School bullying is more prevalent than people think. In India, the consequences of bullying have been felt all too frequently in the suicide deaths of young students from major cities across the country.
In 2015, R Karthika of Kodungaiyur and S Jindal of Delhi joined the ranks of young teen suicides due to school bullying. Stories from major news sources in India expound on the difficulties students face in coping with bullying in school. By not taking bullying in India seriously, educators and parents force their kids to take matters into their own hands which, sad to say, can have tragic results.
A recent survey conducted by IMRB, a top Indian marketing research company, showed that ‘every third child’ was bullied in Indian schools. Although school principals admit there’s a problem, they argue that this figure is exaggerated, stating that bullying doesn’t occur as frequently as the survey indicated. They justify their stance by saying that certain acts, such as teasing, doesn’t necessarily constitute bullying.
In contrast, Indian counselors, concur with the survey results. Magdalene Jeyarathnam, of the East West Centre for Counseling, believes that bullying in India is a common occurrence, especially in schools. She feels not enough action is taken against the behavior. As an example, she recounted an incident where a young class 2 girl from a school in Chennai was bullied by classmates. Rather than initiate an investigation, school officials and parents pressured the child’s mother to keep quiet. Many counselors believe that kids who bully are often bullying victims at home. According to Jeyarathnam, “The environment at home tends to carry on to school and the child does not know how to deal with the pent up anger.”
Understanding Bullying Behavior
Despite varying definitions around the world, the overall connotation of bullying is the same. In India, bullying is characterized by “intentional, aggressive behavior towards another individual involving an imbalance of power.” This repeated behavior may come in the form of verbal insults, teasing, name-calling, mockery, physical assault, sexual assault, hurtful gestures, social exclusion or cyberattacks. Sometimes bullies act alone; other times, they are joined by friends with similar mindsets. Other times, classmates join in simply to go along for the ride.
1. Intentional: According to Ms Kapur, school bullies are deliberate in their intent to cause others harm. Sometimes kids hurt others by accident. Bullying, however, is a deliberate act carried out by individuals with a specific agenda in mind – to cause physical or mental harm.
2. Hurtful: Ms Kapur classifies bullying as a ‘negative behavior’ which may entail physical abuse, verbal abuse, exclusion, slander or other negative activity to cause physical, mental or emotional harm.
3. Repetitive: Most bullying victims suffer from repeated incidences throughout the school year or even for several consecutive years. In some cases, children had been targets from the time they were in middle school to their high school years. If victims don’t report abuse and do nothing to escape abuse, it may continue for a long time.
4. Imbalance of power: By definition, bullying generally involves an imbalance of power with the bully having dominance over his or her victim. This imbalance could be due to age, physical strength, social status, intellect, etc.
By studying these characteristics, parents and teachers can get a better understanding of how school bullies think and act. People who bully often have wrong mindsets and attitudes that they use to justify their behavior. Students who are against the LGBT community, for example, may have developed intolerance to this lifestyle from relatives, TV, social media or other source. As a result, they feel justified in bullying LGBT classmates. The same holds true for students of different nationalities and beliefs or those who are physically or mentally challenged.
Sometimes parents and teachers inadvertently display bullying behavior with their kids or class without realizing it. Parents who are strict disciplinarians may actually be bullying their kids into submission by yelling, comparing, labeling or belittling them in front of their siblings. Authoritarian teachers may be bullying their students to keep them in line.
In regards to bullying behavior, Freyaz Shroff, head of KirNiv Kids in Mumbai, had this to say, “If you consider these behavioral characteristics of bullying, you will notice that many parents and teachers resort to ‘bullying’ children. For instance, if a teacher shames a student for not finishing his homework, he establishes his authority and creates an imbalance of power. This then gives license to other children in the class to humiliate this student.”
Why do Kids and Teens Bully?
- Children and teens who experience bullying behavior at home may feel justified emulating that same behavior at school with their peers. They use bullying as a defense mechanism to avoid being subjected to bullying themselves.
