Tag Archives: India

Informal schools: Warriors against illiteracy in India and Pakistan

 

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CHASING ILLITERACY: The mobile school (bus) moves to various locations in Gurgaon: PHOTO Sarah Khan / AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, JMI.

By:  Madhuraj / Sarah Khan / Barbrah / Tehseen Abbas

New Delhi / Karachi / Jaipur / Multan : In a slum on the outer periphery of Gurgaon — far away from all the trappings of luxury, lives Pooja — a young bright-eyed girl who dreams of a better life.  Like many her age, Pooja is not privileged to receive education at a private school. The 15-year-old hails from a family of poor migrants, who have never witnessed the miracles of education.

Pooja is enrolled at a small makeshift school with a frail structure and temporary ceiling that shivers when strong winds blow.

“I want to become a teacher,”  she says in a brittle voice.  

Her face glows with joy every time she talks about her school. Pooja’s school  is no ordinary school. She receives education at a mobile school.

Across the Radcliffe line in Maripur, Karachi, approximately, 1,000 km away from Pooja, lives Roshail Atta Mahommad. The 17-year-old has an uncanny resemblance to Pooja’s situation. She too has defied all social and cultural odds for education. Roshail, like Pooja, wants to become a teacher and contribute to her community’s well being.

Even after seventy years of independence, millions of children in India and Pakistan are deprived of education. Both countries are confronting the perils of their failure to educate their, citizens, notably the poor.  Pooja and Roshail are among the deprived generation who were left out of the state-run education system in their respective countries.

The two may have been divided by border, but they are united by the failure of their governments to fulfill their basic fundamental right to education.

For decades governments in India have made tall symbolic promises about improving the state  of education in India. They’ve conceived policies and plans that have been nothing more than toothless paper tigers.  The Bharatiya Janta Party-led government in Delhi has slashed education spending by nearly 50% in the last 4 year. Such misplaced national priorities deprive many like Pooja of education — a promised universal birthright.

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EDUCATION ON WHEELS:  A busy day in class for Mobile school students in Gurgaon: PHOTO Sarah Khan / AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, JMI.

Echoes of similar hollow political promises are also responsible for the burgeoning education crisis in Pakistan.

The two nuclear rivals  inherit innumerable common issues. Education is one of them. In many ways their approach to address the issue has been similar too. The two arch-rivals have identical  laws that ensure free and compulsory education but little has been done to implement them. The Right to Education Act, 2009 (RTE) in India recognizes free and compulsory education for children between the age of six and 14, under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution.

Similarly, in Pakistan Article 25-A of the Constitution, guarantees the right to free education to all children between the ages of five to sixteen. RTE was enrolled, in both countries, with the idea to improve the state of education, it has been haunted by procedural inefficiencies.

According to Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM) report, an estimated 22.8 million children are out of school between five and 16 in Pakistan and those who do go to school haven’t even achieved the basic learning levels.

The Heroes

When governments fail to deliver fundamental rights, people rise to help their communities. Sandeep Rajput in India and Gamwar Baloch in Pakistan are two heroes.

The mobile school, run by Rajput, 41, is a free education facility on four wheels. Rajput is known for chasing illiteracy in decrepit areas of Gurgaon in an old public bus. The decommissioned vehicle, once used by commuter, is now reconfigured to serve as a classroom on wheels. It is equipped with small tables and everything else a teacher might need to run a classroom. Rajput’s school on wheels — as it’s commonly known, is also recognized by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS).

Rajput blames the government for failing to support free education.  “The school in this area was visited by a local commissioner once who made tall promises but we’re still waiting for him to deliver upon them.”

With limited resources, Rajput claims that the school is self sufficient and runs with the help of independent donors or funds provided by corporate organisations.

“So what if they can’t go to a school, we can ensure that a school reaches their door steps and that’s where our mobile school plays a crucial role,” Rajput says passionately.

Like Rajput, Pakistan too has a warrior, who fights the war against an unfair educational system. In 2013, Gamwar Baloch, 21, established a makeshift school named “Tikri Education Center”. The school provides free education to the deprived students in Maripur — a neighbourhood of Kiamari town in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi. Baloch helps those who have been neglected by the state and are at the very bottom of Pakistan’s social ladder.  

Infrastructure is weak at her school. There are no benches and there are no desks. All of her 300 students are seated on the floor during class hours. Roshail was one of those students who survived the challenges and made it through. She now teaches along with Baloch, who is supported by a staff of  three permanent teachers at the school.

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“I don’t want girls from my community to suffer or struggle for education,” says Roshail, who has joined Baloch’s small army of heroes fighting the war against illiteracy in Maripur.

Despite all the political promises of promoting equality, education has become a crucial marker of inequality in both India and Pakistan. In Rajasthan, education remains a distant dream for Pooja and many like her.

“I want to pursue so many things but that is not possible,” she says with a tinge of hopelessness in her voice.

The Struggle

In her hostel-cum-school building, Shivani has found a quiet corner, for herself, to study in a big shared room. She has her medical entrance examination approaching in 15 days. Her days are spent surrounded by  medical books piled on top of each other. She is not an ordinary girl and her struggle sets her apart from the two hundred thousand medical aspirants. The 19-year-old recollects her childhood with memories of her father abandoning her after her mother’s death, and a careless family structure. Her past hasn’t deterred her spirits.    

