Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 24, 2005

Its a jungle out there!!

By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam and Sabrina F Ahmad

THe car drew up to the school gates. Inside, the girl sat terrified, clutching her bag so tightly her skinny knuckles gleamed white. “Go on. We're here,” her mother urged. Frightened, she ran a hand over her freshly shaved head, and shrank back against the upholstery. “I can't, Ma! N-not like this!” Her mother gave her an impatient shove, and she reluctantly disembarked. Squaring her shoulders, she entered through the gates, steeling herself for the onslaught that would surely follow.

Sure enough, she hadn't gone more than a few paces before a chorus of Takla! Takla! (Baldie) went up, and the girl found herself surrounded by her classmates, and the other kids of the school. In a scene reminiscent of William Golding, they circled around her, playing a cruel game of Ring-a' roses, chanting names like 'baldie' and 'takla' and 'egg-head', while the victim cowered at the centre, fighting tears.

Incidents like those make us look back and laugh, but when we're experiencing them, they're a nightmare. The mildest ones leave us embarrassed, and we can shake them off and move on. In extreme cases, they can leave long-lasting psychological scars. Welcome to the reality of school hazing, those sink-or-swim years of socialization at school.

In its purest sense a school is an educational centre. It is a place where the students gain knowledge that they can use later in their lives to their benefit. In reality a school is so much more. It is the basis of a child's makeup. They say charity begins at home but it surely gets much of its refinery from the days spent at school.

Most importantly however, a school is a place where children are for the first time exposed to a plethora of new partners of sorts, none of whom they know. It is here that one takes his/her first steps towards learning to socialize and hence it is a very crucial part of ones life. Here, a child, for the first time, learns how important it is to make friends- a term, which is until then strangely alien to them. It may sound simple, but as with the age-old cliché, it is definitely not a bed of roses.

Hazing or “ragging” as it is known as, can be a very serious issue. I personally know of this one person who in his school days was treated with such utter disdain or complete ignorance from his peers and his class mates that he has grown up a strange, confused and disoriented young man with little or no social skills and almost no comprehension of when someone is offering his/her friendship. He is prone to frequent bouts of depression and always acts in extremes- either too effusive or completely hushed. It is indeed heart rendering to see and knowing him for what he really is it is even more tragic. When anyone says that ragging can ruin a person's life they are not exaggerating.

As far as boys or males are concerned ragging usually comes in the form of bullying. It usually occurs when someone bigger starts picking on someone he deems to be his lesser. In its most primitive state the branding is usually done in regards to size but sometimes it can also be due to a certain inability that one person has or a certain advantage that the bully has over the person he is about to bully.

Rohan* is a very intelligent boy and his mind works in such intricate ways that even his teachers sometimes have difficulty comprehending just how his mind works. He is not very friendly because according to him he has much more interesting things to keep himself occupied, like reading books. His class mates especially this one person, Marzuk*, finds that for some eerie reason very frustrating. He decides to go and do something about it.

The next day Rohan finds his tiffin missing. Looking around he sees Marzuk devouring it. Seeing him Marzuk smiles deviously and laughs out loud spraying food in disgusting spittle. His 'cronies' around him however seem not to mind and they laugh along with him. Rohan decides not to say anything.

That same day during the games period Marzuk intentionally trips Rohan from the back sending him sprawling on the asphalt. He cuts his chin in two places and scrapes his knees and elbows. Although shocked at the treatment Rohan yet again does nothing and his instructor doesn't notice. Big mistake.

Marzuk smells easy prey and strikes. Over the next few days and weeks Rohan's school days turn into a nightmare of epic proportions and one that shows no signs of ending. Day after day he has to put up with Marzuk's nonsense and fear of even further retaliation staves him off complaining to either his teacher or mother.

He loses all zeal for school and his marks drop alarmingly. His parents confront him one day and Rohan tearfully confides his deepest darkest secrets. His parents immediately contact school authority who arranges a meeting with Marzuk's parents. The situation is tackled in the principal's room that very day and although the results will still take time both sets of parents go home understanding what each had to do.

