Saturday, December 06, 2008

Teacher calls an Indian Muslim student, 'Pakistani'

A teacher who was upset with a Muslim girl in a Delhi convent school, called her 'Pakistani' in front of the entire class. That's one of the instances mentioned in Zia Haq's story that was published in Hindustan Times and this is immensely disturbing.

If you pick up fight with somebody on the street because you don't like him or hit him just because you hate his caste or religion or his political views, I don't find it that disturbing because the other person has the option to hit back and protest.

But when a teacher terms the student a Pakistani* and termed a traitor for no fault of hers and the student's religion is termed undesirable in that particular group, it is the worst of all crimes. The scars like this (on the mind) take ages to heal.

The story has mentioned a few other incidents like AIMPLB member Qasim Rasool Ilyasi's daughter whose friend told her that her father asked her not to befriend Muslims. There are other such incidents mentioned in the report that occurred soon after the Mumbai terrorist attack.

Again, it is the incident involving the teacher that is really disturbing. I wish it is taken seriously. The story says that when the girl replied back, 'Excuse me, Ma'am, I'm not a Pakistani' and complained to the Principal, who just said, 'the teacher will be spoken to'. All of us know it is more than an abuse to call an Indian Muslim, 'Pakistani'.

It hurts terribly. And when a teacher says that in front of a class full of impressionable students, it is criminal. She couldn't say it to a Muslim on the street but the vulnerable kid for whom a teacher is all powerful, can be subjected to this treatment. It is not that the teacher may be from a right-wing hardliner background. Perhaps, she was simply airing the sort of views, our society often forms about the 'other'.

Unfortunately this form of crime is not considered heinous enough in this nation. Rationalism doesn't took root in our society and biases are openly aired. Either it is the comments like 'Ye Jhuggi-Jhopdi wale' or about 'These SC/ST' or 'These XYZ' depending on regional background of a person, it all reflects a kind of 'public sanction to this form of racist comments against any minority--be South Indians or Norther Eastern people in Rest of India or a Bhaiyya in Maharashtra or even casteist notions. This includes biases of men towards women who are not 'cast in the mould' or gays.

I hope that the school takes a tough action against the teacher. Else the student's parents should approach the authorities (police, human rights commission, education department and the Church that runs the convent school) and book her for spreading hatred.

This is because everybody is biased to an extent but when a teacher, whose job is sacred and is supposed to enlighten students, spreads bigotry and hate, it should not be treated as a minor slip.

There is enough hate in the world. Today's children will grow up and get their own biases. They will acquire prejudices. But let's not pollute their minds from our side, at least, this is not expected from a teacher.

[Photo: Sam Mason, sacked by BBC for reported off-air comments about Asians]

I too have experiences of my childhood, some of which I couldn't forget. There was the history teacher who openly said that there was no need to teach about any Muslim personality (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Maulana Azad and others) in history books or the teacher who hated me so much that everybody around sensed it.

And another man who said that a Muslim can become only a 'driver, tailor or mechanic'. That was all much before Babri Masjid demolition. Even in college, a senior professor used to ask Muslim students the logic of Namaz and spoke disrespectfully to some students about Islam. I know that in schools, often bright Muslim students escape the generalisation or such remarks but others get to hear harsh words like 'tum log to criminal hi banoge'.

Every individual fights it in his (or her) own ways. Some forgive the person, a few talk back, others fight. But I think, it is time we all realise that this should not be tolerated. No innocent child should be made to suffer or made to be felt like a criminal for something he has no control over--being born in a religion or family. We have to learn a lot from other countries in this regard.

After all, we, in India, celebrate when BBC sacks a programme anchor Miss Sam Mason, who had just told a firm that she would appreciate if they don't send 'an Asian driver' and she didn't say it in front of a group and the target group was also not very specific.

But was immediately sacked. BBC spokesperson had said, that though the comments were not made on air, it was unacceptable and she no longer works for her. In India Simi Garewal can openly question Indian Muslims' patriotism (she did it at NDTV's We the People programme) though a day later apologised due to criticism.

We are a great nation. We have certain issues also. We should make pledge to sort them out and make the country even better. We must learn to accept diversity as a beauty of this country and celebrate it. Let's aim for a better society free of biases and pledge that there should not be any tolerane for such acts. Don't let it happen to our kids. They are our future. [Link to December 6 HT story: Muslims feel the heat of 26/11]

*[Calling Pakistani hurts an Indian Muslim more because here the term Pakistani is euphemism for the word 'traitor' and it questions the person's loyalty to the nation and accuses him of harbouring feelings for the other country with which India has fought three wars. The bloddy baggage of partition.]