September 03, 2023

Targetting Muslims in Educational System

THE shocking incident of a seven-year old Muslim boy being slapped by fellow classmates on the order of the teacher taking the class must not be seen as an isolated event.  That the school is a small private one in a remote village in Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh cannot be a reason to treat this bigotry as an aberration.

The teacher-cum-owner of the school, Tripta Tyagi, is seen explicitly identifying the boy as Muslim and asking his classmates to come forward one by one to hit him.  There is no doubt that the child was singled out for this type of harsh punishment because of his religious identity.

The incident has evoked outrage across the country and the general observation has been that it is a symptom of the hate politics proliferating in the country.  While it is true that the poison of hate is spreading through society, the specific way it is manifesting and affecting the educational system as far as Muslims are concerned must be understood. 

How the BJP views such anti-Muslim bigotry became evident when the BJP member of parliament of Muzaffarnagar, Sanjeev Baliyan, visited the village, met the teacher concerned and declared that “It is a minor issue that has been resolved. Corporal punishment is common in this area.  A divyang teacher doing social service should not be dragged into it”.   Further, he charged that the “opposition was trying to communalise an unfortunate incident”.  The fact is that the BJP, as a ruling party, is supportive of such Muslim baiting in educational institutions.

Targeting of Muslim teachers and students in government and private educational institutions is taking place in BJP-ruled states.  Towards the end of last year, in the Government New Law College in Indore, four Muslim members of the faculty were attacked for spreading Islamic propaganda and love jihad.  They were suspended and an enquiry was ordered. Further the principal, who was also a Muslim, was forced to resign on baseless charges. The home minister of the state openly supported the allegations made by the RSS student-wing, ABVP, in this regard.  Another Muslim principal of a school in Vidisha was removed in October last year after Bajrang Dal members made various allegations against her.  In Karnataka, the BJP government in 2022, prohibited hijab wearing students from studying in government schools and colleges.

Efforts are ongoing in BJP-ruled states to eliminate any “Muslim” cultural content contaminating the schools.  In Uttar Pradesh, in a government school in Bareilly, a principal and another teacher were suspended because students recited a well-known poem of Iqbal during morning prayers.  In Gujarat, in Mundra, the principal of a private school was suspended after a video showed students wearing skullcaps while staging a play on Eid day. 

If this is happening in government and private schools in BJP-ruled states, the attack is also extended to madrasas run by Muslim religious and voluntary organisations.  The Assam chief minister announced in March 2023 that he had closed 600 madrasas and intends to shut all madrasas in the state saying that they are not needed in `New India’. In Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath government ordered a survey of all madrasas in the state in 2022 and found that around 8,500 were unrecognised and the government decided to take action against them.  The government also ordered that all recognised madrasas should hoist the national flag every morning before classes start.  The implication being that they should prove their loyalty to the nation.

The bigger picture must be kept in mind.  The Hindutva ideology is seeping into the educational system. It is being formally introduced through the implementation of the New Education Policy as seen in the way curriculum and textbooks are being changed.  At the same time, the cornerstone of the Hindutva ideology, which is anti-minority, is being put into practice in the educational system in the BJP-ruled states.  This involves the violation of minority rights provided in the constitution, such as in Article 30, which guarantees the right of minorities to run their own educational institutions.  Madrasas fall in this category, but they are sought to be suppressed or their functioning interfered with.

The other prong is Muslim baiting as seen in the Muzaffarnagar school and the varied attacks on faculty and teachers belonging to the minority community as in Madhya Pradesh.  All this is part of the overall project to deprive Muslims of their civil rights and their rights as citizens, including the right to education.  This is the sure way of consigning them to second class citizenship. 

(August 30, 2023)