MP SPEAKS | Many of us are still reeling from the news of the death of T Nhaveen on June 16 after he succumbed to injuries sustained in an assault most brutal beyond belief.
It was reported that Nhaveen, who hails from Taman Tun Sardon in Seri Delima, which is a part of Bukit Gelugor, Penang, was abducted by a group of teenagers, some of whom were his former schoolmates, when he went to a burger stall in the said Taman Tun Sardon late Friday night after work with his friend, T Previin for supper.
Previin managed to escape the group, but not Nhaveen, who was found a few hours later in a nearby field unconscious and badly injured. He was further reported to have been brain-dead when he was brought to the Penang General Hospital in the wee hours of June 10.
He never regained consciousness again.
Four teenagers have since been charged for Nhaveen’s murder and grievous assault on Previin, two of whom are below the age of 18. They, together with their families, have undoubtedly been subject to immense public scrutiny and adverse public pressure, and it was even reported that many lawyers were refusing to represent them due to the public outcry as a result.
Whilst there can be no doubt that justice must be served for Nhaveen and Previin, the teenagers accused of the said murder and grievous assault must be allowed the opportunity to defend themselves, which includes the exercise of their legal right to appoint a legal counsel of their choice.
They ought not to be tried by the media, and just as it would be unacceptable for the perpetrators of this sad episode to escape justice, so would it be unacceptable to deprive these teenagers of their right to a fair trial.
Be that as it may, it is pertinent to note that Nhaveen’s case is not the first of its kind and is unlikely to be the last until and unless drastic action is taken to arrest the problems of bullying and gangsterism, particularly in schools and other institutions of learning amongst the young.
On June 1, navy cadet officer Zulfarhan Osman Zulkarnain, a student at the Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (UPNM) was allegedly assaulted to death by fellow university mates. It is alleged that he was bound and beaten because of a dispute over a laptop and reportedly tortured with a belt, rubber hose, iron and hanger. Five of the said students have been charged for the murder of Zulfarhan while a few more were charged for voluntarily causing hurt.
On April 26, the nation was shocked by the death of Mohd Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi who was admitted to Sultan Ismail Hospital, Johor Bahru, for injuries to his legs allegedly sustained after he was assaulted with a rubber hose by a 29-year-old assistant warden of the religious school that he attended.
The said injuries caused his legs to become infected, after which both were amputated. It was also necessary to amputate his right arm which had also become infected, but he died before the surgery could be performed.
Last year, eight-year-old Year Two student Muhammad Alif Shukran Alias claimed to have been forced to cut his own tongue in school by a group of five Year Three pupils from the same school, and received a stitch as a result of the incident.
In April 2014, a young schoolgirl in Sarawak was brutally assaulted by a gang of female students at school. The assault was captured on video and posted online. It showed her attackers pulling her hair, and dragging and kicking her at the top of a school stairwell.
There have also been many videos of fights involving school children, both boys and girls, making their rounds on the Internet even after Nhaveen’s case . This suggests bullying and gangsterism are very much a reality in our schools, despite such heinous episodes plaguing our headlines of late.
Direct vs indirect bullying
A useful definition of bullying was attempted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the US Department of Education in 2014, which acknowledged two general forms of bullying: direct and indirect.
Direct bullying is said to occur in the presence of a targeted party - for example, in Nhaveen’s case - whilst indirect bullying occurs where there is no communication on a targeted party such as the spread of rumours to third parties.
Electronic bullying or cyberbullying involves primarily verbal aggression through electronic communications such as the Internet, which one can imagine is fast becoming a popular form of bullying given the the growing influence of the Internet in today’s world.
Norshidah Mohamad Salleh and Khalim Zainal of the Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Malaysia and Center for General Studies (CITRA), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Malaysia respectively in their work “Bullying Among Secondary School Students in Malaysia: A Case Study” reported, “There are several studies on the behavior of bullying in Malaysia. Abdul-Latif (2005) carried out a study on 480 students in Johor. The study found that only 22.7% stated that they had been bullied once. 2.5% of students said they were bullied once to twice a week, while 5.6% said they were bullied once or twice per month and 11.9% said they were rarely bullied (once or twice a year). This measure indicates the low level of bullying behavior especially in the Batu Pahat district.
“Meanwhile, Noran-Fauziah (2004) has demonstrated that 95.8% of middle school students and 82.7% primary school students were psychologically bullied while 65.3% of middle school students and 56% of elementary school students were physically bullied.
