Eight Young Indians Open Up About Being Bullied - And How They Overcame It

Eight Young Indians Open Up About Being Bullied - And How They Overcame It

When we were putting this together, we were taken aback by just how many people were so willing to put themselves out there about being bullied—undoubtedly a pandora’s box that’s more painful to open than most. Some felt it might serve as catharsis, others joked about sweet revenge against their childhood bullies, all, however, seemed united on the front that being tormented in our formative years follows us all into adulthood in some way or the other. “It shapes a part of your identity for the rest of your life,” said one of our sources matter-of-factly.

We tend to brush these things off as childhood shenanigans, a ‘part of growing up’ that helps build character, but words hold weight that can grow deep roots. ‘Ragging’ in college has already been the topic of serious discussion all over the country, with cases of depression and suicide of students on the rise as a result. And no matter how much the mediums evolve (cyber-bullying in the digital age has added a whole new dimension to public humiliation for young people because now, the bullying can follow you home) it’s clear as day that bullying isn’t going anywhere either. So what can we do to feel less helpless?

It may sound cliche, but talking about it—even owning up to it if you were once the bully—might make all the difference. After conversations with these eight brave individuals, their numerous and varied learnings quickly became learnings for us too. And they ranged from making us understand just how deep the impact of bullying can be to how we can overcome it too. A unifying theme that runs through these conversations is that bullying is indeed, a vicious cycle. The only way to fight through it was self-belief. It’s only in retrospect that we tend to realise that people lash out at others because someone sometime lashed out at them - bullies were once bullied themselves in several cases. Still, it’s up to all of us who have ever been in this position to break the cycle.

Join us as we open up a dialogue around the subject and write to us (details at the end of this article) if you have insight you’d like to share on it. This is an important conversation we’ve wanted to address for a very long time, and we’d like for more people to be a part of it in the hopes that we can, one day, make bullying more obsolete than it currently is.

I. Maanav Dev

35-year-old Maanav quit the city life and recently moved to Goa, but life wasn’t always sandy beaches and a sea breeze for him. Speaking to HG about his years being bullied, he recalls names like ‘chakka’ or ‘Manvi’ (feminised version of his name) that were constantly thrown at him when he was growing up. There was one particular incident when he was ‘given’ the title of Miss _____ (name of school), as a method to undermine and criticise his behaviour, appearance, and/or sexual orientation - a variety of things to pick from as long as the bullies got their fun out of it. But little did they expect that Maanav himself would accept the name, own it and wear it with pride, instead. “I would never let them win!”

He’s still body-shamed by friends and people from his community even now, though they say it’s for ‘his own good,’ as he shares that people don’t realise that such comments can easily have an adverse affect. “I have had a footballs thrown at my head, I have been beaten, I have had a lot of verbal bullying, even to date. The physical bullying dies once you get older, I guess. The verbal bullying carries on and continues to affect your mind and mood,” he sadmits, adding that having the support of a strong family and friends helped, and continues to help him through these times. Along with listening to Michael Jackson, jazz music and being with his dog.

It was when he moved to the UK to study and met people at University who didn’t care about who he was, what he looked like or was doing that he gained the confidence, self-belief and the optimism that he has today.

“I can only say to the people who are being bullied, talk, communicate, tell your bullies how you feel. Do not take it lying down and never apologise for who you are.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“In my experience, no, I don’t think it’s a cycle. I would never want to put anyone one else through the trauma and stress of being made fun of for how they look like i.e. too fat or their sexual preferences. For someone like me who has been bullied growing up, I understand the scars it can leave and those take a long time to heal. So I would not bully someone to take out my frustration. Having said that, I have seen the bullied become the bully on many occasions around my social circle.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“Yes for sure. Depending on the person it can have a primarily negative or positive impact on ones personality and how they deal with people and relationships. Bullying can and does totally undermine ones confidence and social abilities. Teenagers can be very mean and the kind of physical and mental bullying that one goes through stays with that person for life. It is up to that person to take those experiences and turn it into their strength. It is something very subjective and the support of real friends and family is super important and plays a vital role.”

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“It’s very easy to pick on someone to compensate for your insecurities. Everyone is different, everyone is going through life. Be empathetic and think about a situation where your child was put through what you are making me go through. Just live and let live. If you have nothing nice to say, do not say anything and do not shame the other person by saying how much better you are than them. As Ellen says - ‘Be kind to one another.’”

