For fifth grader Annisa Harniati, the first two years of elementary school were a traumatic experience. The 10-year-old remembers being cruelly bullied by her male classmates because she was overweight.
“They called me Sumatran elephant, baboon, gentong [large earthenware jar used for storing water] and other names,” said Annisa, who now weighs 53 kilograms and is 141 centimeters tall. “I was, of course, really upset, but not sad. I was angry with them. One of those boys was much fatter than me. He really should have taken a look at himself before he started calling me names.”
Incidents of bullying like Annisa’s are common in Indonesia, but most people in the country do not see it as a serious problem, unlike countries like America and Japan where bullying is often blamed in cases of student depression and suicide.
In order to raise awareness, a children’s musical film titled “Langit Biru” (“Blue Sky”), based around the issue, is in production. Scheduled for release at the end of the year, the film is a collaboration between Blue Caterpillar Films and Kalyana Shira Films.
“Langit Biru” tells the story of a friendship between three students. It features common problems faced by young people, including the search for identity, difficulty communicating with parents and bullying at school.
A public awareness campaign called “Stop Bullying” will accompany the release of the film. Well-known celebrities from different walks of life are set to participate in the campaign, which will mainly target schools in Jakarta.
Model and actress Tracy Trinita, pop diva Ruth Sahanaya and comedian Tika Panggabean, who have all been victims of bullying, will share their stories with school students as a part of the project.
“Before the film hits the cinemas, we will do a free-screening for the less-fortunate children in some rural areas of Jakarta,” said Hanna Carol, the co-producer of “Langit Biru.”
“We want to open people’s eyes to what is happening. This is a wake-up call for everybody.”
Psychologist Tika Bisono said schools are among the top places where bullying occurs, although she said it also happens frequently in the workplace.
“To sum it up, bullying can happen to anyone, young or old,” she said, adding that the abuse often manifests through insults, threats and physical violence.
Tika said that, in the vast majority of bullying incidents, the bullies are actually trying to cover up their own insecurities.
“In many cases, for example in schools, bullying is done by someone less intelligent than the victim. It is used by bullies as a way to hide their weaknesses.”
As for the victims, Tika said they usually develop a coping strategy. And sometimes, they fight back.
Annisa was one of those who actually physically fought the boys who bullied her. She said she wanted “to show them that I was not afraid of them and that they could not do such things to me ever again.”
“I hit one of those boys with my belt and once I hit another boy with a broomstick. He cried and told his mom when she came to pick him up from school,” she said with a laugh. “Since then, they have never bullied me again and the other girls are always ready to help me.”
In Indonesia, Tika said, the bully phenomenon has reached a “worrying stage.”
“I have had a lot of patients who have been bullied. The level of suffering or impact caused varies depending on the intensity of the bully,” she said. “But in severe cases where the victim is intensively bullied, they can end up hurting themselves because they feel frustrated about not being able to fight back.”
Unfortunately, Tika said, when it comes to bullying at schools, teachers and parents are often unaware of or unwilling to see the problem.
Hanna hopes that addressing the problem head-on through the campaign and film will drastically reduce bullying in Indonesian schools.
“The bullying problem is huge in Indonesia,” she said. “But we are positive that this film will help open the eyes of many and let them realize that there is something that can be done about it.”