- A child’s exposure to friends, TV, social media and the Internet may influence his or her behavior prompting bullying. Cultural norms, social values and puberty may also affect a child’s actions. According to clinical psychologist Kamna Yadav, ePsyClinic.com, Delhi, “Exposure to violent behavior at home, media, lack of social values, parental monitoring (and) bad role models act as contributing factors” to kids becoming bullies in school.
- Some bullies come from a home environment where children lack parental guidance and supervision. In many Indian households, both parents work, making it difficult for them to spend quality time with their kids. Parents often count on schools to provide their kids with both academic and moral training. Children may resort to abusive bullying behavior to get the attention they seek.
- India is home to an extremely competitive academic society. A child or teen doing poorly in school may bully a bright child out of resentment. In like manner, bright children may bully those of lesser intelligence or economic status simply to lord their success over them.
Repercussions of Bullying
When it comes to bullying, both perpetrators and victims suffer. In some cases, bullying effects can last a lifetime. According to psychologist Anuja Kapur, “The long-lasting psychological impact of bullying stems directly from short-term impacts that children experience as the result of being consistently bullied.”
Students who have been bullied extensively may experience:
- Low self-esteem
Childhood bullying issues may cause victims to develop health problems that affect their sleep, work or social habits later on in life. In cases of long-term bullying, a child or teen may require professional counseling to overcome bullying effects so they can move on. Without professional help, negative long term effects may make it difficult for victims to live a productive life.
Young students who are bullied may develop trust issues with their peers, making it hard to establish friendships or relationships. Lack of trust can turn victims into loners. Young victims isolate themselves for protection against hurt and harm, but in actuality, they’re missing out on the fun and excitement of socializing with others. Isolation can lead to loneliness and increased risk of suicide, especially among young students. Many students start skipping classes or drop out of school altogether to escape their plight.
Victims, however, are not the only ones who suffer from bullying. Bullies also have their share of problems. Bullying behavior as a child or teen can lead to more serious offenses in adulthood. Once bullies establish an abusive habit, it can be difficult to stop. Such behavior can hinder a person’s chances of success in the future.
Why is Bullying in India on the Rise?
The rising tide of bullying in India has parents, psychologists and counselors very concerned for the welfare of young students. Many parents consider bullying a threat to their children’s academic future. Despite signs of primary bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying in Indian schools, teachers and school staff are often slow to act in protecting their students. Sumit Vohra, father and founder of Admissionnursery.com in Delhi, says, “Bullying is sadly not taken very seriously by school authorities in India. As a parent, I have noticed many so-called ‘rich kids’ bullying children from economically weaker backgrounds.”
Vohra further notes that reported instances of bullying are often ignored by schools or schools simply warn the perpetrators and then let them go. Such actions can frustrate the efforts of parents and students who want to stop bullying and create a safe school environment. By not taking decisive action to stop bullies and their harassment, teachers send the message that bullying is tolerated to some extent in their schools. Student victims don’t know how to deal with bullying as they can’t trust their teachers for help and support.
A passive stance against bullying can instill fear in students that they’ll be the next target. According to Ambrish Saxena, Director of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Students in Delhi, “… affected students remain under pressure of being manhandled. They are scared of taking independent decisions. It results in their weak personality and lack of initiative.”
Saxena believes it’s important for educators to take a stand against bullying and protect all children in their care. By keeping an eye out for bullies, teachers may be able to curtail abusive activity before it even begins. At the same time, teachers need to safeguard all of their students from physical or verbal abuse, especially those who are weak and need extra care. Constant vigilance can do much to reduce problems with bullies and raise the standard of education in schools across the country.
School’s Role in Bully Prevention
When it comes to bullying, no two schools are exactly alike. A program that may work well in one school may make little difference in another. Although laws against bullying can be helpful in setting a uniform safety standard, schools and teachers need to evaluate their specific bullying situation and come up with ways to remedy their problem. Anti-bullying programs give teachers a means of how to handle bullying so they can take decisive action against abusive acts.
Recently, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had their schools create anti-bullying committees to handle bullying situations as they arise. The Board also approved stricter action against bullies, ranging from warnings to expulsion from school, if warranted. Not everyone believes that stricter punishments are the answer. Unless all schools have the same standard, punishments may do little good, as evidenced by a high profile bullying incident that occurred in a prominent Delhi school.