II. Mimixa Patel

When Mimixa was in junior school in Zimbabwe, she would attend Gujarati school in the afternoons and she tells us about the day her class was having a party in the playground. Everyone brought food and set up in one of the corners, and despite being a class event, her bully and her ‘clique’ consciously isolated her from the rest of the party. As she sat alone on a swing, her bully even got someone to walk over and give her food at a distance - she had never before felt like an outcast.

Nobody around her really spoke about bullying, she shares, to the point where she didn’t even realise that that’s what she was experiencing at the time, and it needed to be stopped. She says that the moment she truly stopped being bullied was when she became aware of the fact that there wasn’t anything wrong with her for all those years, was in University. “ I’m a very intuitive person so I sensed something was wrong. I couldn’t understand why I constantly felt the need to feel accepted. Bullying can change the way you look at yourself. That takes time to fully understand. I became more aware of myself and I let go of my past. I focused on the present and it naturally flowed to a point where I had the sense to know that I’m perfect the way I am. I had more clarity and I realized that I’m not defined by what my bullies have said or done. I started to fully accept myself and was able to appreciate myself more. I was also thankful for those experiences because they made me want to be a better person,” she says.

As a shy girl, through those times she sought solace in art and dance, where she felt she could truly be herself. If nothing else, that day at the playground opened her eyes to how it was not the right way to treat a person, and it was following this that she truly became aware of how she treated people as a result.

“Under my bed was the only place I really felt safe. I wish there was more awareness around bullying and the effects of it. Bullying is not good at any stage in life, but especially during your childhood. It is the most important phase of your life and your experiences during that time shape you as a person.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“I feel bullying can be a cycle if you’re not aware of why you’re being bullied or why you’re bullying someone. I didn’t become the bully but I always felt the need to prove myself in order to be accepted as a result of being bullied. For me, I didn’t know I was bullied until much later and I always felt like my bullies had something that I didn’t have. In that sense, I thought I needed to be more like them. I was aware that I could become the bully as a result of what happened to me but I’ve consciously stopped that from happening.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“To a certain extent it does continue to shape my personality and identity but I look at it as a way to grow and break into the best version of myself. It’s only made me stronger and brave. I had more than one bully so when I was bullied I thought something was wrong with me and I did everything to feel accepted. It was only until I realized that they were projecting their insecurities and emotional state on me. I learnt what kind of person I am, I want to be and don’t want to be after that experience. I’ve become a lot more compassionate, caring and thoughtful. “

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“I’ve dealt with my demons. Today, I would forgive them and be compassionate.”

III. Ritika Upadhyay

Ritika is among those people who spent most of her school years being bullied. As excruciating and confusing as that time was, she explains that it’s also responsible for shaping her into who she is today.

More than exclusion, it’s rejection following the initial acceptance by your peers that stings deep. You question yourself, your personality, appeal and ponder over changes you can make, whereas it speaks more of their character rather than your own. Ritika was in a similar situation when she was younger, taken in by a group of girls, only to have the association broken the following day. “As an introverted child who loved books and computers, being alone wasn’t difficult to deal with, but the response it evoked from my peers felt harsh. Over the years, I found myself questioning why I was the way I was; why couldn’t I be more popular/talkative/feminine/dumber (as means to greater acceptance). I remember feeling dejected in the eighth grade because I had no one to invite to my birthday party,” she says.

Observing other students around her at school she’d contemplate what set them apart from herself. “It was like trying different wallpapers: say certain things, act a certain way so that my classmates would accept me… If I was curious about whether there really was an afterlife, refusing to blindly accept what various religions prescribed to their followers, I was ‘psycho’, the word mostly connoting that I was mad/retarded in some way to question these things. Because I was just simply curious. To a depressed middle schooler, that one word spat out loud in the face of your enthusiastic curiosity is like plague.”

High school came with harassment and humiliation - being late to school she would have to stand in front of a class of 45 people, none of whom would let her sit next to them until a teacher made sure of it. “Nothing to say of the harassment I faced on Facebook by a group of guys which included the guy who sexually harassed me (would try and rub his knees against mine and pretend like nothing happened during computer lab class while his friend watched on and smirked, placed my hand on his crotch during class once. He somehow assumed I would be okay with that. Years later, I got to know I wasn’t the only one treated this way,” she shares.

College gave her a chance to start again with a blank state, while her mother provided her a space to feel safe, and her family, along with counselling helped her through that period of her life. She’s learnt to be more assertive over time, with practice, and managed to form a support system of close friends to rely on during difficult times.