It would take some time to resolve this and even more for rehabilitation but in the end both parties manage to settle their differences. Marzuk realizes how his deep seated insecurity drove him to desperate acts as such in order to please the whole of the class. Rohan realized how people perceived him as possessing little or no strength of character and worked hard to resolve it.

Seven years down the line Rohan and Marzuk are the best of friends and both admit that their first fumbling steps down the road that ultimately led to friendship was an invaluable part of their character build-up.

Both of them were however lucky.
Most cases end in far worse outcomes and the damage that the person being bullied suffers is sometime irrevocable and can affect his entire life. The bullies themselves do not realize that trying to dominate another individual comes from a deep-seated insecurity in himself. That is, in order to prove himself he tries to belittle another individual so that he will appear greater in comparison.

Ultimately it stems from nothing other than the expectations that you set for yourself, your self-confidence and how you perceive how the world perceives you.

When girls choose to get nasty, they really can. Research has shown that boys who bully are generally insecure about themselves, and thus try to assert themselves through sheer brute force. Not so with the girls. The girls who choose to get mean are usually really confident about themselves; for them, it is more a sport, or a source of amusement, a sort of experiment in exercising their own power. The methods they resort to are shocking, and even sadistic at times.

Sayma* recollects this particular incident in school, when she was in Grade 5. “I was new in school, then, and there was this girl Nafiza, who was the prettiest and most popular girl in class. She was extremely friendly towards me at first, and I was flattered by the attention. More than that, I needed the confidence boost at that time. Then I noticed that my other classmates' behaviour towards me had begun to change. It took me some time to realise that Nafiza had been spreading all kinds of rumours about me. The fool that I was, I tried confronting her. Big mistake. Nafiza publicly declared that henceforth, she was no Of mine. She might as well have declared open season on me. Suddenly, everyone avoided me; I'd find books missing from my bag and thrown into the waste-paper basket, ink marks scrawled on the back of my shirt. Once I found a piece of soap in my water bottle. It was a nightmare! The worst moment was when this other girl I had known from my old school, who had changed schools with me, joined in the ragging. I felt betrayed, and completely alone.”

When girls initiate the hazing, they use isolating tactics like avoiding the victim, or spreading rumours about him/her, and if this goes unchecked, the methods get meaner and meaner.

So why does this happen? Sociologists suggest that this 'survival of the fittest' mentality that prevails during the early school years is a natural tendency of humans for establishing some sort of social hierarchy. It is a socialising process that is repeated in different guises throughout a person's life. As one astute teen puts it, “Most of us don't really mean any harm by it. It's less about the victim himself than the feeling of power one feels when picking on a peer. It's like by branding the victim as a 'lesser' (and thus 'raggable') being, the 'ragger' is superior to the 'raggee' It boils down to human nature, which can sometimes veer to the sadistic. I personally never initiate it…I just join in the laughter and occasionally contribute some sarcastic comment or the other.”

Not all ragging is psychologically debilitating. Some are really just pranks, teasing, and harmless fun, like teasing a classmate about his/her crush. To some extent, this is even necessary, as it teaches us to take things in stride, and toughens us up so we can deal with worse in the future. It is only when someone's self-esteem is being attacked that things turn ugly.

Lets not be high and mighty here. Writing this article and appealing to the students of schools to stop ragging. It is not going to work and we are intelligent enough to understand that. Hazing is a part of life that everyone has to live through. It is also a vitally important stage of your life and one that can determine where you stand. It has its advantages too. It helps build strength of character, helps you improve your social skills and makes you all that more street savvy- essential nuances of character that can come in handy later in life. It prepares you for the world outside and lets you know just how horrific and appalling people can be the worst side of human nature.

We wrote this just to explore the struggle behind the halcyon days that we fondly remember as our school days. That rollicking rambunctious roller-coaster ride also contains a lot of hazing and ragging, and it can either give you a rush, or bring you crashing down, but we'd rather get off laughing than wishing we never got on, right?


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