According to a new book out in India, Muslim children are increasingly being targeted in posh schools for their religious identity because of the growing Islamophobia in India and across the world.
Writer Nazia Erum, who spoke to 145 families in 12 cities and 100 children studying in 25 elite Delhi schools while researching her book Mothering a Muslim, says that children as young as five are being targeted.
“What I found during my research was shocking, I didn’t think it was happening in these elite schools,” Ms Erum told the BBC. “When five and six year olds say they were called a Pakistani or a terrorist, how do you respond to that? And how do you complain to the school?” she asks.
“A lot of it is said in jest, it’s meant to be funny, to evoke a laugh. It’s subtle and it can seem like harmless banter, but it’s not. It’s actually bullying and tormenting.”
The children she interviewed for her book told her about some of the questions and comments that are regularly hurled at them:
- Are you a Muslim? I hate Muslims.
- Do your parents make bombs at home?
- Is your father part of the Taleban?
- He’s a Pakistani.
- He’s a terrorist.
- Don’t piss her off, she will bomb you.
Nearly 80% of India’s population of 1.3 billion is Hindu, while Muslims make up 14.2%.
For most part, the two communities have lived peacefully, but religious resentment has always simmered below the surface since 1947 when India and Pakistan were carved out of a single nation. The parting was bloody – between half a million and a million people were killed in religious violence.
Ms Erum says while anti-Muslim slurs have been used since the 1990s, after the demolition of the Babri mosque by Hindu hardline groups and the Hindu-Muslim riots that followed, in recent years their tone and intensity have changed.
The stories of children she cites in the book make for grim reading:
- A five-year-old girl is terrified that “Muslims are coming and they will kills us”. The irony: she doesn’t know that she herself is Muslim.
- A 10-year-old boy who feels shame and anger when after a terrorist attack in Europe, a classmate asks him loudly: “What have you done”?
- A 17-year-old is called a terrorist and when his mother contacts the name-caller’s mother, she’s told: “But your son called my child fat”.
Being bullied on account of one’s religion in schools is not limited to India, it’s happening across the world.