Field Notes: How Was It Not Bigotry?  


A day after a video where a teacher was seen asking her students to hit a Muslim boy went viral, we went to Khubbapur village in western Uttar Pradesh, where they lived and where politicians and farm leaders were making a beeline.

With the incident sparking widespread outrage, the teacher, a 60-year-old woman named Tripta Tyagi, said it was not a communal incident, but she was using corporal punishment to discipline the children. Tyagi, who teaches English and owned Neha Public School, a private school in Muzaffarnagar district (now closed), said she was disabled, and that is why she was asking other students to hit the erring student who couldn’t recite his multiplication tables. 

As the matter became politicised, Tyagi seemed unrepentant, saying hitting children was a common way of controlling children. As the condemnation grew, she apologised

In the video, the teacher was seen asking classmates to slap a student and was heard saying, “I have declared that all those Mohammadan [i.e. Muslim] children should be…(inaudible).”

The FIR registered against Tyagi said, “…the teacher made derogatory comments about Muslim women and said, ‘All these Muslim kids, their mothers leave, and it affects their education’”. 

Muslim villagers we spoke with, including the seven-year-old boy in the video and his father, a 42-year-old farm labourer, said the same—Tyagi’s remark was about Muslim children neglecting their studies when their mothers took them to their maternal home.

Even though another Muslim boy, the seven-year-old cousin of the boy in the video, was similarly beaten a few days ago, people, including the boy’s father, were adamant that it was not a Hindu-Muslim issue. A neighbour said that one of the classmates who hit him was also Muslim. 

While what had occurred may not have been what the video suggested, it was confusing to us how it was not religious bigotry when the teacher had spoken about Muslim women in a derogatory way. And don’t parents of all faiths take their children to visit their grandparents? 

It seemed to us that the casual bigotry was so pervasive and accepted that the remark about Muslim mothers perhaps did not register as communal to many in the village. 

As for using the term “Mohammadan”, a farmer from the Tyagi community said, “This is a way of talking in villages. If one is a chamar’s son, we call him chamar’s son. If one is a kumhar’s son, we call him kumhar’s son. Similarly, she called the kid Mohammadan’s son. This is the way we talk. How is this wrong?

“These Dalits themselves mention their caste in their forms to take the benefit of reservation, but when we call them chamar’s son, they say it’s wrong,” the farmer said.

With politicians and farm leaders making their way to the village, it seemed that the boy’s father, a 42-year-old farm labourer who works in the sugarcane fields of more affluent Hindu farmers, was under a lot of pressure to let the bigotry slide. 

The unequal power dynamic between the perpetrator and the victims because of their religion and economic and social footing in the village, in addition to pressure brought to bear by the politicians, made it difficult to discern how badly those who had suffered really felt. 

Read Kaushik Raj & Vipul Kumar’s full story here.

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