“Aapka favourite subject kya hai (What is your favourite subject)?”
“What is your name?”
“Ye sab nahin padhaya humein (We haven’t been taught this).“
“Does the teacher hit your child often?”
“Yes, she does sometimes, but this is the first time that she made other students slap him.”
Apart from the alleged communal slant in the video taken at a private school in Khubbapur village of Muzaffarnagar, where a Muslim boy was slapped by his classmates at the instigation of his class teacher, this little conversation with Irfan* (*name changed to protect identity) and his father Irshad, tells a story of the state of primary education in rural Uttar Pradesh. As urban media descended on the village, it became an opportunity for the children to complain about the corporal punishment they face in schools on a daily basis. Irrespective of gender and age, each child had a story.
The seven-year-old student and his parents are under an intense media spotlight after the video went viral on social media on August 25. On Ausgut 26, Muzaffarnagar police lodged a First Information Report (FIR) against the school principal-cum-teacher Tripta Tyagi, 60, under Sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 505 (statement made to incite) of the IPC.
Soon, Bharatiya Kisan Union president Naresh Tikait reached the village and brokered a truce between the two sides. “The sagacity of both sides helped in dousing the communal fire that could have engulfed the whole village. The children have exchanged toffees and biscuits and have forgotten about the incident. Now, it is for the elders to move on. The teacher meant no ill will for the community,” Mr. Tikait said.
On whether she was asked to apologise, Mr. Tikait said apology was “a big word”, but she had expressed regret over the incident.
Both sides said there was no communal angle to the incident. Nadeem, who shot the video and is a cousin of the child, said that when he reached the class, he saw Irfan being hit by other students. “Madam [the teacher] was saying that Muslim women go to their maternal home for months and the education of their children suffers. I found him [Irfan] being beaten objectionable and put it on social media but someone made it viral in a communal context,” he said.
Mr. Nadeem, who operates heavy construction machinery, said he was known to Ms. Tyagi’s husband but she was not aware that Irfan was his cousin.
Ms. Tyagi claimed the parents themselves requested her to discipline their children. She has a deformity in one leg and walks with a limp. “That day, I was feeling pain in my leg, so I asked his classmates to punish him. It was also a way to make him feel bad so that he would complete his homework. This is common in our area and part of our ethos. Arjun [from the Mahabharata] would not have become great had Dronacharaya not been a tough teacher,” she said.
She said out of the 60 students in the school, half were Muslims from the area. “Why will I talk against their mothers in front of a relative? What I said was something that I have observed,” Ms. Tyagi said.
However, later, she said she had not used the word ‘Mohammedan’, and that the video had been edited to make her sound so. Her son, who works in a private company in the National Capital Region, feared that he would be trolled for his mother’s faux pas. “We have no connection with the Bharatiya Janata Party,” Mr. Tyagi said.
Mr. Irshad agreed that he had asked the teacher to keep his son on a tight leash, but had not meant for him to be slapped by other students. “There is pressure on me but I don’t want to take the complaint back. Action should be taken against the teacher. My child is scarred for life,” he said. His wife, Rubina, nodded. “We paid ₹300 per month as school fees and another ₹300 for tuition and this is what we got in return,” the mother added.
Locals say there is a government school in the village but anybody who could afford to pay the fees preferred private schooling.
As the crucial State is warming up for the Lok Sabha election due next year, the political significance of the incident is not lost on anybody. With around 1,700 votes, Khubbapur is predominantly a village of Hindu and Muslim Tyagis. Abdullah Qureshi, district president of the Samajwadi Party (SP) Minority Morcha alleged that after the incident involving Shrikant Tyagi, the self-styled BJP leader who was arrested for misbehaving with a woman in Noida, Hindu Tyagis were moving away from the BJP. “They want to use the incident to polarise the social atmosphere. In 2013, they made it Jats versus Muslims. This time, it is Tyagi versus Tyagi,” Mr. Qureshi said.
Maulana Zulfiqar Ali, Shehar Mufti of Muzaffarnagar, said the incident showed that how communal vitriol has become part of everyday life. The BJP has only one seat in the five Assembly segments of the Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha. Khubbapur falls in the Budhana Assembly seat that was wrested by the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), the SP’s ally, in 2022 from the BJP. The party also defeated the BJP in the bypoll at Khatauli, which is only around 15 km from Khubbapur.
However, Muzaffarnagar MP and the BJP’s Jat face, Sanjeev Balyan, who met Ms. Tyagi, said the Opposition was trying to communalise an unfortunate incident between a teacher and a student. “It is a minor issue that has been resolved. Corporal punishment is common in this area. A divyang (person with disability) teacher who is doing social service should not be dragged into it,” Mr. Balyan said. He said the incident had inadvertently brought the roads built during his tenure to the Opposition and the media’s attention.
District Education Officer Shubham Shukla said that a notice had been issued to the school after the video went viral. “Our preliminary investigation reveals that the school was given recognition in 2019 for three years. The facilities on the ground don’t fulfil the criteria and the recognition will be cancelled,” Mr. Shukla said.
He said Section 17 of the Right to Education Act, 2009 imposes a ban on corporal punishment and it could not be justified on the grounds of customary practices. He admitted that students from economic backgrounds such as that of the child in this case should be in government schools. “We will identify schools that are not imparting proper education in the area,” Mr. Shukla said.
District Magistrate Aravind Mallapa Bangari said the family of the child had been reluctant to file the complaint. “After we counselled, they came forward to lodge a complaint, and an FIR was registered this morning,” Mr. Bangari said. As it was a “very sensitive case for the family and the child”, he had directed the Child Welfare Committee to counsel the child, and appealed to the media to not reveal the identity of the child. “The media should have shown restraint,” he added.
He refused to comment on the communal angle in the case till the investigation was completed.
Akhil Chaudhary, Station House Officer, Mansurpur said it had come to their notice that the two sides had resolved the issue between themselves. “But I have not received anything in writing. Our investigation is on and more Sections could be added [to the FIR], if some new information comes to our notice,” Mr. Chaudhary said.