The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has recommended that schools constitute a committee to oversee steps to prevent bullying.
The board has also recommended "methods of intervention" for schools to prevent bullying - oral or written warning, suspension for a specified period, withholding or cancelling the results and, in the rarest of rare case, expulsion from school.
The recommendations were part of a circular issued on March 9 to the heads of all affiliated institutions.
"The board (through the circular) is giving some teeth to the schools. Schools sometimes are a little soft when it comes to disciplining students but this circular indicates that bullying should not be dealt with softly," said Sharmila Bose, the principal of Sushila Birla Girls' School.
The circular states the anti-bullying committee should comprise the vice-principal, a senior teacher, school doctor, counsellor, school management representative, legal representative and a peer educator. A peer educator is usually the head student or house captain.
"The peer educator would give a students' point of view. Otherwise, there is a danger of having only an adult point of view," said Bose.
School heads believe the system would give comfort and courage to victims and act as a deterrent for the perpetrators.
Some schools organise workshops for teachers and also have an anti-bullying committee but it's not structured.
The circular says the committee should develop training programmes for employees, students and parents so that they are vigilant about bullying, observe signs of it and respond quickly and sensitively to the situation.
The board wants the curriculum for teacher training courses to include topics related to prevention of bullying in schools. "There have been reports in the media of instances of bullying and ragging in schools. Recent research in school education indicates that a major issue and cause for concern among students in schools is bullying," the circular reads.
Bullying is common in schools, be it girls, boys or co-educational.
A Class VII student in a city school who had come from a suburb was made fun of and ostracised because of her accent and failure to speak English fluently.
Instances of cyber bullying include a Class XI boy uploading his ex-girlfriend's pictures on social networking sites after the break up.
"We are all aware that bullying happens in schools and we deal with it on a case-to-case basis. The extreme cases are brought to the notice of teachers when the victims can longer cope with the torture. If the circular is followed and a committee is constituted, the schools will have a system in place," said Bose.
The circular details the types of bullying: direct (through physical intimation or attacks, verbal abuse, unwanted attention and advances), indirect (through spreading malicious rumours) and cyber bullying (sending unpleasant text messages, photographs or emails)
The board states the method of intervention is as important as those of prevention.
"It is recommended that there be a graded response system to address the cases of bullying... School's decision, taken after following process of fair investigation, should not be ordinarily challengeable," reads the circular.
The interventions suggested include imposition of fine and transfer of student from one school to another.
"The circular in all its ramifications is relevant because schools can take steps to control their children. In a way the school will not feel threatened when instituting disciplinary measures to help the child," said Reeta Chatterjee, the principal of the Apeejay Schools.
Schools also feel that having a committee will also assure fairness and punishment. "The committee has representatives from various stakeholders. So it is likely to be unbiased," said Bose.
But some schools also wonder about whether all the recommendations can be followed.
"It mentions the option of transferring a student from one school to anther. As a principal can one call another principal to admit a student accused of bullying? At the most the student may be expelled," said Mukta Nain, principal of Birla High School for Boys.
- Anti-bullying committee with various stakeholders
- Developing training programmes for staff, students, and parents
- Oral or written warning
- Suspension from attending classes/school for a specified period
- Withholding or cancelling the results
- Expulsion/rustication from school in rarest of rare cases