In 2014 a bullying incident was caught on video at the Modern School in Delhi, a prestigious institution whose students come from top political families, industrialists and bureaucrats. Parents and students were outraged by the abusive behavior a young tween of lower economic standing experienced at the hand of 11 year old schoolmates. After the video went viral, school officials had little recourse but to have the bullies expelled. Not long afterwards, however, these same bullies were accepted into two other prominent schools in the area, defeating the purpose of their punishment.
Indian counselors feel that students with a history of bullying need help in overcoming their abusive nature. As school bullies are often victims of bullying behavior at home, they advocate working with parents or family members at the home level. Improving a child or teen’s situation at home could help resolve bullying issues at school. At the same time, counselors believe schools should institute programs that offer help and support to victims so they can move on with their lives.
Research conducted by Tanya Valecha, principal of Rustomjee Cambridge International School, in Dahisar, suggested yet another approach to combat bullying – the use of counseling combined with humor to help change bullying behavior. Her innovative research won her the Global Teachers Accreditation (GTA) award.
For her research, Valecha interviewed class 8 and 9 students to get their input on how to tackle problems with bullying. The majority of those who participated in the study were against bullies being punished with harsh disciplinary action. Instead, they suggested bullies lose school privileges and that counselors use humor to help change their behavior. Students also recommended schools set up a system where students can report bullying offenses anonymously so students wouldn’t feel intimidated to open up.
Parents’ Role in Bullying Prevention
In traditional Indian society, extended families lived together and the older generation (grandparents) helped share the load of raising their grandchildren. Today, many Indian couples live with their kids on their own, meaning parents have to bear greater responsibility for the care and education of their family. As such, parents are more accountable to protect their kids from bullies.
In addition to overseeing their children’s education, Indian parents need to monitor their social calendar and behavior to ensure they’re not showing signs of being bullied or being a bully. According to psychologist Anuja Kapur, the following are some common signs that kids may be having trouble with bullying in school:
- Kids act sad or worried
- Kids return home with torn clothing or bruises
- Children are fearful of traveling on the school bus
- Children demand more pocket money for school
- Kids complain of frequent headaches or stomach aches or other health issues to avoid school
The following tips can be helpful to parents in protecting their kids from school bullying:
- Keep the lines of communication open with children and teens so they feel comfortable talking about incidents that arise. Parents who regularly talk with their kids about school and personal matters are more likely to gain their kids’ trust. This will make it easier for kids to speak up when they need parental help and support.
- Make time for their kids. Kids and teens need to know their parents are concerned for their happiness and welfare.
- Take bullying seriously and acknowledge the dangers of bullying in Indian schools. If their kids report instances of bullying, parents should believe them and react quickly to help remedy the problem. By ignoring reports of bullying or leaving it up to the kids to work out bullying incidents on their own, parents only make matters worse.
- If a child falls into a high-risk bullying group such as special needs, slow learners, LGBT lifestyle, take greater precautions to keep them safe from harm.
- Schedule time with a professional counselor to help kids overcome bullying effects. Kids who are bullied need guidance, counseling and support.
- Parents of bullies should take action to help their child overcome his or her abusive nature. This may entail moral training, counseling or making lifestyle changes that contribute to his or her bullying behavior.
- Teachers and parents need to dedicate more time, effort and resources to preventing school bullying and restoring safety and security to the school environment.
Examples of Bullying Cases in Indian Schools
“School bullying has become a menace in India and many cases have been identified and reported. Recall the incident that involved a Sikh child who was bullied because of his turban, or the Kolkata-boy who was locked up in the school bathroom…” – Kamna Yadav, clinical psychologist at ePsyClinic.com, Delhi
“Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior. And as you can see all around you, aggression is increasing at every level of society… We are getting cases of children in class I forming groups and bullying.” – Dr Poojashivam Jaitly, founder of Center for Child Development & Adolescent Health, Moolchand Medcity Hospital, Delhi
These are just a few of the many comments psychologists, school consultants, counselors and parents are making concerning bullying in Indian schools. Violent reports of bullying have been received from schools in both rural and urban areas. Even top schools with wards from the echelon of society have suffered from the violent effects of bullying attacks. From primary schools to the university level, school bullying has become a major threat to India’s educational standard.
Groupism, one of the latest bullying techniques, involves groups of students ganging up on classmates who they consider different. Sometimes these differences are physical, such as a child being ‘too fat, too tall or too thin’ by the group’s standards. A child may be targeted for being of a different religion, economic background or social standing.
In a private primary school in Gurgaon, a child was ridiculed by classmates for being what they considered ‘overweight.’ According to the boy’s teacher, his classmates hid his belongings, poured ink on his clothes and even dared other kids to hit him. The parents discovered the bullying after their son’s grades drastically dropped and he displayed signs of stomachaches, vomiting and reluctance in attending school.
In Kolkata, 11 year old Oindrilla Das was locked in a school bathroom by senior classmates after school hours. The trauma she endured was so great it resulted in her death several days after the attack.
In Bengaluru, 14 year old Raunak Banerjee, a class IX student from Baldwin Boys School, committed suicide after being bullied by a fellow student while traveling in a private van rented for school transportation. Raunak, who was described as a “sensitive child,” was apparently humiliated by being taunted in front of his peers. The bully was named in a suicide note left by the victim before he jumped to his death from the 10th story of his apartment building. School buses seem to be a favorite haunt of student bullies along with playgrounds, hallways, bathrooms and other locations where kids don’t have much supervision.
Of the many types of bullying in India – i.e. school bullying, workplace bullying, sibling bullying and office bullying and online bullying – cyberbullying is perhaps one of the worst. In her definition of cyberbullying, Debarati Halder, managing director of Centre for Cyber Victim, described it as online harassment that involved “hurling harsh, rude, insulting, teasing remarks through the message box or in open forums targeting one’s body shape and structure, educational qualifications, professional qualifications, family, gender orientation, personal habits and outlook.”
Online abuse is a term that encompasses a number of cyber offenses to include cyberbullying, online defamation, stalking, hacking and identity theft.
In McAfee’s ‘Tweens, Teens and Technology’ Report for 2014, approximately 50% of youth in India had personal experience with cyberbullying as either a victim or witness to cyberattacks. One third of this number confessed to being victims of online harassment.
Of those who witnessed cyber offenses, 46% reported that the victims later deleted their social accounts due to the negative impact of their experience. Cyber offenses can intrude on a person’s privacy and reputation as well as ruin their social experiences online.
These facts about cyberbullying corroborate the extent of the problem among Indian youth. According to Anja Kovas, director of the Internet Democracy Project, India has seen a steady increase in cyber offenses due to the increase of Internet use in the country. She predicted that the abuse would continue to grow as more young people came online. One year later, Kovas’ predictions seem to have come true as evidenced by McAfee’s 2015 report sharing statistics of bullying online.
Of those participating in the 2015 McAfee survey:
- 81% of children between 8 and 16 years old said they are active participants on social sites; 22% admitted to being bullied online
- 52% of Indian youth confessed to bullying others on social sites
- 65% reported witnessing abusive behavior online
- 52% of youth said they access social sites in school; tweens get online more while attending school than teens (57% vs 47%).
- 92% of youth reported posting risky information online, despite being aware of the dangers of identity theft (70% posted personal contact details to include email, phone number and home address)
- 53% of Indian young people admitted to meeting strangers online
- 64% of youth try to “reinvent” themselves online by creating fake profiles and photos to appear older
- 89% of the young people polled felt ‘likes, shares and favorites’ on their online profiles increased their self-image
- 46% would risk their safety to receive more comments, likes and shares
- 78% felt Facebook was the favored platform for bullying, with Twitter coming in second
Despite these alarming bullying facts, most Indian parents remain apathetic about their kids’ online activity, making little effort to talk to their kids about online security and safety.
According to Anja Kovacs, there are no laws against cyberbullying in India directed specifically at children. She also feels there shouldn’t be. Certain sections of the IT Act, however, can be used in cases of criminalization of speech as decided by the Supreme Court of the country.
According to Deputy Police Commissioner Rajneesh Garg, who handles cyber offense cases, the punishment for minors who are convicted of posting slanderous comments or pornographic pictures on Facebook or other social media sites is being sent to a reformatory home. Those of legal age to be prosecuted may face a jail term of up to 5 years if convicted of the crime.
Rakshit Tandon, advisor to Gurgaon police cyber crime division, notes that most cyber bullying complaints come from young teens, 13 years or older. Tandon believes the best way to prevent online bullying is for young people to be taught Internet etiquette, morals, education and laws in school. By organizing classes on how to use the Internet wisely and properly, schools may be able to stop bullying behavior before it ever starts. As Internet use often begins at a young age, teachers would need to start their cyber education as early as primary school to get the message across.
Dangers of Online Bullying
As more families obtain the digital technology to get online, the number of young people using the Internet will rise. An increase in connectivity could very well result in an increase in cyber crimes.
Cyberattacks can appear in a number of forms to include:
- Spreading malicious rumors
- Posting or tagging unbecoming photos
- Posting insulting messages or comments
- Filming and posting offensive videos
Traditional bullying and cyberbullying share similar characteristics. Both cause others harm; both are done with malicious intent; and both have long lasting negative effects on both bullies and victims. Internet bullying, however, is often more spiteful and longer lasting due to negative material staying online indefinitely after being posted. There’s always the danger that malicious photos, videos or posts can be resurrected again and again.
Psychiatrist Sunil Mittal, director of the Delhi Psychiatric Center, shared his concern about the negative effects of cyberbullying on Indian youth by saying, “In the last five years, I’ve seen a marked increase in the number of teens and tweens, or preteens, who seek counseling because they are being bullied online.” Taking into account the alarming number of young people affected by online bullying, Indian parents should be equally as concerned.
The fact that cyberbullying can occur anonymously makes it an even more dangerous act as victims may never know who instigated the attack. Mittal attributes this “anonymity” to the increase in aggressive behavior online stating that the Internet “turns even the meek into bullies.” Mittal also accredits the Internet for creating “opportunities for deviant behavior.”
Despite its potential to be a force for good, the Internet has received a great deal of bad publicity over the years due to problems with bullying. Young people share much of the blame due to their errant behavior online. Society also plays a role in the growth of online bullying by encouraging irresponsible young people to engage in online activities. In India, like many other parts of the world, online bullying has become a crisis of major proportions that needs a long-term solution.
Can Cyberbullying be Contained?
Schools, counselors, teachers and parents all have an interest in seeing an end to bullying in all its forms. The question of how to stop bullying or at least contain it has been raised time and again. Mittal advocates educating youth about Internet safety. “First off”, he says, “we have to teach our children about online safety just as we teach them about protecting themselves offline.”
With so many children and teens using smartphones, tablets and laptops, parents may have a hard time keeping up with what their kids’ are doing online. Many young people have free reign with online activities, making it extremely difficult for adults to keep them safe. In addition to training for online safety, there’s also a great need for new software that can screen potentially harmful messages before they’re posted online.
Online safety includes teaching kids how to avoid risks that can put them in jeopardy of cyber offenses as well as what to do if they are bullied. Many young people learn by negative personal experiences online. Over half of the young people surveyed in McAfee’s 2014 report said they wouldn’t know how to handle online harassment if faced with the problem. In contrast, 71% of cyber victims in 2015 said they had taken action when confronted with a cyberattack.
Melanie Duca, marketing director of Consumer-Asia Pacific, Intel Security, sees this change as progress. “Whether through blocking unwanted messages, reporting bullying behavior or complaining against bullies, it is clear that more and more Indian teens are refusing to be silent victims any more, and that’s really good news,” she says.
Cyber Abuse Signs
Parents and teachers should recognize common signs of cyber abuse so they can help children and teens through any ordeals they may be facing. These signs include:
- Lack of interest in using computers or connected devices
- Sudden removal of social accounts
- Moody behavior after reading emails or texts
- Loss of interest in school, sudden drop in grades and reports of poor school performance
- Secretive behavior about activities online
- Emotional outbursts of frustration, anger or impatience for no apparent reason
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
Parents and teachers need to take cyber abuse more seriously as it can have devastating effects on a young child’s life. In addition to reporting abuse to schools, parents can report cyberbullying incidents to social sites and their Internet provider. Parents can also obtain professional counseling services for their child or teen, if necessary, to help him or her overcome effects of abusive acts.
Taking a Stand Against Abusive Behaviors
In 2013, a young Indian teen from Chicago named Trisha Prabhu read about a cyberbullying incident in Florida that caused the suicide death of an 11 year old student. Her outrage prompted her to take action. As a result, the ReThink Project was born. Today, this anti-online bullying software is helping to combat Internet bullying in various parts of the world. ReThink is an innovative, award winning project that approaches bullying issues from a bully’s point of view.
Prabhu’s program works on the assumption that young teens often say and do things impulsively due to peer pressure or a desire to be accepted by the “in” crowd. Using context-sensitive word-screening, the ReThink software filters through a teen’s message, prompting him or her when content contains words that could be hurtful to others. This filter gives teens time to consider the consequences of their actions and change their decision to post something negative against others.
In addition to reducing the number of cyberbullying victims, the ReThink program has the potential to change a bully’s behavior, nipping cyberbullying offenses in the bud before they start. Prahbu tested her program at the 2014 Google Science Fair by conducting 1,500 trial runs in her school and evaluating the results. Approximately 93.4% of trial participants chose not to post negative comments after having had time to reconsider.
“ReThink enables teens to become better digital citizens,” says the 15 year old inventor who is passionately promoting her program in national and international forums.
The Central Board of Secondary Education’s (CBSE) decision to form anti-bullying/anti-ragging committees in their schools was well received by teachers and students alike. With over 17,000 CBSE affiliated schools in the country, this decision could make a positive impact in combating bullying in school. Gourav Mishra, a CBSE school student, commented: “It is really a good initiative by the CBSE as many cases of bullying are not reported in the school by students. At least now, students can lodge their grievances before the committee.”
The committees will be composed of a vice-principal, school doctor, counselor, senior teacher, legal representative and representatives of the school’s parents/teachers association. CBSE schools are required to warn students via a public display board that strict action will be taken against bullying acts. Anti-bullying committees can be especially helpful for new students joining a school as they are often targeted for harassment by old students. Under this new initiative, bullies may be subjected to warnings, fines, school transfers, suspension or even expulsion for bullying.
In a 2012 survey commissioned by Microsoft Corporation to determine how pervasive cyberbullying was on a global scale, India ranked third highest in the world, after China and Singapore. Approximately 7,600 children, ages 8-17, from 25 countries participated in the survey. Taking into consideration that cyberbullying was defined differently in different cultures, survey participants were simply asked to report “negative online experiences,” from their perspective, which could have adverse effects. Some examples included teasing, name calling, insults, mean comments, etc.
From India, 22% of the children surveyed indicated they had experienced unfavorable treatment online; 29% said they had been teased or ridiculed and 25% said they had been called bad names. Survey results also indicated that 70% of the children knew about Internet bullying and 79% worried about cyberattacks. A whopping 77% of Indian children reported being victims of bullying on or offline. “India (was) one of the few countries where the rates of online and offline bullying were equal,” a survey official said.
Indian parents, however, feel that online bullying behavior is manifested more than traditional bullying. As online posts are permanent, one of parents’ greatest concerns is that the material their kids post online will one day come back to hurt them in the future. A report by Norton Cyber Security Insights indicated that almost half of Indian parents felt their kids were safer from bullying on a public playground than they were online.
By 2017, an estimated 134 million Indian kids will be connected online. In a Telenor India press release, the company shared the following safety norms to help parents protect their kids from harm. “Set rules, critique content and openly communicate with kids. Keeping kids safe means setting guidelines and having critical and non-judgmental discussions about internet behavior.” This is great advice for parents who want to see their kids benefit from the Internet without suffering negative repercussions.