After traversing the trajectories of 17 Muslim individuals who are part of the education sector, watching countless videos of religious and caste-based profiling in schools, and witnessing the surge in such cases since the year known to us all— a disheartening realization is bound to dawn upon us, with innumerable disorganized questions and relatable remnants. As we are faced with blatant acts of hatred against the ‘othered’ masses, we often overlook the directed hate against children attending classes in schools as part of a diverse crowd, who are catapulted into a vulnerable position, oftentimes being handled by teachers catering to questionable opinions and stereotypes that they bring into a professional setting.
Nazia Erum reports in her book, Mothering a Muslim—The dark secret in our Schools and Playgrounds, “Eighty-five percent of the hundred-plus (117) children I spoke to told me that they had been bullied, hit or ostracised at school because of their religion…. And yet we don’t speak of it openly even within the Muslim community. The malaise is growing but not too many people know about it as the victims’ parents talk only to their circle of friends and family – and rarely to the school and media.”
As imperative it is to address and acknowledge the latter, it is primarily essential to make sense of the different tenets governing such incidents— the impact thereafter, the factors involved, the cries that go unheard and so much more. The trauma that latches itself to a child at such a tender age is bound to have lasting implications and to deal with this, we must establish an understanding of the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ of the same.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychological trauma refers to any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning. A traumatic event is one that threatens injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time it occurs— In children, motor vehicle accidents, bullying, terrorism, exposure to war, child maltreatment (physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect) and exposure to domestic and community violence are common types of childhood traumas that result in distress, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). Primary factors for the same are parents, caregivers, and educators.
As we delve deeper into the issue of childhood trauma as a prodromal factor stemming from abhorrent incidents of school violence, caste-based and religious profiling, ostracising, bullying, corporal punishment, and more such detestable acts— I find it necessary to draw parallels between the Muzaffarnagar School incident and the outstanding issue of childhood trauma.
A video of the incident went viral, wherein the teacher in question, Tripta Tyagi, can be seen making derogatory remarks about the child’s religion and instructing fellow students to physically assault him severely. In the video, asking the classmates to beat the boy, Tyagi is heard purportedly saying, “Maine toh declare kar diya, jitne bhi Mohammedan bachche hain, inke wahan chale jao (I have declared — all these Muslim children, go to anyone’s area)…”
As I rewatched the video several times, following a brief pause, I couldn’t help but ponder over some questions with anguish; What was the ‘humorous element’ visible to the one who was filming the video (is heard giggling away as the teacher passes derogatory remarks)? How many factors overlap here? What is the traumatic aftermath and impact of such factors foraying into the experiences of a child at such a tender age? Factors such as corporal punishment, bullying, and religious profiling along with an obvious stripping off of the child’s dignity along with several others are overlapping in the aforementioned case. The statistics governing the same are difficult to register within one’s utopian psyche.
University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Seth Pollak worked with over 50 people around the age of 20 and found that those who had experienced extreme stress as kids were hampered in their ability to make good decisions as adults. Furthermore, the End Corporal Punishment Organization reports around 45% of teachers in government schools and 52% in private schools reported hitting children to discipline them, What crops out to be alarming is that more than 91 percent of these parents approve of school corporal punishment and 74 percent admitted that they use it at home. The large majority (70 percent) punish their children when they find out that their children were beaten by teachers at school. (Agrasar, 2018)
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.”
Bringing one’s focus on religious profiling and bullying, we view the teacher as a complicit factor in playing a vestigial role as such acts are carried out by students under their supervision. The need for having trauma-informed teachers is even more, the need for having desensitization programs is essential and the need for addressing such issues is dire. Childhood trauma has lasting implications that make its way into adulthood. Most of the participants from Pollak’s study who had experienced trauma as children were now facing problems like criminal records, joblessness, and obesity—though a few had succeeded. Albeit it’s well documented that children who experience high stress are at risk for behavioral problems, the neurobiological processes that contribute to this are poorly understood. Pollak’s experiment addressed this by suggesting that altered brain activation leads to poor judgment in decision-making.
When we hear of such cases, we hold discussions centered around it or spread awareness through our socials—but, what about innumerable cases that go unheard? How are we to curb the fear that comes along with belonging to the marginalized and discriminated lot? How are we to deal with the repercussions that are part and parcel of being Muslim? The exploration into the deeply unsettling issue of childhood trauma stemming from acts of school violence, religious profiling, bullying, and other forms of discrimination presents us with a stark reality.
The plight of those who stand as witnesses to these incidents is an equally imperative matter of concern that goes unnoticed, as victims are solely seen as carriers of trauma. Another important observation that requires attention is with relation to such incidents being quoted as a ‘lower class affair’— these acts of hate know no bounds. As we consider the traumatic aftermath of such incidents, we must recognize the interconnectedness of various factors such as corporal punishment, bullying, and religious profiling. These factors, when combined, create a toxic environment that erodes a child’s dignity and leaves lasting scars. One may however compare the settings in the context of the intensity of such acts and incidents.
In the face of these challenges, it is our collective moral and conscientious duty to stand against discrimination, hatred, and violence in educational settings. By fostering an environment of inclusion, empathy, and respect, we can ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn and grow without the burden of trauma. Only through concerted efforts and a commitment to change can we hope to break the cycle of discrimination and provide a brighter future for the generations to come.