‘He’s not a bully. He’s my friend. And he’s just joking.’

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When my son enrolled in a private university earlier this year, he was excited to begin his journey as a university student. However, upon registration, he had to go through a challenging one week of orientation which nearly shattered his spirit.

Throughout the one week, my son and all the other junior students were taunted so badly by the senior students in charge, that they ended up feeling stripped of their dignity, totally useless and absolutely insignificant.

The junior students were shouted at, humiliated, made to perform ridiculous acts and had trash thrown at them, much to the delight of the senior boys who laughed relentlessly at them.

For the entire six days of orientation, my son rang me every night, sounding distraught at the other end of the line.

As a boy who grew up in the comfort of his own family for the past 18 years, he not only had to adjust to this new environment, but endure the nasty treatment of the seniors and be told repeatedly he was a useless nobody.

However, after all the hell the junior students were put through, on the last day of the orientation, according to my son, the senior students began cheering and welcoming the juniors as part of the university family. They hugged and shook hands with everybody after shouting into their faces for six whole days.

Although the orientation broke my son’s spirit, he persevered. Sadly, not everyone came out of it the same.

A week after his classes had commenced, my son befriended a sweet boy named Rajen. They clicked as both not only attended a few classes together but like my son, Rajen was from Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

A few weeks later however, my son witnessed Rajen being bullied on the campus grounds by a group of students. They began by teasing him at first, poking fun at his physique and his soft nature.

But Rajen just laughed and brushed it off. This gradually became a “game” to them and they started ganging-up on the boy, addressing him harshly, calling him names and deliberately making him the butt of their jokes.

But no matter what they did, Rajen did not keep away from them.

“Don’t you know they are bullying you?” my son asked Rajen one day.

“No-lah. They are not bullying me. They are friendly,” Rajen insisted.

“Friends do not treat each other that way. You should keep your distance from them.”

“It’s okay. They are just having fun. We are all friends.”

“You have us as friends. We don’t treat you the way they treat you. Why do you keep joining them?”

“Don’t be jealous lah…”

A few weeks passed and the bullying did not stop. In fact, it got worse.

One day, my son received a video on his student WhatsApp group. It was a recording of the group of boys forcing biscuits down Rajen’s throat, making him apologise (for something unknown) with his mouth full.

As Rajen choked and coughed out the biscuits, the boys broke into raucous laughter.

My son became very angry at seeing his friend treated in such a demeaning manner. But Rajen still insisted they were merely joking.

Thanks to the university orientation week, Rajen actually believed those who treated him with no respect would eventually be his friends.

At the same time, the boys who were bullying Rajen also believed it was okay to treat others with little or no respect – hey, even the senior students did it and the university allowed them to, right?

Before writing this piece, I called my son to ask him about Rajen and how he was doing.

According to my son, there have been a few videos of Rajen, circulating – the latest is of him made to walk like a duck with a broomstick stuck between his thighs.

“The boys take turns to make Rajen do silly things. And that idiot friend of mine does as he is told. He has no qualms being treated like a circus clown!”

“Why don’t you make a complaint at the Students’ Affairs Office?” I suggested.

“Ma, how can I file a complaint when the victim himself is denying any misconduct?” asked my son.

“Ok. Just promise me you will keep an eye on Rajen. He is your friend,” I advised my son.

“I know Ma. That goes without saying,” he assured me.

With so many bullying cases emerging these days, as a mother, I must say that I am worried for Rajen.

The thing is, sending our children away from home is not easy, unlike the physical act of cutting the umbilical cord which takes mere seconds. Having nurtured our children for years, placing them in someone else’s care is never easy.

That is why it is important for us to know that our children are protected by the universities and schools they attend.

Oddly enough, whenever tragedy strikes, the universities and schools are always let off the hook while others shoulder the burden of the misconduct.

Why?

I believe there are many Rajens in our country – just as there are many Zulfarhans and Nhaveens.

As a mother, I appeal to all parents to talk to your children about bullying. Let them know that bullying is never okay, no matter what the circumstances are. Assure your children that they will have your undivided support if such an incident ever occurs.

Let’s not just sigh when tragedy hits. Let us fight this by educating our kids.

Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.

With a firm belief in freedom of expression and without prejudice, FMT tries its best to share reliable content from third parties. Such articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. FMT does not necessarily endorse the views or opinions given by any third party content provider.