“As long as you stick out like a sore thumb, someone will have their work cut out for them. There will always be that one group or individual who bristles at the fact that you don’t fit into the cubbyhole. I have faced that sort of behavior till date; how I now choose to respond it has changed a lot since I graduated from high school.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“I choose to look at bullying as this set of behaviors that is not addressed/(is) blatantly ignored and allowed to breed: the school doesn’t care beyond academics and conventionally disruptive behavior in class (talking too much, interrupting the teacher, hitting someone, all that jazz), while their respective families don’t really care about what goes on in school as long as their kids are doing fine with grades & extra-curricular and they don’t get into trouble - however they, as parents define it.

Unchecked, it always threatens to turn into a cascade of bullying where the bullied lash out on someone else. (I have been at the receiving end of being bullied by someone who was bullied mercilessly as a child too.***)

And it’s not easy to admit that you’re being bullied.

My peers were fairly certain of their perception of me being this arrogant, bumbling person who thought she was too good for everyone else or just plain psycho or a teacher’s pet - I’ve heard all of these and more; I was locked in this constant battle to defend myself against the physical and verbal insults.

***The last thing I wanted to do was turn around and lash out at someone else because I could see what damage me bullying someone else in turn could do; I lived through it.
I know what that feels like.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“Of course it does. Shame, embarrassment and social boycott by your peers isn’t something you brush off as easily as a fly in your coffee.

It put things like acceptance, belonging and where you derive your self worth from... in a completely different perspective.

I’ve only recently been able to begin embracing my role in most situations as ‘the outsider’ (reminding myself when I forget, that it’s okay to be who you are as long as you’re not harming anyone) and it’s liberating... Not quite there yet.”

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“As someone who has been bullied, there were times I had the urge to publicly shame them, for the world to know how they behaved with me and upset their assumption that bygones are bygones and no one will remember, know or care.

I wish to have a conversation with them. All of them. Try and understand their side of things, see what motivated them.

We were kids, then puberty hit; none of that makes it easier, but that also doesn’t excuse their behavior. It had a deeper impact on me than they probably imagine - if they ever chose to reflect on their words or actions at all.”

IV. Rootam Goswami

It started off in high school, Rootam always stood out for not ‘behaving like a girl.’ Snarky comments about her name - ranging from rustam, bhutam to ch*tam - she recalls sitting in the second row and having her peer calling one of these out and childishly sniggering when she would turn around. The aggression and frustration began to build up.

She was then seen as ‘too masculine,’ and would refrain from playing basketball during recess, since it only added to this notion - even having people call her a lesbian. “Because, or course, a girl who was masculine and played basketball would obviously be a lesbian. Slowly, I got the courage to speak out. One day I was playing basketball, and a girl called me a lesbian again. I went up to her and said, ‘I think you like me too much, isn’t that why you keep calling out my name? You already know what those girls are called.’ She kept her distance since, but this bullying never stopped,” she says.

She was constantly bullied by the people around her, without having a quick retort to their words she was seen as an easy target in the eyes of bullies - all done to ‘make her strong, so that she could face the real world. “ I was always depressed, tried committing suicide on occasion. This made me shut off even more. I got into drugs, got molested a couple of times. And all of it was blamed on to having a ‘good time.’ I started having panic attacks. Word got out that I was easy because I was molested. I shifted to Goa, to find some peace and run away from all this. There also, my roommate who was older to me, preyed on my ‘weakness.’ She would taunt me all the time about everything. It got to a point where she made me hate who I was. I lost all my personality. I became a dull doll who couldn’t make friends, couldn’t get intimate with others, nor could I hold on to a conversation,” shares Rootam.

Now 28, Rootam has confronted her past. Last year she spoke to her parents and shared her history of molestation and abuse, and all the things that made her a ‘difficult person.’ She’s made peace with herself, and it’s taken a lot over the years to get her where she is today - a national level air rifle shooter. And someday, she hopes to be on the Indian squad. “I am also going to start studying psychology this year and aim to be a child psychologist. I am thankful to be alive. I want to help stop bullying at a school level by being a psychologist. I hope children of the future have enough resources and people they could reach out to when they’re being bullied.”

“It was mostly not giving up on myself that saved me,” she says. “And counselling sessions, even though I quit going to them. But whatever sessions I had, I understood this much that I had to open up and face whatever I had been through.”

