I see my students milling about, chatting, laughing, playing around. Some of them sit closely together, swapping secrets and begging sage advice from the wiser among them. Others joke around and tease each other. Some of them though, cast furtive glances around while chatting or listening, laughing or teasing, as if hoping no one notices how hard the are trying to fit in. A few of them are visibly uncomfortable, feet tapping, fingers twitching back and forth over sharp pant creases or smooth brown skirts. They cannot comfortably be their true selves. They hide away who they are: the geeks, the nerds, the abused, the misunderstood, the poor, the list goes on; just to be part of a crowd that makes them nameless, a crowd that will happily and easily disown them and make fun of their difference if only they got a chance. Or worst, a crowd that would ridicule and hurt the very fabric of their beings.
And these are ‘ordinary’ children. I see them and I think how much harder it is for our children, Shakta children. Children who cannot afford to pray too hard in public, as the slightest show of physical divinity will cause an uproar, even among others who pray to the same deities. I remember my little popo, a child that is mine even as she is not, telling me a story of picking up a lit block of camphor without being burnt, as if it was a flower, and then feeling self conscious as all the other students starting whispering about her.
Why is it so hard to accept that our children are special? Just as special as everybody else’s children? No different from any others except in their inherent differences? A great man fought many years ago for all Hindu children to have a space for themselves in schools where prayer and ritual occurs in ways they understand. Our Shakta children pray to the same deities, albeit in different ways. If a Roman Catholic or Presbyterian school can accept Pentecostal or Anglican children without ridicule, why can’t SDMS schools accept Shakta children without ridicule? Why can our children not wear their red tikkas, and shakti cords, and our boys not grow their hair?
It is as if the system we fought against to give us a collective space is the same system we use to divide us internally.
One day Shakti temples will unite under a legitimate and properly functioning body and we will build our own schools. And hindu, christian, muslim, shakta, orisha, baptist etc children will ALL be accepted as they are. This is my dream and hope.
Until then, let us not fall prey to the flaws we fought so hard to fix in others.