What Suresh Raina revealed this week was nothing short of heart-wrenching. Today, one of Team India’s most popular players, brave Raina, in an interview to a daily, took everyone back to a time when he was just 13, and fighting off bullies in a hostel in Lucknow.
Raina recalls in mind-numbing detail one of the first attacks, which happened on a train. He was sleeping in his cricket gear, on a newspaper, to fight the cold of the night when he felt immense weight crushing his chest. One of the bullies had decided to stand on his chest and before Raina could react, the bigger kid had urinated on his face.
There was more.
Raina and the other tortured children would often find trash in their daily quota of milk. The children would then use cloth to strain the milk clear. During the winter, Raina and Co. would be splashed with cold water and there was even an assault with hockey sticks.
“Students used to come from Pratapgarh, Rae Bareli, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh — athletes revolver rakh ke sote they (they kept guns and slept). How could I show anger? They might just hit me or shoot me,” Raina says in the interview.
He also recalls how hard he fought to stay sane, stay alive. In the report he admits to have considered suicide and how it took much persuasion from his elder brother to continue his training at the sports hostel. The cricketer is not alone.
Celebrities globally have spoken of their suffering, as children, or from the time before fame struck. Hell, even Barack Obama was bullied. In 2011, at a White House summit on preventing bullying, the President of the USA revealed how he was taunted incessantly for his “big ears” and his name.
“I have to say with big ears and the name that I have, I wasn't immune. I didn't emerge unscathed,” Obama said.
Steven Spielberg, at 65, remembered his days at the receiving end. The Oscar-winning director recalled how he faced anti-Semitism by lying about his roots.
“I often told people my last name was German, not Jewish,” he told CBS news.
Former Spice Girl and now the proud founder of her own multi-million pound fashion empire Victoria Beckham recalled how mean schoolmates would just pick things out of puddles to fling at her. “I didn’t have any friends. People would push me around, say they were going to beat me up after school, chase me. It was miserable.”
Beckham however, acknowledges that she used the phase to push herself ahead in life. Her mantra at the time was, ‘if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger’.
“People who have been bullied in the past have been known to work harder. They push themselves further and stronger than most normal people and tend to over achieve — which is not a bad thing at all,” says Chennai-based psychologist Dr Mini Rao.
Need an example? How about Priyanka Chopra. Although it would be far fetched to claim the Quantico star’s persistence has been the result of bullying, Chopra has spoken about how she faced racism during her time as a student in the US. “I was called Brownie and was told to take my curry and to go back to my country,” Chopra told People magazine in an interview. “It was hard. I was like, ‘I want to go home’.”
Rao adds that those who’ve faced bullying also carry these memories for a long time. “Unfortunately, the brain stores negative memories better than the positive ones. Which is another reason why early mental anguish tends to stay on.”
Just ask Anwesh Sahoo, who won the Mr Gay World India title in January this year. He had to rush to his teacher for help.
“I even had a girlfriend for about two three months to end the bullying. After I spoke to my teacher, it is then that I decided to tackle bullying head on. I have realised that once you have decided to speak up for yourself, people do tend to take you seriously. There is nothing wrong in being queer and was able to accept myself.”
Another troubling story is Hrithik Roshan’s. The star has made public his struggle with stuttering. In a TV interview, Roshan described how childhood was “hell”. Asked how long the problem continued Roshan simply replied: “Six to 35. I am 35,” the actor said referring to his age at the time.
“The childhood of a person suffering from a problem like this is pure hell. From the time you wake up in the morning to night you almost dread some days…. to wake up! Because you have to go through an entire day when you have to use your speech and have to go through all those little moments of hell.”
He then started thinking up ways to escape situations. “For oral tests at school, I used to bunk school, I used to fall sick, I used to break my hand, I used to get a sprain.”
The actor has since dedicated both time and money to help those who suffer from stammering. In the November of 2008, the media rushed to an event at Mumbai’s Nanavati hospital where the actor was inaugurating the hospital’s audio and speech therapy wing. Nanavati was also where Roshan took help from to overcome speech difficulties.
“All the memories of my past difficulties came spilling out at Nanavati. When I met my doctor who treated me at age 14 for stammering, I could barely control my emotions. It’s not easy to be a special child.”
Hrithik Roshan’s admission that he started facing bullies’ taunts since the age of 6, is not surprising. But experts say children are increasingly becoming victims at very early stages in their lives.
“Children as young as 5 are body-conscious these days,” says psychologist and professor of psychology Swarnalatha Iyer.
“In their heads, they have already formed an idea of a perfect body, a lifestyle, choice of clothing etc. We have seen bullying arising out of the fact that a child was not dropped to school in a car. That he or she was wearing one particular type of shoe. It’s genuinely worrying. Plus, advertisements are increasingly making children a part of the decision-making process thereby programming them to assume that a certain choice is wrong. All these factors are causing bullying at schools, colleges etc,” Iyer adds.
Bullying certainly has turned into a crisis. A 2011 study by the Indian Journal of Pediatrics revealed that 60.4 per cent of students had faced instances of bullying. The very same survey also stated that “only 39 per cent of victim’s parents knew about the incidents”.
“Peer bullying is a thing,” says Delhi-based psychologist and family therapist, Dr Geetanjali Kumar.
“I have had people come to me from corporates, from government offices complaining about workplace taunts. I understand people need to be trained but there needs to be empathy. Bullying is a harsh reality in our country’s offices. It’s widespread, it’s rising and it needs to be stopped.”
Dr Kumar, who also runs a helpline, which receives calls from around the world also reveals the case of a young man who’s facing bullying from those “trying to help him grow up”. The details are disturbing.
“He has been unable to have the kind of relationship other men have with a woman. But then those around him — he lives abroad — are forcing him to practice intimacy, by forcing him to strip naked and perform certain tasks. It’s shocking. Bullies derive a certain pleasure from force.
“The ones who go on and recover have higher resilience and an excellent support system around them. The others just succumb and sometimes, even end their lives due to the misery,”
But there are those who survived — proving that it does indeed gets better. Just look at Raina — he went from fighting off a boy who urinated on his face to World Cup glory. Priyanka Chopra went on to become a multi-national brand and Hrithik’s stellar debut is still unmatched! And the man with the big ears? Well, he made it to the White House!
It’s just tragic to note that childhood is no longer the best part of our lives....