People from all walks of life holding a candlelight vigil for T. Nhaveen at the compound of the Penang Hospital in George Town on Wednesday. Pix by Zulaikha Zainuzman

LIKE most Malaysians, I was shocked to read about the bullying that left 18-year-old T. Nhaveen brain dead. The details and extent to which the victim was allegedly bullied, abused and sodomised left me speechless.

What has become of today’s youth?

I sat the whole day trying to fathom what could have possibly been in the minds of the suspects who did this inhuman act; to go to the extent of causing burns to the victim’s back and injuring his anus and private parts.

What could Nhaveen have possibly done to be on the receiving end of those horrific acts?

I understand that it started with teasing and name-calling, simply because Nhaveen was different from the others.

Some of the words used by Nhaveen’s friends and relatives to describe his personality were shy, timid, gentle, soft-spoken and effeminate.

What this means is that to many of us, Nhaveen is contradicting the societal norms that defines a “true man”, one that is dominant and masculine.

Then, there are also the hyper-masculine stereotypes such as the classic “real men cannot cry” or “real men don’t wear pink” because all of these are apparently excessively feminine.

Likewise, women also face similar issues. Two of the strangest stereotypes I’ve grown up listening to were that “girls with short hair are most likely tomboys” or “girls who are into sports will grow up to become manly”.

My point here is that gender norms are still so strong in society today and the penalties for not fitting into the standard archetypes of masculine and feminine are severe as experienced by the likes of Nhaveen.

I can vouch for the fact that there are still many out there who are battling physical and mental abuse every day at work, home and in school simply because they are different.

In my opinion, Nhaveen’s tragic fate is a slap in the face for society because the root cause to this is our failure to educate our children or the future generation about the importance of celebrating individuality and not judging someone based on their character or personality.

It is our fault that our children have aligned themselves to gender norms and stereotypes.

To the brave young man, Nhaveen, I want you to know that you are a true fighter. May you rest in peace.

I hope that someday, in the near future, the public will be more accepting of people who seem different; that they will not be judged or ridiculed just because they are different.

In today’s world, individuals who are different from everyone else is labelled weird rather than unique.

This is what we need to reflect on and rectify in our pursuit of a more inclusive society for a better tomorrow.

Alan Ram, Petaling Jaya, Selangor

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