“Bullying, be it of any kind is grave. Physical bullying is still visible, at times, which might bring attention to it. But verbal bullying is passed off as ‘good fun’ and ‘character building’ most often. Both kinds are not good for a healthy mind.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“I do feel it’s a vicious cycle. At least, in my case. I do catch myself bullying or pushing people sometimes. At times it’s just harmless fun but it did get serious one of the days when I couldn’t see a friend of mine depressed any longer and pushed her to be happy. I came on too strong on her and apologised the very next day. Of all the people, I very well know, healing takes its own time. The one difference i see though is that I always realise when i’m too harsh on someone. The ones who bullied me, never cared to see me as a person on the other hand.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“I got sick of being a victim all the time. I’d lash out and only cause more harm to myself in the later years of bullying. There isn’t any defining moment that stopped me from being bullied. It was a gradual acceptance of self and self worth over the years.”

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“I wouldn’t really do or say anything to my bullies. Being my happy self is proof enough that I have moved on and won’t take anymore shit from people.”

V. Sharanya Vaithianathan

“Yes, I have been bullied. Not just when I was a child but till now. It’s not just school, it’s home, it’s my childhood friends circle, college, work, everywhere. I know you will say ‘this too shall pass, it’s okay.’ But you have no idea what’s it like to live inside my head. My confidence is shattered, my self esteem has gone down the drain - my whole existence tossed away.”

For Sharanya, no place was safe. Be it in school or at home - friends and family all felt they had the right to make comments. Having gone from being thin as a pin growing up, to being diagnosed with PCOD and putting on weight, neither ends of the spectrum of physical appearance were good enough to keep these remarks at bay. Instead of being called sukudi, lakdi or drumstick, it changed to people making fun of her for putting on weight.

Two incidents that hit home for her are one from the sixth grade when her crush told her he found her cute, only to later retract and confess that it was a planned joke with her so-called best friend whom he started dating. As an outsider, it may seem like a small passing moment you could easily let go off, but it’s not that simple. You never truly understand how you affect a person and change them unless you’re on the receiving end, until you hear their side, and Sharanya says, “That was one thing that deeply hurt me and made me shut about expressing my feelings and thoughts.” She adds, “The other instance was when a member of my family used to beat me because I’m a Brahman and I couldn’t do maths. I was told that I’m a woman and I need to behave in a particular way. I was bullied because I look like a skeleton. They told me that over and over again - it’s like a permanent stain on my mind. I can never be beautiful in my head because they’ve ruined the whole idea of it for me. I start sulking when someone calls me cute, beautiful or pretty... When my head’s screwed up, where can I keep safe? I just ended up becoming a pill addict. I started popping sleeping pills because I couldn’t sleep in fear of someone beating me up. Pills were the only things that kept me safe from hallucinations.”

While Sharanya still struggles, she realised that at home, and in her family, she wasn’t the only one targeted. Her mother would often be criticized, if not more than she would be. “After I understood that, I started standing up for her because she’s been conditioned a in certain manner that makes her just take all the bullshit everyone throws at her. In the same process I realized I didn’t want to be in the same position as amma. So, I made sure I stood up for this.”

“I now know it’s not because of my looks the people bullied me, it’s because they are shallow people who seek joy in making the helpless, miserable. I was told I’m a girl and the society will treat me in a certain way and I need to behave.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“Yes, bullying is a cycle. I’ve seen people who’ve been bullied turn into bullies, but I never had the guts to bully someone because the sheer thought of putting someone else through the same situation made sure I don’t turn out like that.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“Yes, it certainly does. I was bullied for the way I looked, I was bullied because I’m a girl and I’m tiny and weak. It has shaped me into a person who is different than the real me. I act, talk, behave like a guy. I want to do things normally people don’t expect me to do. People call me a guy who is trapped in a girl’s body.”

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“I’ll just talk to him/ her normally like nothing has happened. Whatever happens, happens for a reason and I’ve just grown stronger. I don’t need to say anything as such, my work speaks enough for me. I’m everything they claimed I’m not. “

VI. Sidhant Shrivastava

On numerous occasions Sidhant found himself at the receiving end of things, but what makes him stand out was that he opens up about the time he found himself having turned into a bully. It was his little cousin, and when he realised what he was doing it was an ugly awakening - he found himself becoming the same kind of person that crippled his self worth. “I stopped, apologised and never did that again,” he shares.

When times were dark he sought comfort in books, music and sleep, and turned to his support system - his sister and his best friend. “It made it easier to move on.”

