When his school announced a sports event, Samin, a tenth-grader, was as excited about it as any of his classmates. He went up to his teacher, asking to get registered.
To his disappointment, his teacher's initial reaction was, "You cannot participate, look at you! Can you even run?" Then the teacher insisted that Samin walk in front of the whole class to demonstrate it.
The whole class witnessed this ordeal and nobody said anything about it, nobody defended him.
When the teenager went home that day, he told his mother he felt like dying from the humiliation.
Adolescence or young adulthood is perhaps one of the trickiest times in our lives. We desperately look up to peers or celebrity icons for validation.
Even as adults, we always struggle to look 'beautiful' or 'skinny'. When we do not fit these definitions, we are bullied for being 'fat' or 'ugly'.
But it takes a heavier toll on children when they are told they have to look a certain way to feel loved and important.
Samin's struggle to become thin so that he would no longer be bullied for his weight eventually took his life.
He started a keto diet and lost more than 30 kilos. But by this time, along with some physical issues like ankle-swelling and extreme fatigue, he also developed anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where the person becomes scared of eating and when they do eat something, they tend to throw it up.
In May, his weight stood at only 29 kilos. On 25 June, he was admitted to the United Hospital with pneumonia. The next day at 11pm, Samin passed away.
While talking to The Business Standard, Fazlul Karim, Samin's father, said he now berates himself for not properly understanding what his son was going through.
"Anorexia nervosa, bulimia, panic attack – like a lot of parents in the country, we did not know what these terms meant. We admit our mistakes, but what about the teachers' mistakes? It is not expected that teachers will bully their students."
"Teachers need to teach children that bullying someone for being fat or skinny, or anything, is a bad thing. At the same time, they need to teach themselves that bullying is wrong. Children do not always share things with their parents, so the teachers have to be kind and empathetic so that children share with them at least," he said.
Samin was a soft-spoken, polite young boy. But continuous bullying made him scared about going to school. Often, he would fall sick before going to school.
Fazlul Karim said, "I may not have been aware, but my son knew these terms – anorexia, keto diet etc from the internet. Sometimes we forced him to go to school, without understanding his condition. He would not eat, and became scared of food because he thought if he started eating, he would gain weight again and then he would be bullied again."
School is one of those places where children spend a large portion of their time; it is also somewhat their safe space. If teachers or other students bully the children, the safe space becomes violated.
"A child can be fat, a child can have some kind of disability, all of these are absolutely fine, schools need to teach that. Another big problem in our schools is that parents are afraid of complaining against teachers," he added.
Shami Suhrid, psychological counsellor and lecturer in Brac University, shared with The Business Standard the long term and short term physical and mental impacts of bullying and how parents and teachers both need to come forward to ensure a healthy environment for children.
He said, "For the healthy development of a human being, appreciation and recognition from childhood is very important. When a person enters adolescence or young adulthood, during that time, for his/her self-esteem and self-confidence, appreciation and recognition is very necessary. It could be at home, at school, from peers to everywhere."
If children grow up in an environment where they do not receive any appreciation or recognition, rather they are teased or criticised for who they are, then obviously in the long term, their self-esteem will receive a huge blow or, a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence will grow in them.
In case of short term effects, they will feel depressed, confusion will be created within them, and they will start to withdraw themselves.
He said, "In our country, children grow up experiencing many 'injunctions' - a term we use for things like 'do not do it, do not go out, do not feel, do not be successful'."
"So when we are adults, we can only overcome these past influences by giving ourselves permission that 'I can be successful, I am lovable, I am okay the way I am'. It is very important to give yourself these messages. We call it permission, validation," he went on.
When someone faces bullying, usually they do not share this with others. So how can we identify if someone is being bullied? What behavioural change do they exhibit and how to approach that person? We asked the expert.
"The behavioural change includes- withdrawing into oneself, the child stops interacting with anyone or starts being aggressive. S/he is in an irritated mood all the time or goes to an extreme point – depression. These instances or behavioural changes, if we notice them, we can try to make conversation. It is very important that these responsibilities lie with the elders," he replied.
According to Shami Suhrid, schools need to have open dialogues on bullying where everyone will be taught that bullying is not appropriate. Sometimes the bully is also bullied, which is just as bad.
On the role of family members in reducing the impact of these effects, he said, "Unconditional positive regard- loving a child just the way s/he is, is vital. Parents have to make the child understand that they love and accept him/her the way s/he is, unconditionally."
The family members need to make sure a child receives these messages.
Alongside this, there are many other ways for children to have a healthy lifestyle such as getting engaged in sports etc. Keto diet is definitely not a solution.
He further suggested that positive interactions between school teachers and parents are necessary and there needs to be a partnership between parents and teachers, which we lack in our country.
The support the child is getting in the family must be received in school and vice-versa; this consistency is important for a child.
While tears choked his voice, Samin's father told us, "I have lost the most precious thing on earth, only we know what we have lost. The pain is unimaginable, but it has also made me stronger. Now I am brave and I will share Samin's story for as long as I live."
The grieving father urged parents not to ignore the first red flag, and quickly take the children to experts when they seem troubled or withdrawn.