Save schools from the pitfalls of polarization

New Delhi :I come from a generation when it wasn’t unknown for disobedient children to be slapped. Daddy never raised his hand. Though an army officer, he was an indulgent, soft-hearted father. Mummy was the disciplinarian and I’m sure I got a whack or two from her. No doubt, well-deserved. Infact, even at the time I knew it was justified.

But what happened last week, in two different schools, and inflicted on children of two different communities by the ‘other’ community, was very different. First, these children were not slapped. They were thrashed. Second, it wasn’t done to admonish and correct. It was to humiliate and shatter their self-esteem. Third, it was because they belong to a different faith. This was an outpouring of communal hatred. Not an instance of tough parenting. To be honest, it was deplorable, despicable and disgusting.

The first incident was in Khubbapur in Uttar Pradesh. Here, Tripti Tyagi, a teacher who’s also the principal of the school, ordered children, one by one, to slap a 7 year old muslim boy because he, allegedly, had not done his home work. And all the while she spoke pejoratively and tauntingly of “Mohammedan children” whilst encouraging the other children to hit him harder. All of this is on video and incontestable.

The second incident happened in Bani in Jammu and Kashmir. Here, a ten year old boy wrote ‘Jai Shri Ram’ on a blackboard. According to the FIR, when Farooq Ahmed, the teacher, saw this he “infront of the other students, took the child to the ground and beat him badly. He then took the boy to the Principal’s room and both of them locked the room and beat the child. They told him that if he does such a thing again, they will kill him”.

Both incidents are horrifying. Whilst we know only a little of the second, the first has dominated the news. Before the government ordered it be taken down, it attracted millions of views on social media. We, therefore, know a lot more of the response to the beating of the 7 year old Muslim boy. Therein lies my second concern.

Rather than demand justice for the boy, his father is under pressure to compromise, even forgive and forget. Some of this is from the champion of the farmers’ struggle Naresh Tikkait. He’s told the father to “compromise” because “the teacher meant no ill-will”. Asked if she should, at least, apologise he reportedly replied “apology is a big word but she has expressed regret”.

The response of village heads from the area surrounding Khubbapur is more depressing. This is what Narendra Tyagi, of Pura village, said to the 7-year-old’s father: “ Stop this drama now. We don’t want the media in the village. I want you to go the police station and tell them you don’t need an FIR. Get it expunged…or you will be the one facing consequences”.

Even the UP police have done the bare minimum. The case has been registered under sections which do not permit arrest without a warrant or investigation without court approval. The Muzzafarnagar police claim this is because Tripti Tyagi, the teacher ,“did not have malicious intentions”.

Finally, when Sanjeev Balyan, the local BJP MP, calls it “a minor issue” you can guess what will be the government’s response. With elections seven months away, it wants to forgive and forget.

But I would hope you and I can’t. Nor should we. The victims are little children. Not only have they suffered physically, but the mental trauma inflicted on them could be deep and ineradicable. It will take time and love to heal. But worst of all their tormentors were targeting them as muslims and hindus. That’s an attack on India itself.

Finally, this is not acche din. This is not the siren call of Amrit kal. But this could be the gateway to purgatory. That’s why these teachers must be taught a lesson. It’s the least we expect of our government.


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