Two 16-year-olds took bullying to a whole new level by threatening to kidnap a 9-year-old son of a diamond trader if he did not give them money. They managed to make the child fork out Rs 7,000 in 15 days before he finally spilled the beans, leading to their arrest. The accused are ex-students of a Dindoshi convent school and would wait outside the school gate for the Std VI student to emerge.

The victim, who had been threatened that he would be kidnapped, thrashed and locked in the school bathroom, had given them all his savings from his piggy bank and would approach a different member of his extended family every day to get money to give the bullies, saying he needed it for school projects. He had not told his family members because the accused had allegedly threatened to beat him up if he did so.

This newspaper carried a report on the incident yesterday, highlighting just how insidious bullying continues to be in schools and colleges too (though at that level, it is taken to a dangerous extent called ragging) and how a culture of fear and intimidation is created by the so-called stronger or more powerful.

Schools do have counsellors now for psychological problems but we do see the pressure and stress of a pressure-cooker academic environment playing on children. Bullying has to be dealt with swiftly and with firmness. Bullies need to get the message that they cannot get away with their behaviour.

Parents too need to be alert to their child’s changing behaviour pattern. Educate oneself to classic signs like fear, withdrawal, secretive behaviour, take some time out to question and understand the child and maybe, he will say why he is so scared.

Often, bullying takes place by students but it is outside the school premises, in the school bus or near the victim’s home, away from any authority figures. The child must be in a climate where he feels no fear in at least revealing that he is being threatened. Bullying cannot be dismissed as casual mischief by kids. Sometimes, it can have tragic and extreme repercussions. Treat it with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.