The stereotyped behaviour of my classmates traumatised me as a child and I was left with an identity crisis. My last name “Ali” became a centre of ignominy and discrimination. Being the only Muslim in a strength of 30 wasn’t easy. I was mostly left out as if I didn’t exist. I was ostracised and people avoided eating from my lunch box.
I never felt like going to school, specifically after Eid because they made humiliating remarks saying “don’t sit with her, she must have eaten mutton”. Sounding more malignant they would say “she is a descendant of Saddam Hussein”.
Once a teacher asked me in the class about my father’s profession. Before I could answer, a voice came from behind “butcher” and the whole class started laughing. It came like a knife passing straight through my heart. I was expecting the teacher would react, but he didn’t. His silence disturbed me and he ignored it like he wasn’t even present there.
The times when they asked if my mother covers herself when she goes out with that huge black bat like thing (burkha), I would proudly say “no she doesn’t” and then felt a sense of approval. I once made up a fictional story about the origins of my parents being born in a Hindu family, with a hope that I’ll be more acceptable and they’ll stop making fun of me. I was just 9 years old.
There was a time when I wanted to change my name and adopt one which was more modern and didn’t reveal my religion. I started hating school. Couldn’t ever reach out to my teachers, or discussed it in my family, that was my weakness and I would never promote it. School authorities must be made aware of such bullying and actions must be taken to avoid it.
All this happened to me 15 years ago, but it still persists. I become a terrorist when there’s an attack anywhere in the world. I become a Pakistani when I don’t cry about India losing a match against Pakistan. No matter what age or time, my patriotism and loyalty will always be questioned. I will always be treated as if the colour of my blood is green. I’ll be called an anti-national if I don’t chant, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” or “Jai Sri Ram”.
If we pay attention to the ongoing scenario, the situation has only worsened. What I experienced as a child is not my story alone, there are many who have been a target of Islamophobia. I don’t blame the kids at school, they too get it from somewhere else. They say what they listen in their families and neighbourhood.
Sometimes it is the media, books, newspapers or parents themselves who unknowingly transfer such negative values. Their ideologies are moulded in that way through a set of biased discourses. This communal bullying remains unaddressed as most people don’t talk about it. However, it exists at every level of society, from villages to the utmost urban and posh areas.
I believe that it is the duty of parents to not allow their kids to indulge in such behaviour. The teachers too must monitor these things and take action immediately. Schools must spread awareness and teach children to practice inclusiveness.
Crucial learning takes place at home and school, they’ll become what they practice at these stages. What’s the use of investing all that money in education if children come out as spiteful adults?