Physical bullying can lead to terrible injuries, we’ve all heard the horror stories of bullying and ragging in schools and colleges. But between that and verbal bullying, he feels verbal is worse, saying, “that stuff stays with you.”

“The school I went to as a kid served lunch, which was followed by the last class of the day. If you didn’t finish your food you had to stand outside until you were done. The food wasn’t the best, but I’d scarf it down in seconds to be free enough to play. I had a bad case of eczema on my hands and that already got me the nickname ‘lizard boy,’ plus I was a book nerd. The popular kids saw how fast I’d eat my food so they started to talk and hang out with me - the catch? I had to finish their food as well. I ended up eating the food of five or six kids. I got fat, and got made more fun off,” he shares.

“I didn’t realise what was happening until much later.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“Yes it is. I’m not proud of it but I did, caught myself doing it and came clean about it.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“It definitely does, I despise raised voices, I lock down when that happens. On the positive side, I make it a point to stop it whenever and wherever I see bullying happen.”

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“Somedays I think we could get a meal and talk about it. On other days, I’d want to avoid them and just focus on doing something good for someone. Today is a meal kinda day.”

What would you say or do to the person you bullied today?

“The same thing I did back then, I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this. How can I make it up to you?”

VII. Tanuta Biswas

Tanuta moved to Kolkata when she was in the 7th grade, and the next two years were not kind to her. The two friends she had made left the school when they moved on to the next grade, and she felt alone, falling prey to bullying and hate. “I got looks, insulted with sarcasm during PE period because I wasn’t very good at playing throwball. A boy I was assigned to sit with in class would shoo me away once the teacher would leave. I’m not going to be subtle about this - I felt like a street dog,” she says.

One day she got water thrown at her when a water fight broke out between her classmates. Angry, she retaliated and it backfired pretty badly. “ I clearly remember how this main leader of the gang made a signal for them to attack and seconds later somebody else did her dirty work. It showed me how the whole thing worked and the kind of impact she had on the others,” she shares. Things got better when the class got divided in grade 9 due to the fact that she then had friends around, was making new ones and the old group of bullies disintegrated. “But the biggest factor,” she says, “was probably that the leader of the gang I mentioned earlier thought I had ratted her out, and things got much better after that.”

“Whenever I feel down I remind myself of those days and how I came out of it as a shy introverted girls who later went onto make tons of friends and become a confident person who knows how to voice her opinions and raise her voice against something that she thinks is wrong.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“No, perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I myself was bullied.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“It had initially made me very timid and left me with no self esteem or confidence but as I grew older it definitely helped me become more stronger.’

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“Pardon my French, I would say a fuck you.”

VIII. Sanjana Shetty*

One day Sanjana was changing in the girls bathroom, and she took off her glasses. It was just for a minute or two - she had a really high power - and when she reached out looking for them, they were gone. “I had to walk around like a blind bat to get back to class to tell someone that my glasses were gone - and no one would believe that another child was capable of such a thing. I didnt have my glasses that entire day, and they finally appeared on the floor by my desk, a little broken. I remember fighting every damn urge to cry simply because I didn’t have my glasses to hide behind. I failed, and it was the absolute worst,” she says.

Her pillar of support was her mother, and she would beg her every night to just change her school and help her escape it all. But she wouldn’t have it, telling her to simply stick it out and emerge on the other side, stronger. Sanjana didn’t believe her at the time, but is glad for it now. “I made it through,” she says, “I also found theatre, finally something I was good at. It was outside of school with a bunch of different people and I could just be whoever I wanted to be.”

“If I remember right, they found someone else. Bullying the same person for two years can get boring, you see.”

Do you feel bullying is a cycle - does the bullied become a bully?

“I don’t think it’s a cycle - i think it comes from a deep insecurity within yourself, and a need to be the one who has the power. I didn’t bully someone JUST because I was bullied. In fact, i went out of my way not to.”

Does the bullying continue to shape your personality or identity?

“Well, not bullying in that sense but the memory of it, yes. It has helped me learn the difference between being alone and being lonely. And I have begun to be comfortable with both. I spent a lot of time by myself reading during the two years I had no friends at school, and books are my means of escape even today. It also helped me learn to use a dictionary - I had to look up several words I was accused of using (slut, for instance) , and simply never knew the meaning of - thanks guys!”

What would you say or do to your bully today?

“Karma, bitches.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the person, at their request.

If you (or someone you know) have found yourself in similar situations - be it as a bully or the bullied - write in to us at editor@homegrown.co.in with the subject line ‘Bullying’ and join the conversation.

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