Tripta Tyagi and Puru, my son

Reflections from a Hindu Indian parent bringing up his son in a white neighbourhood school in north America where joy and sharing not prejudice and hate greeted kids’ return from a long summer break; a shameful comparison with what is happening in parts of India read Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh

From Monday (August 28), after two-and-a-half months of summer holidays, my son, Puru, will start the third grade at his elementary school in our corner of the United States. As is their annual ritual, the school invited all parents to visit on Friday (August 25) to check out their kids’ classrooms and meet with their new class teachers ahead of the start of the school year.

So we went to his school yesterday (Friday). It was a remarkably festive occasion. Smiling and talkative teachers lined the hallways welcoming everyone with genuine passion. Colourfully dressed children and their parents thronged everywhere. Many children happily scanned their classes to see which of their friends from the previous grade had made it to their section. Every class was a mix of new and old faces. To round it off nicely, volunteer parents doled out ice cream to children and parents in the cafeteria.

Puru’s school enrolls about 650 students from kindergarten to fifth grade. Some 80% of the students are white as ours is a predominantly white neighborhood. The rest of the 20% are mostly Hispanic and black students. A few must be mixed-race children.

It’s hard to find South Asian children there. Certainly, Puru is the only South Asian kid in his class, possibly the only across the third grade. I would be surprised if there are more than a couple of other South Asians in the entire school. Without doubt, Puru’s ethnic and national identity is <1% of the schoolchildren’s makeup.

As for the teachers, I’d say 100% of them are white.

Yesterday, after seeing the video of Tripta Tyagi, a Hindu schoolteacher in Uttar Pradesh, prodding Hindu children to slap a Muslim student in her class, my mind was inevitably drawn to several thoughts.

First, I resolved with great determination that, if I can help it, I’d NEVER bring my son back to India, much less send him to school there. Second, I started to think: what if one of Puru’s white teachers had asked the white kids to slap him because he’s Indian and a Hindu?

I wish those of you who are reading this post were there at Puru’s school yesterday to see what happened.

So many teachers who know Puru were delighted to see him. One teacher who teaches ESL (English as second language) class and who knew Puru in his first grade shrieked his name with a giggle and hugged him tight.

His new class teacher, Mrs. Wright, welcomed him to the class with visible emotions and then, a few minutes later, came by again to ask him, “Do you like your new desk? Do you like your new friends?”

I told Mrs. Wright that Puru would like to find people to play chess with. Immediately she held his hand and took him to the male class teacher of another second grade section and introduced Puru to him. That teacher is a chess player. Presently, he and Puru bonded and they’re now looking at some chess time together.

Mrs. Wright and her assistant teachers were delighted to know that Puru plays the piano. One of them asked, “Does the music teacher know about it? Do you play in her class?”

Some day, I will share the comments that Puru’s previous class teacher in second grade wrote every three months on his term report cards. Without fail, she’d be over the moon with his classwork. Once she wrote: “It is a pleasure to work with Puru,” as if Puru is not a student but a colleague.

Every time I go to Puru’s school I am absolutely amazed at how truly, deeply, unquestionably inclusive and welcoming that experience is, not just for Puru but for every single child there. I have not a shadow of doubt that the teachers’ emotions and responses stem from their convictions, because no law or diktat can force people to break into a grin and a tight hug if they don’t feel it. They feel it. We, as Puru’s parents, feel it. The love is real.

Imagine. Here we are. Puru, Sarita and I. Three non-Americans in a sea of non-desi, mostly-White neighborhood. We have lived here only three years. Sarita and I don’t even speak the American accent. Those who know us in our town know well that we are not Americans. Not for a second has anyone — friend or stranger — so much as given a hint that they think we don’t belong here.

At the other end of the planet, in my home country, millions of Hindus are now telling Muslims, who have for millennia lived on the land, that not only do they not belong there but that they will be bullied, attacked, assaulted, lynched, killed, jailed, prosecuted, persecuted as long as they are Muslim.

What a shame.


Outrageous, hate corrodes UP classrooms



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