Children of Muzzafarnagar

ANANYA S GUHA analyses the impact of riots on school

Viewing a television media channel report recently. on the fall outs of the riots in Muzaffarnagar was heart rending to say the least. Reports of people dying in the ‘ cold ‘ an expression as euphonious as the weather came pouring in countenanced by the fact that children were victims. The camps hosting people who do not want to return to their homes for fear of reprisal is nothing new, in this phenomena called ‘ communal riots ‘.
The shocker was that the Chief Minister of the state said that those who remained in the camps were charlatans posing as ‘ victims ‘ a brutal and unfeeling statement to say the least, in the midst of unpremeditated crises- a scathingly cold winter  and children suffering in this cold. An inmate of one of the cay stated that those remaining were not members of any political party masquerading as ordinary citizens, but victims who were too scared to go back to their homes. So this is the gruesome reality- in the ‘ refugee’ camps people are suffering and dying because of the vandalism of the weather, and the Head of the State pooh poohs it as a political gimmick, targeting particularly two ‘ National ‘ parties.
This is of course nothing new in the psyche of the Indian politician, but what is tragic beyond words is the sheer callousness and brutality of a Chief Minister, when especially children, who are supposed to go to school, and have fun with their friends are under an unmitigated trauma of physical suffering, with their poor hapless parents as passive bystanders.
Then the scene veers to the school where over eighty children, belonging to one particular minority community have not returned. Not a single one of them, says the teacher or headmaster. When those children who are present, are asked whether they miss their classmates, they bashfully say yes and reel of the names of their friends- all Muslim children.
There  is hurt in the eyes of these children, who cannot distinguish their friends from the espousal of a ‘ religious’ cause. This brings  my mind to the question, that: in the midst of such riots in India especially the baneful and sordid Hindu Muslim ones, what happens to children – children who are going to school to study and hopefully be professionals, children who instinctively love the sights and sounds of their school, and rub shoulders with their friends in a kind of blessed camaraderie, and children who do not understand dichotomies of race and religion, but who only know intuitively the ineffable hands of a lasting friendship? This is a bitter pill to swallow, but the hard fact is that education cannot take place in a violent ambience, that education is brutalized here, that the teacher has a role to play, but needs succor, mental strength and guidance to steer children away from malevolence and hatred. This is especially true in poor and rural schools, where the wherewithal is meager, and where everything like teaching can crumble any minute, in the midst of ghosts such as teacher absenteeism and corruption.
And then we have the Chief Minister of the state come up with a brutal statement as this? The same thing must have happened to children in the wake of the Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2001. We talk of teacher training, teacher education, do our syllabi for such courses, take into account these realities, in the midst of man made or even natural disasters? What happens to children in camps who are supposed to be preparing for examinations, or even the young adult in such situations? I read last year that a young Bodo girl in Assam, in the aftermath of the riots, and then lodged in a camp, wept inconsolably because she wanted to appear for her examinations, but she had no books with her..
So taking a flight from a political situation I take a trajectory into the world of education, and how in conflict situations education can and must continue. Those preparing teacher education material for primary or BEd courses can look deeply and sensitively into this  matter. They can be the leaders.
For once let us forget politicians and the likes of Nitish Kumar!. The school is the starting point for the child and is the bedrock or edifice, for further or higher education. Let us not forget that!

Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha

Ananya S Guha works in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Shillong (Meghalaya) as an Academic Administrator. He has over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience. He has six collections of poetry and his forms have been published world wide. Some of his poems are due to appear soon in an Anthology of Indian Poetry in English to be published by Harper Collins.