Battling bullying

A COUPLE of recent tragedies which have shocked the nation have brought to the fore some disturbing questions about the attitudes of a small segment of our youths.

The bullying that led to the deaths of Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnian and T. Nhaveen reveals a propensity among the young perpetrators to resort to dastardly violence. This is also true of other cases of bullying involving school students and other youths in the last 15 years or so. Is their violence a reflection of an emerging pattern of aggressive behaviour among our young? We should be deeply concerned about this.

We should also be concerned about what appears to be an incredibly intolerant attitude towards people who are different. From news reports, it seems that Nhaveen's alleged effeminacy was one of the reasons why his assailants bullied and brutalised him. If this is true, it shows that there are young people in our midst who have no compunctions about murdering someone whose physical appearance and perhaps behaviour do not conform to what they perceive as the norm.

Both the tendency to turn easily to callous violence and the loathing of differences are destructive attitudes that should not be allowed to take root in our society.
After justice has been done to Zulfarhan and Nhaveen through the judicial process, it is the elimination of these destructive attitudes that should be our focus. Indeed, we should aim to curb bullying altogether in our schools, universities and training institutes.

Changing underlying attitudes and practices even if they are associated with only a fraction of the populace is a Herculean task. It will require a well-thought plan and a sustained long-term commitment to executing it effectively. Apart from a lucid analysis of the causes of bullying and how it can be overcome, there must also be a willingness to formulate new measures and amend existing rules if need be.

Most of all, these measures and rules will have to be enforced with uncompromising determination. Since bullying is the sort of phenomenon that goes beyond student and teacher and encompasses parents, families and communities, there must also be a concerted endeavour to mobilise all sectors of society to get rid of the scourge. The essence of this mass mobilisation will be public education and awareness – building.

If the various dimensions of the challenge of transforming attitudes have been spelt out here, it is partly because we as a nation have not had much success in combating negative outlooks in the public sphere.

For instance, in spite of all the media campaigns we have not been able to reduce the high incidence of road fatalities a large part of which are due to human errors stemming from human attitudes.

Is this because of the lack of effective enforcement of traffic rules or is it because of the poor maintenance of vehicles especially public buses? Or, is it because there is no sustained effort to build a road safety culture? In other words, is the root problem our "hangat-hangat tahi ayam" attitude?

Is this also the reason why after so many decades we have not been able to control drug abuse in the country? The number of registered drug addicts remains high at 131,841 in February 2016. Why have we not been able to mobilise the entire Malaysian citizenry against drug abuse by bringing the whole nation together in a common cause?

If society as a whole consciously develops an aversion to drug abuse because of a deep awareness of its harmful effects, then the drug inclined individual will also adjust to his environment.

Let's hope that in the battle against bullying, we will have more success than we have had in combating drug abuse or reducing road fatalities. If there are no more deaths at the hands of bullies, Zulfarhan and Nhaveen would not have died in vain.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com