‘Get away from the ball, you Paki!’ Azania, a young student of Vasant Valley School heard a rival football team member scream during a match. Nazia Erum, author of ‘Mothering A Muslim’, recounts experiences of Muslim children and mothers to begin a conversation that is both urgent and timely – about how bigotry is becoming the norm in the Indian classroom. 

  1. It has not always been this way

Nazia remembers how her brother was called ‘Hamas’, which is a terrorist outfit, when he wore a winter muffler to school. However, that seemed to be an isolated incident. An older cousin, Shehla Rafat didn’t face anything in the 1980s, though her sister got called a terrorist in school. Many parents, like few from Faridabad, had never faced any such incident. ‘Nopes, never heard. Are you crazy?’, she got a reply. 

2. Going deeper

Nazia decided that a few incidents may still be a sign of something worse. So, she interviewed 118 Muslim families from South Delhi, Gurugram and Noida – and she was shocked with the results. A hundred said that they had been called a terrorist or Pakistani at some point in school. Remarks blaming Muslim kids when a certain terrorist attack was being spoken about in social situations seemed common place. What was worse, this also involved physical abuse. How did this continue in school? Didn’t anyone report it? Nazia decided to go deeper. 

3. Parents & Teachers’ Apathy (PTA)

‘It happens’, this is how a teacher responded when Zareen Siddique reported an incident of hate that happened to her daughter in school. While many students and parents would often not report incidents of bigotry because they were ashamed or didn’t want to be labeled a ‘victim’ or ‘sensitive’, those who did were appalled by the sheer apathy they were up against. Parents of the bullies would accuse them of blatant lying. Sometimes, even when teachers witnessed an incident, they would remain silent. 

4. The trickle down effect

Many teachers say that bigotry trickles down from the children’s environments. Since the 2014 elections especially, negative rhetoric around cultural identity has gotten louder and more focussed. Conversations within the family, what they hear on the news – it all finds its way to the child and shows itself in the most vicious manner possible. One child actually beat up the daughter of one of Nazia’s interviewees saying, ‘I hate Muslims.’ What was more shocking was that such incidents were not confined to the 10+ years age group where the child may still be reasoned with. Incidents were reported involving children as young as kindergarteners. So, how do we tackle this? Shiv Nadar School demonstrated perfectly how an institution can focus on a policy of equality and love with effectiveness. 

What led to this policy? What did the school do? Read more about what it’s like to be a Muslim child in India in ‘Am I Less Indian, Mama?’ , which will be free on 20th July as part of our #QuestionoftheDay campaign!


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