Be proud of who you are

LIKE most Malaysians, I read about the recent case of bullying, that left 18-year-old T. Nhaveen in coma battling for his life, with total disbelief and disgust.

The details and extent to which he was bullied, abused and sodomised left me speechless as I began questioning what has become of today's youths?

I sat down the whole day trying to fathom what could have possibly been running through the minds of the suspects who did this inhuman act towards Nhaveen. To go to the extent of causing burns on his back and injuring his anus and private parts – what could Nhaveen have possibly done to be on the receiving end of all this?

I came to understand that it all started with teasing and name-calling simply because Nhaveen was different from others. Some words that were used by Nhaveen's friends and relatives to describe his personality were shy, timid, gentle, soft-spoken and effeminate.

To many of us what this really means is that Nhaveen contradicts the societal norms that defines a true "man" – one that is dominant and masculine. Then, there is also the hyper-masculine stereotypes that we place around men, such as the classic "real men cannot cry" or "real men don't wear pink" because all of these are apparently excessively feminine.

Likewise, women face similar issues too, with one of the strangest stereotypes I heard growing up was that "girls with short hair are most likely tomboys" or "girls who are into sports will grow up to become manly".

My point here is that gender norms are still so strong in society today and the penalties for not fitting into the standard archetypes of masculine and feminine are severe, as experienced by the likes of Nhaveen.

It would sound like gender norms are a thing of the past and that we have progressed away from it, but I can vouch for the fact that there are still many out there who are battling physical and mental abuse every day – at work, at home, and in school simply because they are different.

The story of Nhaveen is a slap in the face for society and, in my opinion, the root cause of this is our sheer failure as a society in not educating our children or the future generation about the importance of celebrating individuality and not judging someone based on their character or personality. It is absolutely our fault that our children have aligned themselves to gender norms and stereotypes.

To the brave young man, T. Nhaveen, I want you to know that you're a true fighter and I wish you a speedy recovery. I hope that someday, you'll be able to walk back into society and be your true self, without being judged or ridiculed by the people around you.

In today's world, being different from everyone else is labelled as being weird rather than unique. This is what we, the members of society, will need to reflect, react and rectify in pursuit of becoming a more inclusive society for a better tomorrow.

Concerned Citizen
Petaling Jaya