LIKE many Malaysians, I was revolted by the torture and bullying of T. Nhaveen, 18, and Malay-sian National Defence University student Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain.
There have been many more cases of bullying and ragging in schools and universities. What we read in the newspapers is just the tip of the iceberg. Most cases go unreported because the victims were too afraid of their bullies or did not know how to seek help.
Bullying is not confined to boys. Girls bully girls too, but unlike boys, who tend to physically hurt their victims, girls tend to inflict verbal, mental and emotional abuse.
My first experience with ragging happened when I enrolled in a boarding school in Penang at 13.
We had to do all sorts of things for the seniors. Some were silly and were done in jest, but others were humiliating, like going up to a lamp post and telling it that you loved it and kissing the post in front of everyone.
Silly things like that were all right. We got over it. I did have to wash my seniors’ bed sheets, clothes and school shoes. I hated it but I got over it. And I wasn’t hurtful.
However, there was one ragging incident that left me scarred. I was from a convent school and had never mixed with boys.
Going to a co-ed school filled me with excitement. Here, students were divided into homerooms and I had a crush on a male senior who mentored my homeroom during orientation week.
Somehow, female seniors found out about this and taunted me throughout the year. They weren’t too happy that I liked him since his girlfriend was their friend.
How was I supposed to know this? It was only a teen crush and I wasn’t going to do anything about it. But I didn’t realise fancying an older boy was tantamount to a crime in these seniors’ eyes.
When I was in Form 3, I was again terrorised by a Form 5 student. She took a strong dislike to me.
One weekend, I was summoned to her room. She and her roommate interrogated and ragged me for more than two hours. I was made to stand while she and her friends surrounded me and insulted me.
She accused me of being a snob because I didn’t smile at her and greet her with Assalamualaikum when I passed her and her friends.
She accused me of disrespecting her. She said I was getting too big for my shoes and needed to be put in my place.
She and her friends did not hit me but their words were hurtful. She said that each time she or her friends saw me in the corridors, I’d better smile, bow and greet them salam, or suffer the consequences.
For the rest of that year, I had to scrape and bow and run errands for them.
However, I was in dilemma: when you smile, you’re gatal (flirtatious), and when you didn’t smile, you’re sombong (snobbish). How screwed up was that?
There was no winning with these seniors. It was a miserable year.
On top of that, I had to study like crazy for Sijil Rendah Pelajaran examinations. My misery ended only when the Form 5 students left school.
I was also bullied for my Perak accent. Even the way I spoke English became the butt of their jokes.
It got so bad that I ceased to speak English outside my English class. I started to speak English again only in Form 5 to prepare for the Oral English SPM.
All the taunts and derision of the way I spoke affected me. I became self-conscious about how I spoke. I tried not to reveal my Perak and northern accents when I met new people.
I was also picked on for the way I looked: how dark my skin was, how short and skinny I was, how thick my glasses were, how I was a bit bucktoothed and how big my behind was. I felt ugly and small. I became insecure and self-conscious for years.
One incident that broke me was when my diary was stolen and its contents were read out aloud.
At the time, I had a crush on a Form One boy but kept it a secret because he was well known in school. After the public humiliation, I was in pieces.
Every time I called my parents, I would be in tears. I would beg them to let me come home and return to my old school, but my dad refused to hear of it.
He said I had to fight back or else I would continue to be bullied. But nobody told me how I was supposed to fight back.
It never occurred to me to report my case to the authorities. I didn’t even have an idea if I had the platform to do it. I was also terrified of the seniors.
Ragging was a culture ingrained in boarding schools
and no one thought of questioning it. As a junior, you were powerless.
How have all these bullying and ragging affected me? Alhamdulillah, I am stronger, tougher and more resilient because of the experiences.
I also feel more empathetic to those who have been wronged. I am against bullying and more perceptive to incidences of bullying. I consider myself lucky because I survived my ordeal. Zulfarhan and Nhaveen did not.
I pray their bullies receive the ultimate punishment for the evil crime they have committed.
I recently saw an anti-bullying video titled Video Raya Paling Sedih 2017 by ASA Production, which has gone viral. It was moving.
The message of the video is that bullying doesn’t just affect the victims, but also bullies. However, my bullies seem to have thrived in life.
Never mind. That is their lot in life. I quote Katy Perry in her new single Swish Swish: “Karma’s not a liar, she keeps receipts.”
BOARDING SCHOOL SURVIVOR,