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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