Editor’s Note: For the last 30 years, the Baha’i community of Iran has been deprived of access to institutions of higher education and forced to develop an open university known as BIHE. However, it now appears that a new form of discrimination is being inflicted upon the Baha’i community by barring Baha’i students from enrolling at primary and secondary schools (see, Iran Press Watch). It is against such a backdrop that the following essay is offered in translation.
By Samandar Mishkibaf
A friend once told me that when she took her first child to school, her little one who was a bit younger than the other child (and most eager to go to school) looked angrily upon her and complained as to why she had not obtained the same sort of birth certificate for her as she had for her brother, so that she, too, could go to school…
Years have now passed since then, but our children still pine with the same eagerness to begin school and learn the alphabet and more with the tender affections of a loving teacher… When August comes around, the hustle and bustle of back-to-school begins also; and the kids along with their parents set out excitedly to buy books, pens and papers and other school supplies.
But for my child, the excitement of the back-to-school month is one filled with great fear, disappointment and grief. So I call out to you… To those of you who enjoy utmost liberty in your lands … those of you who have the freedom to register your child at any time, at any school, and to send him/her off to acquire knowledge of all that she/he desire… To those of you who sit back in your armchairs at day’s end and give ear to the news of the world … such news as is meant to inform you of petroleum resources and of its price fluctuation in the world market … of the rise and fall of stock from this firm and that factory… or of rocket-science research and countries that have developed nuclear power…
I call out to you to listen to the cry of my child as he recounts his own excitement of the back-to-school season:
Is anyone out there on the face of this planet thinking of me … even a little? As the back-to-school season rolls around, my life begins its circle of an unexplainable fear about whether or not I can find a school that would enroll me… Would I be able to find a place that would allow me the opportunity to gain knowledge? I don’t seem to understand what difference there is between your child who was born on the other side of the globe and someone like me who was born in Iran! Are we not all – as children — the future of the world? Then why is it that I have been deprived of my most basic rights while some of you are sitting quietly in other parts of the planet in comfort and raise not a cry against such a perverse calamity? Or do you not consider my plight to equal that of a calamity? The explosion of a bomb or the firing of a bullet may take a life and release the physical body of its earthly attachments instantly… But my soul is broken every single day… No, every single hour in this corner of the world with the pain of this deprivation — and yet the world does not seem to care!
I walk inside the school registry office with my hand in mother’s hand. The man looks upon the form which mother has filled out and shakes his head in disappointment… A discussion pursues between him and my mother on legality and the sort, of which I don’t understand anything…. And we are finally sent to see the school principal. I look upon my mothers face with expectant eyes and she drowns my heart in a sea of love with her affectionate gaze. But the principal — who seems to have been already informed of the nature of our complaint — does not even lift his face from off his papers and shaking his head in a sign of negation directs us — with his finger pointed at the door — to take our leave… And I realize that this school, too, like the one before does not allow a space for me…
From news clips on television and listening to my parents’ conversations, I gather that there are countries in other parts of the world that give children great importance and in which governments actually support and protect tender souls…. I hear that those governments actually come up with ways and means of facilitating education for children from every walk of life, because they believe their children are their nation’s greatest assets for the future.
I cannot fathom why it is not so in my land!!! I am being tossed around from one school to the other; and — even if one were to enroll me — would I dare contemplate the manner in which I would be treated there? I hear the reason for this chaotic treatment of my enrolment is because my parents are Baha’is. I have heard of a word here and there which I am told is used to define a virtue… A virtue, of which some are possessed and some are not. .. The word is “fair-mindedness”… It seems that school principals in Iran are amongst those who are not possessed of this virtue. I am sure though that they receive their orders from higher up… I am also certain that most of you are fair-minded, and so I dare ask you: “Why don’t you raise your voices in my defense? Why don’t you speak out and say “that it is every human being’s right to gain an education and that no-one should remain illiterate in today’s world”? Why do you busy your minds only with such issues as nuclear energy? Why do you show interest only in such news as those pertaining to wars and homicide? Why have you all forgotten me? Why don’t the powerful men of this world stand up for a defenseless child like me? Why do most people define nobility only in involvement in matters of an astronomical proportion? What would you do if your own child was afflicted with such atrocity? Would you not expect others to stand up for you and for your children? Why then — I ask again — have you forgotten me?”
These are questions that are burning away in the hearts of many Baha’i children, pre-youth and youth in Iran who are afflicted every year at this time with the fear and dilemma of deprivation from education while everyone else is enjoying the excitement of the “back-to-school” season… Is anyone out there who would give ear to this call? Can anyone hear the cries of my child?
[Translation contributed by Gloria Yazdani.]