Beyond Sharifah and Bawani

Examining behaviour of those with authority.

When I was ten, I had an English teacher who liked to touch us in ways we felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t anything as scandalous as it may seem, he simply touched our hands, caressing them as a grandfather would his grandchildren. He was, after all, the right age to do so. But we felt uncomfortable.

We complained to the teachers, but the teachers didn’t listen to us, they simply thought he was an old man who just loved children. On hindsight, I still do not know what exactly his intentions were.

But we rebelled in a way the teachers couldn’t catch us. We invented a superhero in his likeness, mocking him. He was called SuperBra. At the age of ten, bras were probably the most offensive (?) things we could think of. I drew comics of him, beating up children, satirising him. My friends read it, distributing it amongst ourselves.

When he entered the class, we would mock him under our breaths, ‘SuperBra, SuperBra’ as our only way of rebellion, because we could do nothing else.

Eventually when I graduated, I heard he was transferred. As students, we were simply kept in the dark of what really happened.

When I was twelve I was a very active prefect. The teacher’s pet, so to say. I followed the rules, I was bright, but I was very opinionated and talkative. And when posts were given out to the prefects, I was very disappointed to see that I didn’t manage to get into the executive committee, even though I felt that I had contributed a lot. I got over it, as twelve-year olds tend to get over things, worrying instead when the new update of Ragnarok would kick in and my Knight could upgrade its job to a Paladin. Months later, I found out from a teacher, in the throes of fury at something I did, I can’t quite remember, that I wasn’t made head prefect because I was too talkative.

That was when I realised that talking too much is bad. Actually having an opinion is worse. It was better to shut up, listen, score good grades, keep the classroom clean and be a good student than to speak up against the teachers.

This followed me until I was in Form 2. We had a controversial Civics tutor. She told us that she was openly racist. And she was. She singled a classmate called “Vinoth” because she says that she knew lots of “Vinoth”s and all of there were hopeless, just as she knew my friend would be.

We hated her.

But we didn’t speak out against her. She embarrassed countless of my friends but none of us stood up against her. I’m sorry to say I never did, because I’ve learnt throughout the years that it doesn’t pay to be talkative. It doesn’t pay to speak up.

This entire story is just an isolated case of what happens to an ordinary student in Malaysia.

What happened between Bawani and Sharifah isn’t new. Public shaming isn’t new. I’m sure many of you would have friends, who misbehaved, who were singled out, embarrassed, torn down in front of everyone else. The arguments they used were no more logical than what Sharifah used. And we as students clap and cheer as we watch our friends, our peers torn down in front of us.

It is a problem deeply rooted in our education system. Students who parrot their teachers thrive, students who challenge them don’t.

I know that Sharifah is no teacher, and Bawani is not her student. But this is something that happens. And this is something that should stop.

This is why I am glad this video went viral. It makes teachers and instructors question their own behaviour. In a world where nothing is private, and everything can so easily be thrown in the public eye, we scrutinise our own behaviour more, check ourselves more, and maybe become a better society in the years to come.

And I hope that as this video spreads, more people come to realise what is being done by people in power — teachers, instructors, moderators — is wrong.

And those in power themselves, many of whom are righteously indignant about the video would realise they are guilty of the same, in varying degrees.

Which is why I urge all of you to look beyond Sharifah and Bawani, and look towards the classrooms of your schools, the offices of your own companies and the homes of your own families.

We have to stop condoning something that is so obviously wrong simply because we become accustomed to it, conditioned to it.

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Rebecca Choong is a first year undergraduate in University College London studying Economics and Business with East European Studies. She sees herself as a relatively average, fun-loving student who has faith in a better Malaysia. She tweets @becca_csw.

Posted on 17 January 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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10 Responses to Beyond Sharifah and Bawani

  1. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I in finding It truly useful & it helped me out a lot. I’m hoping to provide one thing again and help others like you aided me.

  2. Audrey

    Ya I remember I used to question my Prinsip Akaun teacher about her workings and pointing out her mistakes when she did examples in class. I wasn't very well liked by her and she would penalize me for the smallest mistakes in my exam papers just so that I wouldn't score full marks. I was always stuck with 98% or 99% because I questioned her teachings and could prove that she had made mistakes. Towards the later part of my secondary education, I realized that it was just better to shut up and quietly teach my classmates after class to give them the correct answer.

  3. Alfredo

    Every society has to learn RESPECT. It is gain and not ENFORCE. It is not about I, ME and MINE are BETTER. Everyone is eligible for their opinions and it should be RESPECTED not HUMILIATED.

  4. Mim Jamil

    Thumbs up!

  5. asdasd

    I think this incident goes beyond just social norms. It is a deeply seated perception in Malaysia that one who supports or affiliated with the ruling party is a above the law and any outrageous behaviour which serves well to benefit the ruling party is welcomed without fault or wrong-doing.

    This gives dipshits like Perkasa to mount their racist and nazi ranting to humiliate and belittle other races which they deemed as sub-humans. Again, no wrong associated to Perkasa because of their alignment with the ruling party. However, the same cannot be said regarding the oppositions or any entities affiliated or aligned with the oppositions.

    Malaysians are very good at dishing out opinions. No doubt about that. But it is appalling to know that we are unable to accept a difference in opinion and the biggest sin of all, forcing one to accept your opinion either by throwing dissents to gaol or subjecting them to belittlement like what that lady has done.

  6. Wave33

    Rebecca,

    True at heart. Asian mentality says that we should be a follower, and elders are always right (my mom can concur with it, even she does not have a secondary school education). Perhaps Sharifah would like to have a chat with my mom. That's is the reason, we have westerners whom are most innovative with entrepreneurship. But… I just do not like the offsprings calling their parents by names.

    It happens in school followed by university education. It is still happenning when you are adult in UMNO. UMNO MPs have to follow the party instruction on the dot. Try to be funny, you get the same treatment as in KJ of Oxford. The party boss knows better than you. They are not wakil Rakyat. Listen! To your Boss. Listen! To the party instruction. Do not listen to what the Rakyat says.

    MPs of UMNO listen, listen and listen, and reciprocate it to the Rakyat by telling us to listen, listen, listen.

    Yeah mom, I'm listenning.

  7. this has been going on for a long, long time. finally people react to this that this is not a good culture, that dissenting is not necessarily a bad thing and toeing the line is not necessarily a good thing. takes one girl to open up everybody’s eyes.

  8. Pepper Lim

    Nice!

  9. telur2

    Well said. We have to start treating the cause instead of the symptoms.

  10. Amanda T

    I've been waiting for a Loyar Burokker to post on this topic. I'm interested to see that the post is not about Bersih, UUM, NGOs, or politics — but instead it's about social behavior.

    After having fun with the jokes and memes spawned by this incident, it is time to reach in and pull out a lesson from the wreckage. Reflecting on Rebecca's post on conditioned social behavior and trying to put myself in the shoes of the clapping students as Sharifah puts down Bawani, I find myself at a complete loss as to how I would react. Oh, I know how I WANT myself to react. I want myself to be able to stand up and stand beside Bawani, regardless of whether or not I agreed or disagreed with her points. But on further thought, I realize the truth that I wouldn't really do that. No, in reality, I would have remained seated. Because I am older and wiser than I was as a student, I probably would not have clapped — but I wouldn't have done anything to stop it, either.