“A review by Mahadi (2007) among students of religious school in Sarawak, found that verbal bullying is the most dominant form of bullying among students. The study showed that physical bullying is more dominant than emotional bullying. The study also found that the students often became bullies because they wanted to show that they were strong, and that older students did it to boast.”
The statistics above suggest a high prevalence of bullying in schools in Malaysia, perhaps to the extent that same has evolved into a culture which has become entrenched in our society. Needless to say, many cases go unreported and as such, official statistics of bullying may not be reliable in determining the true extent of such a culture in our society.
Although I am no expert in the field, I can think of a number of reasons children resort to bullying. Lack of parental care and supervision leading to the neglect of such children come to mind as a primary cause of bullying.
In the article “Bullying their way to get attention” (New Straits Times, June 20, 2017), Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairperson Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim, in concluding that the underlying problem of bullying is the poor family unit, is quoted as saying, “They (the bullies) take a hostile approach towards weak or lonely students at school to make up for the lack of control, love or attention at home.”
In the same article, Usha Ponnudurai, a counsellor and deputy manager at HELP University’s Centre for Psychological and Counselling Services says, “For example, physical aggression between parents and children may act as a modelling behaviour to youngsters, who then carry out such behaviour at school. Name-calling and verbal put-downs between parents and children also serve as a template for children in managing social relationships.
“Children who lack a sense of right and wrong, and lack awareness of their strengths and weaknesses may choose to bully others to gain ‘popularity’ or validation from their peers, which is harmful.”
Lee Lam Thye, senior vice-chairperson of the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation in his article titled “Address 'culture of violence' in schools” (New Straits Times, June 6, 2016) correctly points out that “Incidents of bullying and violent behaviour in schools, particularly residential schools, must be viewed seriously. It is incumbent upon the government, schools, police, parents and students to collectively address this “worrying” situation.
“Police statistics showed that student involvement in crime made up 0.9 per cent of the crime index while the Education Ministry revealed that student involvement in acts of indiscipline made up less than two per cent of the five million student population.
“Parents, police and society as a whole must play their roles to tackle student indiscipline. While schools take steps to tighten discipline, police must make frequent visits to interact with students and teachers.
“While appropriate punishment need to be meted out to the guilty ones, counselling is also essential. Special training needs to be provided to school counsellors.”
The above statistics and findings show very clearly that the problem of bullying and its often catastrophic consequences have long existed in this country. It is time that we acknowledge this and take action immediately to deal with the problem and not wait for another tragedy like the case of Nhaveen to happen before doing so.
The data above also reinforces the point that bullies are not born, but are often products of the environment from which they come.
Without realizing it, we are part of that environment ,whether in the form of the parent who neglects his/her child, the bystander who does nothing to correct obvious behavioral problems among children, teachers who fail to discipline school delinquents, or an education system which does not place enough emphasis on the seriousness of the problem of bullying in schools.
Eradicating the culture of bullying
It is high time that we, as responsible Malaysians, play a part in educating our children that bullying, whether direct or indirect or in any other form, can no longer be tolerated.
Cases like Naveen and Zulfarhan can only be prevented in the future if the culture of bullying is eradicated and we must take it upon ourselves to do so by first educating ourselves on the dangers of such culture, particularly on our children.
I am in complete agreement with the views above that we all play a role in eliminating this culture of bullying as parents, teachers, the police and the government.
It is for this reason that the Penang state government launched a campaign known as “Stop The Bully” on June 20 with the following as its objectives:
I am happy to be a part of the legal team of the said campaign together with Seri Delima assemblyman RSN Rayer. It is hoped that our contributions here, however small, make a difference towards the bigger aim of eradicating the culture of bullying in this country.
We also hope to bring together as many groups as possible such as NGOs and experts in this area to participate in this campaign regardless of their political affiliation, since the problem is one which affects us all as Malaysians and as such, ought not to be politicized.
While the nation mourns for Nhaveen, it is important to remember that there have been many others who have suffered the same fate as him in the past. Their deaths and suffering must not be in vain, and all of us must continue our efforts in our own ways to eradicate the culture of bullying in this country.
It is the best way to remember Nhaveen, and the only way to prevent such incidents from happening again.
RAMKARPAL SINGH is DAP Bukit Gelugor MP.