Death by bullying

16th May 1997 at 01:00
East: Eeny Meeny Miny Mo. BBC2 Thursday, May 15 7.30-8.00pm.

Vijay Singh was a handsome, bright 13-year-old boy who, like most Mancunians of his age and gender, wanted to be a footballer.

One Saturday evening last October, his family came home from an outing to find Vijay dead. He had committed suicide. His devasted mother looked through his schoolbag for explanations, and found a journal. Its last entry read: "I shall remember this for all eternity. Monday: my money is taken. Tuesday: names are called. Wednesday: my uniform is torn. Thursday: my body is pouring with blood. Friday: it's ended. Saturday: freedom."

Norman Lewis, a friend of Vijay's family, confirmed that the boy was bullied on a daily basis.

Reporter Lisa Aziz uncovered two other Asian boys experiencing regular racist harassment at Vijay's school, Stretford High School. One has since transferred to an Islamic school and the other, Heera Singh, is being tutored at home after a series of incidents culminating in his being pushed head first into a waste bin. Says his father, "I'd rather have him at home and alive."

Stretford High School's acting head issued a statement insisting that the school was taking appropriate and effective action to deal with the incidents. But how do you measure effectiveness? And how, indeed, do you define racist bullying? As David Gillborne, of the Institute of Education, points out, "Many white people think of crude acts, including overt violence, when they think of bullying. But many schoolchildren experience racism as a routine, mundane, day-to-day experience."

Many schools have strongly worded anti-bullying and anti-racist policies for which they are praised to the heavens by Ofsted. But Childline's bullying helpline receives twice as many calls from ethnic minority children as from whites. Moreover, 22 per cent of callers had suffered bullying for a year before contacting the helpline. Childline's Mary McLeod suggests that "they are getting pushed to the end of their tether before they complain".

As the programme that tells this story points out, Asian schoolchildren suffer not only from the hands of their classmates. A group of 29 Asian students at Howden Clough Girls' High School in Batley, West Yorkshire, were first shocked and then outraged when a teacher accused them of stealing a purse. Their angry response led to a local authority investigation of the incident, which concluded that the incident was indeed racist. The teacher now faces a disciplinary hearing.

It is a measure of the problem that under-reporting is endemic. Lancashire Education Authority conducted an audit on racist bullying last year. It logged 89 incidents, but was "concerned" about under-reporting. Whether that concern is justified is impossible to tell. But it is likely that those 89 incidents are just the tip of a very ugly, very destructive iceberg.

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