The school I went to had 3 sections for each class. In my batch, all the three sections combined, there was one Muslim student. When I started class X, a new mathematics teacher joined our school, who had written her name on the board on the first day. By her name we had figured that she was a Muslim. Since then, just before she entered our classroom, and even when she was inside the classroom, teaching us, our group of friends would tease her among ourselves with statements like, “Hurmullah, Durmullah chole eshche (has come).”
I remember that year’s Ramadan very well. One day the teacher had walked into the class and told us that she won’t be able to teach us that day because she was very tired. Immediately we started gossiping about the system of fasting that the Muslims have to go through every year and how brutal it is. “Ora dhok o gilte pare na janish (they can’t even swallow their own spit, you know).”
And then the boards came and a rumor was spread that the external invigilators this time are Muslims. I remember one particular teacher who was advising us about time management and how she had instructed us thus, “Bell porar shathe shathe khata joma die dibi; aktu deri holei kintu ora Aurobindo’r oi chobi’r shamnei Namaz porte shuru kore debe (Submit your papers as soon as the bell rings; if you are a little late, they will start offering their Namaz in front of the portrait of Aurobindo itself.)”
I gave my ICSE, class X boards, in the year 2014, the year when “New India” was established. Modi didn’t bring Islamophobia with him in 2014. Every non-Muslim in this world grows up with some form of Islamophobia around them, in whichever country they might be in. It is in our history, it is in our present. We don’t need to be taught consciously that Muslims are different, a species which is non-human. It is just the way that the world functions around us that we inculcate Islamophobia, and it is there, even if you deny it, just like you deny that you are patriarchal. It is in the inherent way you see Muslims as different from you.
I am ashamed of the Islamophobic comments and ideas that I had been a part of, just like I am also ashamed of every patriarchal thought and way that I used to profess. Every day all of us are learning. The Mathematics teacher would anyway have been teased by the students, just like every other teacher of a school is, but singling out her religion when anyone else’s religion wasn’t being talked about, that is where the “special treatment” lies.
School teachers are regressive, and we realize that once we leave the institution and move to a place which is a tad bit more liberal. I can’t even imagine how these teachers probably still treat that one Muslim teacher in the entire faculty in the confined spaces of their staff-rooms. There was one Muslim teacher in the entire faculty of Hindu teachers. And then you will again say, “Musalmaan onek bere jacche (Muslim population is increasing?)”.
The Mathematics teacher popped up in my “people you may know” section just a few moments ago and I was taken back to these memories which stand in sharp contrast to what my beliefs are as of now. I wish I could apologize to her, for mistakes I have made behind her back, for completely belittling her personal beliefs. Let’s hope all of us are learning every day, only for the better.