A video clip posted on social media showing a private elementary school teacher asking pupils to take turns slapping a seven-year-old Muslim boy has triggered outrage in India.
The clip, recorded Thursday in a classroom of Neha Public School in Uttar Pradesh state, shows the teacher, identified as Tripta Tyagi, instructing students to hit the second grader, ostensibly because he failed to memorize a multiplication table. The child is seen crying, as the other children take turns slapping him.
The 60-year-old Hindu teacher’s action received widespread condemnation largely because, her words as heard in the video, many said, were targeted at Muslims, sounding Islamophobic.
Tyagi appears to be saying in the video that she has “declared that all Mohammedan (Muslim) students should be beaten up and sent back home...”
The teacher, who is the head of the school, is also heard asking one of the students in the video, “Why are you slapping him so gently? Can you not hit him harder?” At one point she says, “His face has turned red. Now, hit him around his waist.”
The video — which was secretly filmed by a cousin of the victim’s father —went viral online among social activists, child rights campaigners and others. Many sought stern actions against the teacher and #ArrestTriptaTyagi began trending on X, formerly known as Twitter. At Jawaharlal Nehru University, students burnt an effigy of Tyagi and demanded her arrest.
The police chief of Muzaffarnagar, Satyanarayan Prajapat, said that the parents of the child had filed a complaint with the police and the video had been verified.
“The video contained inappropriate remarks (by Tyagi). Relevant authorities have been notified about the incident. Appropriate actions will be initiated against the teacher,” Prajapat said.
On Saturday, Tyagi claimed that a “minor” issue had been blown out of proportion by politicians.
“Big politicians including opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi have tweeted about this incident unnecessarily,” Tyagi said, referring to the opposition party leader.
“It will be difficult to teach children in school if such small daily issues are made viral.”
Reacting to the video, Gandhi tweeted in Hindi: “Sowing the poison of discrimination in the minds of innocent children, turning a holy place like a school into a marketplace of hatred – nothing worse a teacher can do for the country…This is the same kerosene spread by the BJP which has set every corner of India on fire.”
Defending the action of corporal punishment, Tyagi said that it was needed to “discipline and control” children at school.
“I am not ashamed of my action. The entire village knows me as a good teacher. They all support me,” she said.
Although in the video the teacher is heard pejoratively speaking about “Mohammedan students”, in a separate video Sunday (Aug 27) she said her action was not religiously biased.
“I am physically handicapped. I could not stand up promptly that day (to beat the student). So, I asked some other students to beat him... I made a mistake,” she added.
To counter the trending hashtag #ArrestTriptaTyagi, some Hindu groups have made #ISupportTriptaTyagi viral on X. On Saturday, BJP leader and union minister Sanjeev Balyan met Tyagi in her village and assured her of support.
Mohammad Irshad, the Muslim student’s father said that his son was traumatized after being beaten and humiliated in the school, and was scared and refused to return to classes there.
“I have withdrawn my son from the school. I will send him to another school now . . .. Following the advice of some community leaders, I went to the police station and filed a complaint against the teacher. But now, local Hindu leaders are pressuring me to withdraw the complaint and reach a compromise with the teacher,” Irshad told VOA Sunday.
Living in a Hindu-majority area, he felt scared as the issue had turned communal, Irshad said.
“I was shocked after I saw in the video how my son was tortured and humiliated. The teacher spoke about the Mohammedan community when my son was being beaten. But I am a poor tractor mechanic. I cannot legally pursue this case against powerful people. Perhaps, I have to do as they say, and withdraw the complaint finally,” Irshad added.
On Sunday, the authorities shut down the school.
“Local education officer Shubham Shukla said: “In our inquiry we found that the school does not meet the criteria of the department. We have sealed the school. We are conducting in-depth investigation before we take further action.”
Rights groups have noted that hate attacks against Muslims have increased in India since the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
However, in June, while visiting the U.S., Modi told reporters that in India “there is absolutely no space of discrimination” targeting any community.
Muslim children “across generations have faced discrimination” in schools in India but things have “fallen to a new low” since 2014, said Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, who uses one name.
“Now, discriminatory violence against Muslims is enjoyed and rationalized by society,” Apoorvanand told VOA.
“But one can glean from the teacher’s unrepentant stance that she feels emboldened by the assurance of impunity that those indulging in violence against Muslims enjoy. There is a casual Islamophobia prevalent in India which is denied by Hindus and the teacher seems to practice it.”