As I had written in last week’s column, that around Eid- al - Adha, there is an acceleration in the communal comments of the Right-Wing politicians. This time, this reached an all- time low; what, with a particular BJP MLA from Uttar Pradesh, coming up with a statement that for this Eid, he will not allow Muslims to sacrifice goats in his constituency, Loni, Ghaziabad, but if they want to sacrifice, they can sacrifice their children!
It was shocking and appalling to hear a legislator drag in poor and hapless children in this entire atmosphere of communal politics. The fact is that the Muslim children are anyway most affected in the communally charged atmosphere getting murkier by the day.
In fact, in this Corona ridden lockdown times, communal virus was unleashed with newer and fresher strains to it. It was unleashed with a certain purpose -- to target the most vulnerable in the community. There is scare and worry that after the schools reopen, the targeting of Muslim children could be along a more severe strain.
To quote Professor Azra Razzack, of the Dr. K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, “ When schools re-open, it would be after a long and incessant exposure children have had to prejudice and hatred. The hate generated following the anti-CAA protests, the prejudiced narrative around Muslim loyalty and their being held responsible for the spread of Coronavirus because of the Tablighi Jamaat story has further increased the ‘othering’ process. Having been negatively influenced over the past months by the rhetoric in the media, it would not be surprising that when schools re-open, children’s attitude to those from the Muslim community becomes problematic. Perhaps ‘corona’ would be the new abuse word used for Muslims to replace “Paki” with, or both may be used together. The singling out of Muslim children with “hey mullah” may now be replaced by calling them out as “hey Tablighi”…We need to be alert to the impact of all this negativity on the psyche of all children alike. Schools and teachers therefore need to be better prepared to address this issue. Organizing workshops for teachers on building sensitivity too is essential.”
And to quote Muzna Fatima Alvi, Associate Research Fellow, Environment and Production Technology Division (EPTD), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi, “ Much of the discussion on learning gaps due to unequal access to technology during Covid has focussed on poverty. What we need to recognize is that poverty is inextricably linked to religious and caste identity. We know from large-scale household survey data on education, that Muslim, Dalit and tribal children, are much less likely to own or know how to operate computers and cell phones, they are more dependent on mid-day meals and other school feeding programmes … More importantly, due to the inter-generational nature of educational deprivation, these children's parents are also less likely to be educated, and thus less able to provide and support home-based learning. So the poverty discussion cannot, and should not be de-linked with caste, tribe and religion, when discussing the current challenges to children's learning.”
The Muslim child is the biggest victim of communal politics
Mind you, this atmosphere has been building up over the years. Accelerating to shocking limits in these recent years. In fact, Saiyid Hamid, the well- known bureaucrat and educationist — he was the former Vice Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, and later he was heading the Hamdard Education Society — had told me that during his research work on the dismal education scenario for Muslim children in North India, he came across a grim fact : In Bihar, the areas allocated to build schools for Muslim children were converted into police- posts and police -thanas!
He detailed several other factors responsible for the Muslim child lagging on the education front. "A prime reason is that riots after riots push them away from the mainstream. Each riot comes as a major setback for the community and leads to the feeling of fear and 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. The government has also not bothered to set up schools in or around the Muslim dominated areas. Instead, there have come up police posts in the Muslim mohallas! 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 affect on the Muslim child. Riots affects the Muslim child in many ways."
Today, with saffron strains intruding into all possible spheres, the Muslim child faces harsh realities. Muslim families have told me the crucial ‘why’ they had to pull out their children from schools. Details range from getting uprooted from their ancestral mohallas and villages during communal violence, to threats from the political mafia, to their children being bullied in and around the schools.
Pogrom survivors told me they stopped sending their children to school as there was fear of the Hindutva goons attacking their children, on way to school. The situation gets compounded in places where Muslim families were forced to flee. In the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, most of the Muslim families were made refugees overnight. Displaced and uprooted. Stuffed in make- shift refugee camps. Mind you, till those Muzaffarnagar riots were ‘made to happen’, a majority of the Muslim children were enrolled in their village or mohalla schools, but then, the ‘riot- manufacturers’ saw to it that education was denied to the Muslim children of that area.
This fact also stands out that the government schemes meant to reach out to the minority community, more than often fail to do so. And one should not be under the impression that elitist public schools would be ‘safe’ for the Muslim student. Communal poisoning has entered the classrooms of the so called ‘top’ public schools! This trend picked up right from the Babri Masjid destruction and has been building up all through these years. Muslim students have told me that they have heard the worst possible communal comments in schools.
One report after another of the blatant harassment faced by Muslim students, by their school teachers in the public schools. The most recent one was of the Kanpur teenager student, Arsh Mohammad, who tried killing himself after his school teachers not just taunted and ridiculed him in front of his fellow students but even “searched for a gun” in his school bag! And all this happened in the premises of one of the branches of the Delhi Public School in Kanpur.
And then this also can’t be denied that a Muslim male child remains at the mercy of a biased police force and can be picked up for any charge! Yes, he faces the threat of what can be aptly described as State terror. I am writing this with details vis- a -vis illegal arrests and detentions of Muslim boys. For the last three decades I have been meeting parents of teenage boys and young men picked up by cops for interrogation. Many don’t return. Dumped in the ‘missing’ and ‘disappeared’ slots! This reality exists not just in the Kashmir Valley but also in the other parts of the country.
I have also met parents from Malegaon, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and from the villages of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, whose sons were illegally picked up by the local police.
As an activist puts across, “One is well aware of the fact that detentions and arrests of the young boys are not new governing tactics, but don’t overlook this significant fact that in these recent times when a Muslim boy is arrested, he’s called a terrorist or an 'atankwadi! Whereas, if the arrested is a Hindu boy he’s called a criminal or an 'apraadhi’! This alone makes a huge difference …all the difference!”