By Mohammad Farhan
Author, speaker, and entrepreneur, Narzia Erum’s recent tear-jerker memoir, Mothering a Muslim, unveils bleak realities of communal hatred among the school children in India. The book is an eclectic assortment of lived experiences of Muslim mothers whose children are bullied in schools for their religious identity. Commenting on the issue of communal bullying in schools, the young author says, “the situation is complex and I sincerely hope all parents, educators and schools will take this as an eye-opener and individually and collectively think of measures to counter the hate that seems to be in the air.” In this conversation with Mohammad Farhan, Nazia Erum talks about her research on communal intolerance among the school goers. Excerpts:
Mohammad Farhan: Did you start writing the book as a mother, when your daughter faced the challenges of communal hatred in her school?
Nazia Erum: No, these are mostly experiences of the 100 plus mothers from 12 cities with whom I have spoken. In that sense it is a collective memoir.
MF: How do you see this venomous politics of identity impinging on the psyche of our children and its consequences?
NE: Hate will suck in all children irrespective of their religion. This is about all kids in the world and how they are fast becoming the unseen collateral damage of hate politics.
Most Muslim children, even when they have not faced any direct aggressive communal bullying, will definitely identify with low-key but repetitive comments. Such jokes usually don’t ring alarm bells for parents. Many mothers dismissed such incidents as harmless banter that need not be given undue importance. While physical violence is immediately recognized as damaging, verbal violence is seldom recognized for the harm it can cause as the implied meanings are internalized by our young. I asked the mothers if the Muslim kids can retaliate in the same way – can a non-Muslim student be called a terrorist or Pakistani in ‘harmless jokes’? The answers were almost always a vehement ‘No’.
MF: As you said in the preface of your book that you visited 145 families to explore the issues of abuse that Muslim children face in schools. What criteria did you set for selecting these particular families?
NE: This began as a very personal journey to learn from my counterparts. So the women were mostly educated working women from the middle or upper middle class. The findings tell us that religious intolerance and bigotry transcend all classes and social strata.
MF: How do you find the parents reacting and trying to counter the problems of communal hatred that their children face in schools?
NE: Most children and parents are embarrassed about it and believe it to be stray incidents. But the less they talk and report about it, the more it keeps happening. If we can’t handle discussing sex or sexual abuse, then how will we handle cases of misogyny, homophobia, casteism and in the last decade or so the rise of Islamophobia, which has certainly moved from our drawing rooms to the classrooms and school corridors? Students who are victimized are rarely going to report the matter to teachers. The situation is complex and I sincerely hope all parents, educators and schools will take this as an eye-opener and individually and collectively think of measures to counter the hate that seems to be in the air. Otherwise we will be guilty of setting these young people on the path to becoming hate-filled adults as hate swallows both – the tormentor and the tormented.
MF: Do you think that the communal biases are growing rapidly in schools now more than ever?
NE: Not just in schools, but everywhere across the world. Schools and children only mirror the society we have become. And it’s not someone else. It’s you and me. Be it our complicity or complacency, we are all equally responsible.
MF: Which books did you find the most helpful when writing Mothering A Muslims? Any recommendations?
NE: I did not refer to any books as such but the storytelling in Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Nights has always stayed with me.
Mohammad Farhan is a young poet, creative writer, and a research scholar. He’s working on the poetry of exile for his research thesis at Aligarh Muslim University. He writes literary essays and book reviews for national and international newspapers and magazines. He’s a regular contributor to Bangladesh’s most read newspaper, The Daily Star. His articles can also be read in the National Herald and Rising Kashmir. His book reviews can be found in several magazines and journal including Indian Literature (Sahitya Academy). He can be reached at: mohd.farhannew.@gmail.com
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