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'My kids were told in school, go to Pakistan'

Updated on: 02 March,2019 07:35 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Jane Borges and Pallavi Smart |

Muslim mothers across cities connect on social media to call out religion-based bullying post Pulwama; discussing current affairs minus bigotry in class is only solution, say educationists

'My kids were told in school, go to Pakistan'

Illustration/Uday Mohite

On February 15, a day after the Pulwama attack, a Std XII student and her younger brother were allegedly cornered by a group of boys at their school in Delhi, and asked to chant "Pakistan Murdabad, Hindustan Zindabad". The kids relented out of fear, not knowing why they had been singled out.

When the children went back home and narrated the account to their mother - a domestic help - she realised her worst fears had come true. "We are being targeted because we are Muslims," she told them. Her employer, whom she later relayed the incident to, and who is also Muslim, later posted about it on social media. This isn't an isolated incident.

Representational Image
Representational Image

Late on Thursday, Noida-based writer Nazia Erum - who last year published the bestseller Mothering A Muslim (Juggernaut Books) in which she spoke about the segregation of Muslim kids in school - took to Facebook and Twitter to share the concern of many parents like her, whose kids are now at the receiving end of the anti-Pakistan sentiment in the country.

Erum, 32, said that ever since she heard about how Delhi-based domestic help's kids were humiliated in school, she has tried to have conversations with her own daughter. "She is only five years old, but as a parent, I need to prepare her for everything. Yesterday, I showed her the map of India, and all the neighbouring countries around it, telling her that if somebody calls her a Sri Lankan, Nepali, Bangladeshi, Chinese or Pakistani, she should react with a smile, and think of it as silly, because she is Indian, and that's her identity. I deliberately mentioned all neighbouring countries, so as to not stress on Pakistan or any other issues around her identity as a Muslim," she said.

Nazia Erum, author, Mothering a Muslim
Nazia Erum, author, Mothering a Muslim

'Go back to Pakistan'
Not long before Erum's post, another Muslim homemaker had tweeted: "Both my kids were asked to go to Pakistan today in school... The teen (9th grader) ignored it, but the younger one (2nd grader) reacted somewhat. Both heartbroken [sic]."

Her tweet has been re-tweeted over 560 times since she shared it on Thursday, with several parents expressing anger over the manner in which the political situation in the country is affecting young, impressionable kids.

The concerned mum told mid-day, "My younger daughter had cheered when one of her classmates said that the Indian army killed hundreds of Pakistanis. Later, though, she felt bad about it. Then the girls told her, 'You all are same. Why don't you all go to Pakistan?' My daughter complained to her class teacher, who let the girls off with the routine 'Aisa mat karo' line."

Meera Isaacs, principal, Cathedral And John Connon School, Mumbai
Meera Isaacs, principal, Cathedral And John Connon School, Mumbai

Speaking to mid-day, another Muslim mother from Noida (name withheld on request) said, "Only two days ago, my 14-year-old daughter asked me if she could change her name. She said she doesn't want her name to reflect her religion. She is so nervous about an imminent war, and feels that she could be directly affected by it. I am fearful about the atmosphere my children are growing up in."

This is not the first time her daughter, who attends an international school, has been targeted. A few years ago, someone in her school bus wished her 'Happy Independence Day' on August 14, the Independence day of Pakistan. "We have complained to the school, and they have been organising sensitisation programmes. But the problem begins in people's homes," she said.

Fr Francis Swamy
Fr Francis Swamy

'Kids need to be sensitised'
Mumbai-based journalist Nasrin Modak-Siddiqi, a mother of two, says that one of her nephews had mentioned how kids at his school had chanted anti-Pakistan slogans in the bus, and he had participated, too. "But, a few of our paternal relatives are from Pakistan, whom my own kids chat with once in a while on WhatsApp or Facetime. For the last few days, I have been having conversations with my five-year-old son about this. I have told him that our war is against terrorists, and not any particular country. It really helps them sift right from wrong."

Another parent, Hamid Chowdhary, whose daughter goes to an SSC school in South Mumbai, said, "As a parent, as an individual, and as a citizen, I am concerned with these biases. These on-the-spot opinions are problematic and are not only affecting kids, but also the way adults relate to each other."

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Schools must engage students in discussions
Paul Machado, principal of Campion School, Fort, said, "I haven't observed any such instances in my school, but sensitisation is important and the easiest way to do it, is through communication. Today's generation is exposed to a lot of information and it is good if their curiosity is channeled correctly. Parents also have an important role here. Whatever children say is generally a reflection of discussions at home."

Meera Isaacs, principal of Cathedral And John Connon School, said it is important to ensure that such conversations are an ongoing process at home, and not a one-off thing. "In our school, we have a no-tolerance policy with regards bullying. And strict action is taken against both teachers and students, if found guilty," she said, adding, "With all the jingoism, a good move by schools would be to have discussions about discuss news stories every day."

At St Mary's School in Mazgaon, principal Fr Francis Swamy said he intends to take proactive measures, asking teachers to keep an eye out for bullying. "Irrespective of war situations, we have observed in the past that scuffles sometimes do take a communal turn," he said.

Rohini Agera, counsellor at St Mary's School, said that discrimination on religious lines can scar kids for life. "Schools have to be social and inclusive. They need to hold regular assemblies where these issues are discussed."

Anna Correa, principal of St Stanislaus School in Bandra, said, "It is important for schools to make a conscious effort to talk to children about the present situation. There is no way to stop the flow of information, but it helps to develop a neutral perspective."

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