New Delhi: ‘Osama’, ‘Baghdadi’, ‘Mullah’, ‘Go to Pakistan’… These are some of the terms that kids are blurting out, often unknowingly, at their Muslim peers in primary schools, leaving parents in extreme distress over the impact of such bullying.
Such hate has come and gone cyclically in the past, but in the wake of the escalating India-Pakistan tensions, there has recently been a rise in Muslim kids being subjected to religious slurs, which has left mothers shaken.
Most of them squarely put the blame on jingoistic television channels, saying that their “hate mongering” is leading to discrimination and harassment.
The ‘enemy within’
Nazia Erum, author of the book Mothering a Muslim, spoke about the trend in a Facebook post.
“Getting information from various cities that there has been a sharp spike in children being singled out, bullied and being told to ‘go to Pakistan’. From my maid, cousins, friends to Twitter acquaintances — everyone reporting this in,” she had written, stirring up a conversation on social media.
Speaking to ThePrint, Erum said in the last few years, religious discrimination in schools had gone up drastically, prompting her to write the book in the first place.
“But it is these ‘nationalistic’ TV channels which have promoted hate, the worst-affected of which are the children,” Erum said.
“When these channels talk about ‘enemies within’, use street language and deplorably low-IQ content, kids are listening to that. They are angry and hurt. There is a limit to the number of jokes and jibes they can take.
“Unfortunately, for many, they are addictive. Such content lead to a slow scale hatred within communities. Mothers are scared of not just the psychological impact such bullying can leave on them in the long run, but also of any physical harm that the kids may be subjected to.”
A mother who did not wish to be identified said it was a ‘very recent’ trend.
“I can’t remember facing any religious slurs or bullying because of my religion when I was in school 15 years ago. I was in a co-ed school in Jharkhand. Religion is the last thing that came to our minds,” the woman said.
“But I can’t say the same for my sons,” she said, adding they are often reminded of their religion in casual conversations.
“Even a simple question such as ‘Are you a Muslim?’ has an impact when asked to a five-year-old who is not conscious of his or her religious identity.”
Another woman took to social media, saying her daughter asked to change her name, because she didn’t want her name to reflect her religion, hinting at the possible harassment she could face because of her identity.
Need for a conversation
Erum said it was worrying that children wanted to hide their identities to evade bullying in schools. She emphasised the need for a conversation with the kids to ensure they are not affected, as early as possible, to avoid festering of such feelings as they grow older.
“It is unfortunate if kids are cornered for their religion. Not just Muslim parents, non-Muslim parents too should talk to their kids and tell them that it is not about their classmate,” she said.
Erum said she tells her five-year-old daughter to either ignore or laugh it off if anyone suggests she belongs to any other country but India.
“I tell her that if anyone calls her a Nepali or a Sri Lankan or a Pakistani, she should laugh it off to diffuse the attention on only Pakistan or her religious identity,” she said.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.