THE OTHERNESS OF BELONGINGby HUMRA QURAISHI September 6 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 53 secs
Let me start this column, on this Teacher’s Day, by saying that the teachers of the likes of Uttar Pradesh’s Tripti Tyagi ought to be arrested, writes Humra Quraishi.
They are destroying the lives of our precious children and impacting their psyches in irreversible ways.
Before this trend picks up, teachers with Right-Wing backgrounds should be identified. And, corrective measures must be taken immediately. What’s shocking is the fact that last week, a school teacher attached to a Delhi government school, made communal remarks, and even after the Muslim students of her class, and their parents, lodged a complaint against her, no strong action has been taken! Why? As it is, the Muslim community in the country is lagging behind on the education front, and these outrageous and communal incidents exacerbate its marginalisation!
As I reviewed the horrific video of Tripti Tyagi ordering children from her class to come up to the centre of the classroom and slap, as well as beat, a Muslim boy, I felt unwell. No, I couldn’t sleep the entire night as images of the helpless student being beaten by his classmates haunted me. What is the strong action that has been taken against this Uttar Pradesh based teacher, also her male colleague whose voice can be heard in the video, I demand to know! Should not both of them be dismissed from service? Are they not sowing the seeds of hatred and encouraging violence among children, their young and impressionable minds? Are they not putting the future of the country at risk by teaching fascist ideas instead of giving lessons in History, Languages, Science?
Together with the saffronisation of education, the space for the Muslim child is shrinking day by day in schools as well as in society. The already disadvantaged child belonging to the minority community is drifting away from classrooms because he or she fears persecution, alienation and confronts mindless violence.
In the early 1990s, Saiyid Hamid, bureaucrat-educationist (former VC of AMU), who was heading the Hamdard Education Society, told me that during the time he was researching the education scenario for Muslims in North India, he stumbled upon a grim fact. In Bihar, the areas allocated to build schools for Muslim children were converted into police-chowkies (police posts) and police-thanas (police stations)!
He had detailed several other factors responsible for the Muslim child lagging behind on the education front. He told me, "A prime reason is that riot after riot pushes them away from the mainstream - after each riot comes a major setback for the community and leads to the feeling of insecurity. Also, people who set the curriculum in schools and colleges have surreptitiously introduced material derogatory to Islam, and this factor scares away the orthodox from formal learning and embarrasses the liberal. Neither has the government bothered to set up schools near Muslim dominated areas. Instead, land allocated towards them has been used to establish police posts! The majority of Muslims are artisans and small shopkeepers who are tempted to withdraw their children early from school so that they can learn the trade instead of the alphabet. But I would say that riots have a very adverse effect on the Muslim child; they affect him in many ways."
From the early ‘90s the problems for Muslims have been compounding. There’s been a systematic saffronisation of learning and teaching! Soon after the destruction of the Babri Masjid, I had done a series of writings on the fall-out of that demolition on school level education. How communal bias hits the Muslim child, keeping him or her away from the school. I had focused on the increase in the taunts heaped on the child by teachers and fellow-students, and also communal slurs, aplenty, on the playgrounds.
Many survivors of the Gujarat pogrom told me that they had stopped sending their children to schools as they feared Hindutva goons attacking them. And, I’d heard similar rumblings from the survivors in several other parts of the country where the Muslims had been subjected to violence. Their apprehensions and fears were inarguably real. It spelt to me the death of education for the Muslim child!
It's even much worse in those places where the Muslim families are uprooted and forced to flee. In the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, they became refugees in large numbers overnight. Survivors were moved to make-shift camps. Until the well-engineered riots took place, a majority of the Muslim children were enrolled in village schools, but then the orchestrators saw to it that the education became inaccessible to them.
A polarized atmosphere affects the Muslim child in more ways than can be imagined. In these recent years I have been meeting Muslims who have narrated horrific stories about why they were compelled to pull their children out from schools – terrorising tales ranging from them being forced to leave their ancestral homes in villages, overnight, as their lives were in danger, to them receiving abusive and threatening messages from the land and political mafia.
Also, one should not be under the impression that elitist public schools are safe in any way for the Muslim student. There has been one report after another of harassment of Muslim students at the hands of their teachers. Let’s not forget the incident of the Kanpur student, just a teenager, Arsh Mohammad. He tried killing himself after his school teacher taunted and ridiculed him in front of his fellow students and even ‘searched for a gun’ in his school bag! This happened on the premises of one of the branches of the Delhi Public School (Kanpur).
Today new forms of bullying in schools are emerging – Muslim children better be comfortable singing Vande Mataram, doing the Surya Namaskar, and reciting the Gayatri Mantra. Do we even realize the havoc caused to their psyches, when they are made to feel threatened, and humiliated by their own school teachers?
I’m ending this week’s column with this verse of RONALD TUHIN D’ ROZARIO, titled ‘The Otherness of Belonging’ (Amity Peace Poems) Hawakal Publishers:
The Otherness of Belonging/And when autumn burns ripe/murmuring as a sage,/I do not hate them anymore,/In a burst of wildflower faces,/Return forgotten afternoons and wall/hangings/Forlorn. Forbidden. Forgotten/Wearing a foot of yesterday.//Into a frozen city on the mirror,/the storm keepers of the native,/Exhale a lung full of voices,/Their unbuttoned shorts smuggle/Across the windmill of flesh,/Sprawling the faded acres along://Shoulder stitch, armpits, cuffs, and collar -/Drown on a voyage to the sea./Crisis is a sad cactus plant in a/Live-in-relationship to belonging -//A rag of honour. A name. A heartbeat/It is then the sun falls over the eyes/Squashing the orange of its/sleeplessness/Fondness grows into a silent forest./The lips submit to the address of the/other,/Letting the kite chasers and night/growers belong. Ghare-baire.