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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 50-51, December 3, December 10 2022 [Double issue]

Communalism Everywhere | Humra Quraishi

Friday 2 December 2022, by Humra Quraishi

30 November 2022

I’m writing this column in the backdrop of last week’s incident, where a young Muslim student was taunted along the communal strain. No, not by his class fellows but by his teacher.

Mind you, that incident shows how, over the years, the communal virus has intruded rather too obnoxiously into class rooms.

Taking you to the early 90s. That is, months before the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992. There were ample relays that the communal virus was intruding into the class rooms of even the so called elite schools. With the rath yatra paving its way through North India, communal poisoning was made to spread, unleashing absolutely horrifying offshoots, intruding right into the schools. It was shocking to see how the communal virus was spreading out even amongst the young studying in the so called leading public schools.

Babri Masjid’s destruction and the reactionary riots that followed, did affect the students. Many Muslim children recounted painful experiences; they were taunted, communal comments hurled at them, along the strain: ‘it’s time for you Muslims to pack up and move towards Pakistan!’

I wrote extensively on this. And in a detailed feature for the Illustrated Weekly of India, I focused on the sudden rise in the communal surcharge in schools. I quote from one of my features published in the early 90s (in the summer of 1991), in the Illustrated Weekly of India — "In a Parent Teacher Association meet (PTA) in a leading public school of South Delhi, a gaudily clad middle-aged woman whispered to a parent sitting next to her, ’My son doesn’t enjoy the history class because his history professor has never spoken ill of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb… Woh uski kuch buraei nahin karta hai.’(he doesn’t talk ill of him). In another school, the history class on Mughal rule in India having just ended, a little girl walked up to her Muslim friend, stamped her foot and fumed, ’You Muslims have been so wicked to us… destroyed all our temples. Now I will take revenge!’ And in St. Mary’s Convent Allahabad, a second standard teacher called one of her students and asked her if she was a Muslim. The seven year old child wasn’t even too sure about it but the next day — after confirming her religion with her parents — reported back to her teacher, only to be humiliated. ‘Then what are you doing in India? Ask your parents to take you to Pakistan!’ said the teacher to the dazed child. And this incident followed by similar ones had such an effect on the child and her parents that now, this family is migrating to the US…Suranya Aiyar, a eleventh standard student of a prestigious public school in New Delhi had another humiliating tale to tell, ‘Around October 30, the history teacher brought up the topic of Ramjanam bhoomi and she kept telling the class how it was our birth right to have this mandir built at any cost. The teacher’s bias was picked up by the rest of the class. Soon anti-Muslim slogans were being aired by even the most academically inclined …it was sickening to listen to all this because I come from a secular background. But when I tried to argue with them, they were not even open to any views. So there was I alone pitted against the 49 students of the class.’ ”

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There were other offshoots too. As the former bureaucrat and educationalist, Saiyid Hamid, had pointed out that during his research work on the dismal education scenario in the minority community, he came across a startling fact: “In Bihar the areas allocated to build schools for the minority community were converted into police-chowkies and police-thanas! Tragedy is that we are not even aware of the fact that the 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.”

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One should not be under the impression that in these ‘developed’ times the elitist public schools could be without prejudices. One news report after another of the harassment faced by the Muslim students. A few years back, this blatant case of the Kanpur based teenager, Arsh Mohammad. He 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. Mind you, all this took place in the premises of one of the branches of the Delhi Public School in Kanpur.

Today, Surya Namaskar and singing of Vande Mataram are made compulsory in several educational institutions. Can we comprehend the impact of these orders or dictates on the minority psyche!

Not to overlook the fact that in these recent years, there have been distortions if not deletion of entire chapters from text books. Together with that, twisted versions of the historical facts. I would call this nothing short of lynching of facts.

Around the autumn of 2016, news-reports had come in of the then Rajasthan government’s plans to remove from the text books the particular chapter on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru…News reports had also stated that under the previous Right-Wing BJP government, students in Rajasthan were to be taught incorrect and twisted versions of historical facts: Maharana Pratap defeated the army of Mughal Emperor Akbar in the Battle of Haldighati some 450 years ago. This is incorrect. To quote historians on this: “This is factually and historically incorrect as historical evidence shows that Maharana Pratap, ruler of the Mewar region, had fled the battlefield, although in the later years he continued his guerilla war against the Mughals.”

And the Maharashtra government under the previous BJP rule had almost defaced the names of the several Muslim rulers from its history text books.

And the RSS’s intrusion into the education sphere was more than apparent, when the RSS-affiliated Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, headed by Dina Nath Batra, sent a list of recommendations to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) demanding a host of changes in its textbooks. Batra asked the NCERT to remove English, Urdu, and Arabic words, a poem by the revolutionary poet Pash and a couplet by Mirza Ghalib, the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore, extracts from painter MF Husain’s autobiography.

Nyas had on earlier occasions demanded the removal of AK Ramanujan’s essay, Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation, from the undergraduate syllabus of the University of Delhi. It also went to court demanding Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus, not be sold in India. Mind you, those demands were fulfilled. Ramanujan’s essay was removed from University of Delhi’s reading list. And Penguin India, the publisher of Doniger’s book, pulled it from circulation.

It gets relevant to mention that in 2014, government schools in Gujarat were given six textbooks written by Batra as “supplementary literature”, that claimed cars were invented in ancient India! Also, school children were told to draw an ‘enlarged nation’ which would include the neighboring countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

Not to overlook the distortion of the very meaning of particular words like ‘Roza’ (Muslims’ observe Roza or fast during the holy month of Ramzaan), published in text books taught in Gujarat schools. And in the summer of 2017, the ICSE board’s class VI text book ‘blamed’ mosques and Azaan for causing noise pollution! A chapter on noise pollution, in the text book published by Selina Publishers, focused on the sources that cause noise pollution. Besides images of trains, cars, planes as the usual or regular sources of noise pollution, there was also an image of a man shutting his ears in frustration right in front of a mosque! Relaying that the Azaan is a source of noise pollution!

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And in the Corona ridden lockdown times—2020- 2021, communal virus was unleashed along the set pattern, to demonize the minority community. Last year, Professor Azra Razzack, of the Dr K.R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, had commented: “When schools re-open it would be after a long and incessant exposure children have had to prejudice and hatred. The hate generated against following anti-CAA protests, the prejudiced narrative around Muslim loyalty and their being held responsible for the spread of Corona Virus 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 would be 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 the 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 Muzna Fatima Alvi, Associate Research Fellow, Environment and Production Technology Division (EPTD), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi, had this to comment: “Much of the discussion on learning gaps due to unequal access to technology during Covid 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 programs …More importantly, due to the intergenerational 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.”

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