PETALING JAYA: Late at night when the school wardens were asleep, a "junior" student was forced by his "seniors" to meet them in the school pantry, where he was then set on and attacked by a group of them.
Such stories of "ragging" or bullying are familiar in Malaysia, The Star Online found out after speaking to 40 current and former Malaysian asrama (boarding school) students.
"He was beaten quite badly. After the session, we had to carry him back to the dorms because he couldn't walk," said Amir, who recalled the above experience during his years in one of Malaysia's prestigious asrama.
However, the victim lodged a police report and the culprits were soon suspended.
Sadly, this is only one of the few reported cases of ragging in Malaysian schools where justice was meted out to the perpetrators.
The bigger portion of the iceberg goes unnoticed and unreported, due to obedience and fear of further torment conditioned by hierarchical student politics.
Students also don't report abuse because they are apprehensive of tarnishing their school's "good image".
In India, where student deaths are frequently attributed to ragging or hazing, the government introduced a National Anti-Ragging Helpline as a way for victims to anonymously lodge complaints without fear of repercussions.
Although Malaysia's history of ragging isn't quite as extreme as that in India, the responses of those interviewed proved that practice is still prevalent and worryingly inculcated into Malaysian boarding school culture.
The numbers of cases are especially high in asrama compared with day schools due to distant parental figures and inadequate adult supervision.
Among 15 girls interviewed, six had witnessed or experienced ragging in their schools.
"Ragging is less common in girls' schools. When it does happen, it is usually psychological in nature and involves humiliating the person by teasing, name-calling and public shaming.
"Sometimes, there are dire consequences," said Sue, who recounted an incident where a friend suffered from bulimia after being constantly ridiculed about her weight.
"If you report the bullying, you would be ostracised," she added.
"We were made to do ear squats by the hundreds. I remember having a hard time going up and down the stairs after that," said Rohaiza of the physical bullying that girls were also sometimes subjected to.
Although the situation among girls is worrying, the occurrences of ragging between boys are far more pervasive.
Of the 25 boys interviewed, an astounding 24 admitted to either having experienced or witnessed bullying in their schools, some even owning up to being the aggressors themselves.
While both boys and girls alike are expected to carry out miscellaneous "chores" for their seniors like preparing food, carrying pails of water, ironing and cleaning seniors' clothes and rooms, the experiences shared by the boys were of a more extreme nature.
A number of the interviewees recounted incidences of students being force to do push ups, "duckwalks" and sit ups, apart from them being kicked, slapped, punched and made to march and run around the school compound.
"We were told to blow on a light bulb until the light 'disappeared', which of course meant we had to do it until the seniors got bored and flipped the switch off," said Nabil, elaborating on more creative ragging traditions.
Physical abuse, although not rampant, is not unheard of in boarding schools.
"Sometimes, juniors were made into punching bags for stress relief," explained Hanif.
But most often, violence is reserved as a form of "punishment" or "education" for juniors.
"Physical contact usually only happens when juniors report bad behaviour of seniors or when we refuse to do their chores for them," explained Fitri.
"They put my head in the toilet bowl and flushed it. I had dirty water in my mouth, eyes and nostrils," said Huzaifah, although he admitted it was because he skipped his cleaning duties for the day.
"Another time, I was beaten up because I did not wish a senior 'good morning'," he added.
Commonly, physical punishment is meted out when theft is suspected. In these circumstances, students take it upon themselves to proffer vigilante justice.
"If you disrespected a senior, or if you were caught for stealing, then you would get beaten up before being sent to the teachers," said Malik.
"They were never beaten up to the point where they were bruised and bleeding. It was just enough to subdue the junior," added Shahrul.
Among the tricks used by students to elude detection was creating "makeshift weapons".
"If you put bars of soap in a sock and used it to hit someone, you wouldn't leave bruises. So it was a popular method used by seniors," explained Nizam.
Despite the horror stories, most of those interviewed argued that ragging had its latent benefits, as long as it was not excessive or extreme.
"When ragging is done within limits, it builds character and nurtures humility and respect. In addition to that, you get a feeling of camaraderie among fellow form mates as you go through something 'bad' together," said Ahmad.
Other responses received were that "a little ragging" was a good way to instill discipline, shape the student or to prepare them for the real world.
The problem with this reasoning lies in the idea of "excess ragging" which is arbitrary at best and is decided on by the whim and fancies of the senior in power. The narrow yardstick between "acceptable" and "unacceptable" ragging is obscure, allowing too much of an opportunity for worst-case scenarios to happen.
Given recent media spotlight on bullying, many of the interviewees have said that the number of ragging incidents have decreased substantially over the years due to better enforcement and sterner punishment by school authorities.
While the initiative of schools in eliminating the problem is commendable, administrators must remain observant to unreported instances of ragging that continue to takes place within asrama.
Outside of asrama, there have been cases of bullying and assault in other boarding institutions such as the National Service training programme.
The most recent controversy involved the bludgeoning to death of 18-year-old Muhammad Suhaimi Norhamidi in September, in a camp in Pahang for allegedly cutting a queue during breakfast.
Previously, in a different camp in Pahang in 2009, a brawl broke out among 100 trainees at a camp in Pahang.
Only a few days earlier in the same camp, an 18-year old trainee claimed to have been sexually assaulted by more than 20 unidentified men within camp grounds.
- The names of those interviewed have been changed to protect their identities.