– Shayma S
A disturbing video of an incident that occurred on Friday, 25th August 2023, in a private school in Khubbapur village, Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh) has come to light on social media platforms. A young Muslim boy is being slapped on the face and back by his classmates while Tripta Tyagi, as if the conductor of a grotesque orchestra of violence, looks on and encourages them to hit better, more sharply.
Later, when the issue became public and the video viral, Tyagi argued that being disabled, she could not hit the child herself and therefore, effectively, outsourced the violence. If this is not an on-the-nose metaphor for the ground situation of hate and Islamophobia, what else is it?
In this case, children like puppets are being made to carry out and actively participate in the Islamophobia of a teacher; everywhere else you look, people from across communities and classes are participating in the grand scheme of anti-Muslim violence.
While NCPCR spoke up about the video and the need for the maintenance of the privacy of the boy in question, it did not see it fit to address the larger issue. The parents of the boys who were slapping their classmates are also nowhere to be seen. Do parents find it joyful or acceptable that their children who are meant to be pursuing education are busy becoming pawns in the hands of ‘educators’ like Tyagi?
Soon, we will be celebrating Teachers’ Day. Is it ironic that Teachers’ Day in India is celebrated on the birthday of Dr. S Radhakrishnan, who himself was allegedly accused of plagiarizing his students’ work, one Professor Jadunath Sinha? (See: ‘Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan: The teacher who stole from his student’s thesis’, Round Table India, 2016). Don’t we as a country have a collective blind spot for the many ‘kinds’ of teachers that exist in India?
Instead of mere glorification, shouldn’t Teachers’ Day be spent on the rectification, reform, and redressal of all those flagrant violations of students’ rights that happen on an everyday basis? No, this is not about the ‘scary Maths teacher’ figure or the teachers who are just a little too strict or boring. This is about the common prevalence of Islamophobia and discrimination that occurs.
Do a quick survey – ask around, as Muslim learners and students in public schools, is there anyone who didn’t face slights, insults, or discrimination from their teachers who would single out those who were ‘different’?
In a country that celebrates Dronacharya rather than Eklavya, recently, MK Stalin, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu made a striking statement while launching the highly appreciated breakfast scheme in government schools of the state that has seen over 90% of schools have increased attendance: “Once teachers were like Dronacharya, who had asked for the thumb of his student Ekalavya as Guru Dakshina. In the present day, Dhroga acharyas have been imposing barriers on students through the National Education Policy (NEP) and the NEET…This is the period of Ekalavyas, and not of Droncharyas.” (See The Hindu, August 25, 2023).
This is not to bash teachers or to say that every second teacher in the country is like Tripta Tyagi. Teachers have been selflessly spreading moral values along with their onerous task of imparting education. Many teachers suffer immensely from the increasing contractualization and vulnerability that comes with the job. It is no longer seen as a ‘noble profession’ by many but as something lacking glory and glamour. But teachers and the profession are based on self-reflexivity, self-criticism, and growth.
In fact, teachers of all shades must speak out against a system that results in the deaths of learners like Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadvi, Dr Anitha, or the tears and heartbreak of the anonymous 8-year-old in Neha Public School, who will perhaps carry the trauma of this incident with him throughout his life, no matter what kind of ‘compromise’ or how many hugs the adults around him engineer.
The atmosphere of hate and impunity that has spread across the nation, allowing everyone who wishes to partake in this new democratization of hate, is now visible at the most microscopic of public and private spaces alike, including our schools.
Tripta Tyagi is not a monster, a devil, or someone extraordinary. There are many like her in homes, schools, and offices who harbor a deep hatred even for the most vulnerable of Muslims, like children. At a time when Muslims and other marginalized groups have broken through their historical exclusion from education and are pursuing schooling with great enthusiasm and commitment, such incidents will be greatly detrimental to the project of universalization and accessibility of education.
Let this Teachers’ Day not be another tokenistic celebration of a homogenous idea of teachers and teaching but a moment of self-reflexivity to understand how deep the rot can go even within the education system if left to foster unchecked and instead, rewarded as it is being done. Let it be a moment to recheck all public documents, like the National Curriculum Framework and the National Educational Policy, for all possible biases and the privileging of one community and its histories and cultures over all others.