democratic environments (both at home and educational institutions) that don’t function on the power principle, and instead operate on awareness of individual rights, mutual respect and boundaries.
Please share your experiences with ragging and ideas on how we can change the culture of ragging.
Edited to add: A Boy’s Courage in the Face of Cowardly Bullying: