Slap video in Noida school underlines urgent need for action against bullying
As a country in general, we allow bullies to flourish. Their stories are told with great glee and gusto.
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As a parent to two young children, I find reading the news or browsing social media increasingly mortifying.
Just this morning, I chanced upon a Facebook post and video clip of the slapping incident at Pathways, Noida, where a Class X student was slapped so hard across the cheek by peers in the washroom that he has apparently lost 25 per cent of hearing power.
In her post, Shivani Dogra Bahri, who says the student is her nephew who was the victim, writes, "PATHWAYS SCHOOL NOIDA# BOY Cornered in washroom#SLAP THAT HAS IMPAIRED 25% HEARING#SCHOOL TWISTS THE STORY TO SAVE IMAGE".
While the incident took place on September 4, ostensibly for a Snapchat story that the boys were filming, it would have gone unreported had one of the boys not sent the clip to the boy's mother.
According to various news websites, the parents filed a written complaint with the school, and the school has suspended the boys. The one seen slapping has been suspended for a month and the other boys for two weeks each. However, Shivani's post alleges that the boy and his parents were under tremendous pressure to hush up the matter and the school is not calling the incident a case of bullying but a slap bet among peers.
According to The Indian Express, "In an official statement, school director, Shalini Advani, said, "This is a rather unfortunate incident. However, this is not a bullying incident. It is the outcome of a consensual peer 'slap bet' episode that a few Pathways School Noida students had between themselves. Pathways School Noida has been swift in responding to the situation and has taken appropriate action with involvement of parents of the students involved."
Considering dangerous challenges such as the Blue Whale are currently claiming lives of gullible teenagers around the world, I looked up "Slap Bet" and found that it was featured in one of the episodes of How I Met Your Mother. It also shows up as a board game and while the ad shows kids slapping each other, this is only symbolic. The actual slapping is only via pawns in the game, and the voice over clearly mentions that no kids were slapped in the ad and that slapping is a dangerous thing.
Even if this incident originated with a bet, anyone who sees the 27-second video clip can clearly tell that it isn't consensual. The boy getting hit has his hands folded until the one hitting him tells him to lower his hands. His parents say he has suffered physical, emotional and mental trauma. And of course, getting back to school, with the other boys still being around, isn't going to be easy either.
The one seen slapping has been suspended for a month and the other boys for two weeks each.
We all know what happens at school. While Pathways says the boys who have been suspended will apologise in public and have already written personal letters of apology to the boy and his family, the fact is, it is the victim who is most likely going to bear the brunt of the incident.
Though he didn't tell and tell-tales usually have hell to pay, whatever the incident, in most cases herd mentality applies and the suspended boys will get to play the victim card while the actual victim may be ostracised.
Let's call this out for what it really is - a form of bullying.
Unfortunately, we are tolerant towards bullying. In boarding schools for instance, where children don't come home to vigilant parents every day, cases of physical bullying abound. In boys' schools, it's even worse and the bullying sometimes takes on sexual overtones. What's worse is that these stories are told with great glee and gusto for years and it is all put down to rites of passage and tradition. And this is how we continue to tolerate incidents such as these.
If the school had given these boys harsher punishment, their parents would have argued that since there has been no precedence, it's unfair to make these boys scapegoats, but the point is, till a precedence is set, it will be followed.
Incidents of physical abuse in any way should not be tolerated within the premises of a school, an institution that is supposed to nurture and protect. If the CBSE could scrap the Class 10 board exam because of undue stress and resultant suicides it was causing, then what stops it from issuing a strict warning to schools that their licences will be revoked if any such incidents come to light?
Why can't the government intervene and instruct all boards to institute a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying?
What saddens me is that as a country in general, we allow bullies to flourish. Anyone with money can bully others, anyone with might can turn on those weaker, anyone in a position of power can bully the vulnerable.
So, what will it take to become a country where people accord each other basic respect? Where you cannot dream of raising a hand on a peer or be a giggling bystander or a photographer, while shamelessly watching a student being hit? It will take, among other things, a Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, but one that focuses on cleaning ourselves inside out.