Tough guy syndrome: Ragging is not ‘shugal’ or some rite of passage – it has consequences
Underneath Barry Block’s ominous tress, at the grand Aitchison College, the “premier school in Pakistan”, they stand in a row. Five of them, those unimportant, annoying juniors.
“Murgha ban kar beth jao saare ab,” the seniors order.
(All of you sit in the chicken position now)
“Yeh tumhara baap hai. Tameez se beth, aur Sir ya Daddy bol. Yaar nai hain hum teray,” another senior exclaims pointing towards one of his batch mates.
(This is your father. Respect him. Call him Sir or Daddy. We’re not your friends.)
Amongst the hundreds of crises that every teenager faces, there are many fuelled by ignorant, toxically masculine and complexed notions of superiority. One that has perhaps tainted the self-esteem of hundreds of children is the trend of bullying and ragging. And across the spectrum, from government schools, semi-government ones, to the elite private schools of Pakistan, the culture of targeted bullying and ragging prevails ferociously.
In many institutions, it is even celebrated with an uneasing reverence for traditions such as ‘ragging day’. A date on the calendar where new students, junior students or freshmen at colleges are ridiculed, made to do embarrassing tasks and stunts, and essentially, robbed of their self-esteem. Those who choose not to conform, standing up against the forceful will of their seniors, they are often subjected to physical violence and harassment.
For me, it comes easy to identify this as an epidemic across the nation, and even beyond it. Having studied at 13 different schools, in every province, and even beyond the country due to my mother’s job, I have only seen this culture grow rapidly. From the benches in senior school at Aitchison College – our premier’s alma mater– to top schools like The City School, GCU, LGS, Beaconhouse, and even beyond to schools owned by disciplined institutions, I have personally witnessed the plague that is this trend. Even at a tertiary education level, the same culture dominates many universities across the country such as UET or NUST.
Suffocating, diminishing and crumpling the identities of young, impressionable men, bullying has thoroughly been defined as an act of physical or emotional transgression in order to appease one’s violent side. It is simply a way of venting out, however violently, to transfer any rage, contextual issues or sedimented dismay that haunts one’s mind. And in many countries including Pakistan, it has gradually become one of the very few ways for men to temporarily disentangle themselves from their personal frustrations and insecurities.
Just to illustrate, lets take a look at the video depicting a scene of violent ragging at Edwards College Peshawar.
As evident, the newcomer is subjected to physical harassment against his will. He is pulled out of his rickshaw, pushed and thrown around like an inanimate object trying to hold his ground. The bullies pull off his tie, forcefully mark his face with lipstick and after a thorough minute of dehumanising torture, let the student go. His discomfort is unequivocally evident from his facial expressions as he attempts to avoid this mockery, yet no one seems to understand that he too is human. What’s worse is the fact that a police warden casually watches and avoids the situation. Instead of asserting his authority to stop this inhumane act, he casually glances and ignores as though this ritual of mockery is acceptable. And this incident is only the tip of the iceberg. From sexually embarrassing questions to sexual harassment, everything is apparently only shugal (fun) in such instances.
For students who face this on a regular basis, remember, it is not your fault. Being treated violently reflects the bully’s lack of compassion, empathy and an inability to cope with their own life without resorting to cheap disgusting acts such as bullying. They fail to find solace in their own lives so they seek disruption in others’. They do not feel important in this world unless they do things that attract attention. Thus, they’ll try to create drama and then build their own bubble in which they are the ‘leaders’ and the ‘influential ones’ in their communities, just to make themselves feel better.
For parents of bullied children, listen to your child if they are willing to open up about it. Identify any bruises or marks on your child’s body, and talk to them about how they got them. If they lean into isolation, a hollow and dark pathway down the depression lane, try to help them find ways to socialise without having to go through such issues. Help them gain confidence but do not instil a victim mindset; rather, teach them to face these issues with bravery and strength. Contact their friends (or the appropriate authorities if necessary) to help them, and ensure that they stick together in identified bullying hot spots. Bullying can lead to depression, social isolation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), antisocial behaviour, social anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder and dozens of other psychological issues. Be proactive about your child’s safety!
For parents of bullies, you need to talk to your child. Help them overcome the issues that are inadvertently leading them to commit such horrendous acts. Allow them to talk to you, express their fears and ensure that you offer them a nurturing environment free of demeaning, obsolete and distasteful pre-conceived notions of toxic masculinity. Being ‘macho’ and resorting to physical violence just to emphasise your importance will only backfire someday. If you plan to foster them with sexist ideas and derogatory comments, reflect. Think about what you are doing and how it will eventually shape the generation of tomorrow. Your decisions today will dictate many tomorrows.
At the end, everything boils down to the toxically masculine rituals that prevail globally, but especially in Pakistan. Mocking ‘feminine’ men such as Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in your household, referring to transgender people with disgust, treating different people with prejudice, hating on people who don’t conform to your lifestyle, all of these reflect lives that are pathetic and cannot sustain their own happiness. At a fundamental level, our society needs to change in order to cultivate a more conducive environment. Bullying is not something that is just ‘part of the world’. It is a consequences of bad parenting and/or poor values.
For the bullies, please seek help and learn to control yourselves. It is never too late to apologise, accept your mistakes and try to make amends. If you’ve come to a point of realisation, try to help those who are being hurt by the ignorant ones. Don’t be a bully! Reflect!
These acts can lead to horrific consequences. The school shootings in the United States are disturbing examples of how negatively bullying/ragging can affect people. Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is an apt example of how far and deep the issue of bullying goes. We need to stop before our society ends up entangled with issues that may eventually inspire such heartbreaking reactions because at the end, we all want to live peacefully and we should teach that to our kids.
To the bullies who made the poor kid in the video endure such nerve-wrecking torture: your fake gucci shades, the despicably maintained side burns and unwashed boski shalwar kameez isn’t a good enough excuse to hurt anyone. Whilst you may have issues back at home or in your head, and while such acts might make you feel good today, this will lead to another generation of suppressed minds lashing out their anger onto others. Before this happens to a younger brother, friend, or even a child, get help and fix yourself!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.