Nazia Erum’s first book Mothering a Muslim has been popular after its launch in December 2017. Two months on, the author, in a candid conversation with The Sunday Guardian, revealed how she has been getting response from different schools and educators who have gradually and reluctantly started taking cognisance of the stereotypes based on religious identities among school children. 

Erum’s book talks about how Islamophobia has affected children irrespective of what religion they come from. She explained, “A child who is being discriminated against because she is a Muslim will suffer, but the child who is being the bully is an equal victim because at such a young age, he or she has already learned how to hate a person because of their religion.”

Erum in her book has addressed experiences of various children in schools who have come across discrimination because of their religious identity and anecdotes of their parents on how they handled the situation. Erum said, “A majority of parents did not take it up with the school administration because they were not sure if this can be talked about. But now, a lot of parents will know that their child is not the only one who was asked by a classmate whether he is a terrorist or if he knows how to make a bomb. Schools, too, cannot deny that children cannot make such remarks or that their staff is any different from the people who are consuming the same misinformation.” 

Emphasising on the need to address division based on religious identities, Erum said, “Schools should stop obliging to the demands of parents for changing the section of their child because his or hers current class has too much of ‘M-factor’. The CBSE needs to ensure that schools, while dividing sections along linguistic lines, is not separating children of one community from another, like it has happened in Bhopal’s schools. Co-existence of children from different states, cultures, religions etc. is important for a healthy environment.”

Erum has written about how schools in Bhopal, while arranging students according to their elective languages like Urdu, Sanskrit etc, also ended up dividing children along religious lines since most of the Muslim kids chose Urdu as an elective language, while most of the Hindu kids chose Sanskrit. Therefore, an entire section of class only had Muslim kids, while another section only had Hindu kids. 

Erum said: “The schools’ reasoning in doing so is not entirely unfounded, since they are doing it only to make it easy to make schedules and time tables for classes. But this unwitting division has become a rich source to re-establish stereotype since most of the Muslim children came from economically weaker backgrounds, so their lifestyle and academic performance was weaker than the section with Sanskrit kids. Such division has taken place in two schools in Delhi as well.” However, Erum said that schools have started to address such incidents. “Earlier, there was denial. But some of the schools that I have mentioned in my book, approached me later. They wanted to know what can be done to discourage such discrimination. Some schools have started “Life Skills” classes where counsellors undertake discussions with an academic approach. But at the end, parents who harbour such stereotypes need to open up too and CBSE needs to ensure that any kind of division done in school does not affect a child’s perception towards his or her fellow mates.” 

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