Shivani was enrolled in a makeshift school in Jaipur, Rajasthan, when she was four years old. After several years of teaching students in open spaces, parks, under makeshift tents, the school finally moved to a three-storey building in 2008 where she studies and resides along with many children who have been deprived of education by an unfair state-run system. The school is run by 66-year-old Vimla Kumawat whom the children fondly refer to, as “Dadi”. The school has been named – Sewa Bharati Bal Vidyalaya, after the organisation, Sewa Bharati, which is one of the major donors of the school.   

The stories of struggle by children of marginalized communities in India and Pakistan have an uncanny resemblance. Away from the deserts of Rajasthan, India, along the banks of Chenab river,  resides Mohammed Siddiq, who is the founder of Ujala foundation — a temporary school  for the underprivileged students in Multan. One such student is Iqra whose illiterate parents dreamt of educating their daughter. Owing to financial constraints, they couldn’t provide for her education. However, Siddiq’s makeshift school ensured that children like Iqra do not remain deprived of education.

Now she vows to help children who belong to the bottom of Multan’s multilayered society where Saddiq’s makeshift school is their only hope and individuals like her are saviors. 

Initiatives by local super heroes  like Vimla Kumawat and Mohammed Siddiq play a pivotal  role in the lives of children who are struggling to acquire good education — a fundamental and promised Constitutional right in Pakistan and India.

Shivani’s journey from a life of ignominy as a ragpicker to a medical aspirant studying in a premier coaching institute of the city, is a journey from the margins to the mainstream. However, the community in which she was born, Valmiki (Dalit), is still hesitant to allow  girls to study.

“If Shivani clears her medical entrance, it will be a beacon of hope for the children and motivate them to push their boundaries,” remarks Kumawat, her eyes carrying a hope for a better future.

For Shivani’s admission in a medical coaching program, Kumawat had waited two days at the reception of the coaching institute in the hope that she would get a fee waiver. The journey hasn’t entirely been easy for Kumawat. Coping with the lack of money, she has had a tough time managing the needs and expenses. 

“There have been days when I couldn’t even provide the students with notebooks but I’ve never given up,” says Kumawat with her usual politeness and unwavering resolve to fight the battle against an unfair education system in India.  

Siddiq faces a similar situation in Pakistan. He does not receive any support from any organization, “I believe that education of underprivileged children is the society’s responsibility,” says Siddiq.

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Vimla Kumawat’s school in Jaipur’s Mahesh Nagar has another branch on the outskirts of the pink city, in Baksawala. The area is inhabited by people from the Dalit community, who live in slums. Their homes are located along the main road and the nearest government school is one-and-half kilometers away.

“Parents are reluctant to send their children to government school because they have to cover this distance by foot” says Ashok, the upkeeper of Baksawala makeshift school. The school at Baksawala has no permanent structure. Children study under a tree or out in the open, fighting the high temperatures in Rajasthan.

Ashok runs the school with two more volunteers. They found an abandoned building for children to study. The children are crammed in tiny congested rooms with little space for movement. A small window and the classroom door act as the only source of natural light and air.

For the deficiencies in the education system,  K. B. Kothari, managing trustee of Pratham Education Foundation, a charitable trust that works towards the provision of quality education to the underprivileged children in India, puts the blames squarely on the political leadership in the country. 

“The major responsibility for this (failure) must be attributed to political leadership at all levels,” Kothari says. 

Nevertheless, both India and Pakistan have heroes like Kumawat and Siddiq. And then there are warriors like Shivani and Iqra.  They stand tall against all odds and against all failures. 

“I used to roam around garbage for rag-picking,” Shivani recalls without batting an eye. “I dream of becoming a doctor now,” she says with a glow on her face.

 

 

 

Predators turned protectors: India, Pakistan involve communities to save endangered species

By Arslan Sheikh, Farkhanda Ashfaq, Shahzaib Naik and Tanishka Mehtani

Separated by the perennially hostile Radcliffe line Pakistan’s Multan and India’s Sawai Madhopur share a unique example of conserving endangered wildlife. These two regions in the sub-continent stand tall for turning indigenous groups, which were once considered imminent threats, into major stakeholders responsible for conservation of biodiversity they live in.

Sharing a rich biodiversity, Multan, Punjab (Pakistan) and Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan (India) are home to the endangered Indus River dolphins and Royal Bengal tigers, respectively. The animals make for a global attraction, and drive ecotourism in the areas. However, not long ago, their numbers were fast declining. In such a critical situation, local communities, who used to be part of the problem, are emerging as the solution.

In early 2000s, tiger population in southeastern Rajasthan’s Ranthambore National Park had fallen to an all-time-low of 17. This was in line with the nationwide trend of rapidly declining tiger population. The alarmingly low population prompted Rajasthan’s Forest Department to spring into action, and adopt new strategies to protect India’s national animal. Today, the park is home to 67 tigers.

A key driver of this change is the local Mogya tribe, erstwhile notorious for poaching tigers in the name of crop-protection. The forest department, with the support of Tiger Watch, a local NGO, unearthed a distinct pattern among poachers who had been arrested; an overwhelming majority belonged to the same local tribe — Mogyas.


Mogyas reside in makeshift tents and mud houses in an enclosed space, safe from wild animals.

Dharmendra Khandal, who spearheads Tiger Watch, says, “We realized that our approach of putting the poachers behind bars was ineffective, as they went back to the same profession.” Tiger Watch, along with the Forest Department, were able to dissuade Mogyas from hunting animals, by employing them in conservation activities and

Around the same time, 400 miles northwest from Sawai Madhopur, officials at the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP) were facing an equally grave situation. Indus River Dolphin, a rare species which can only be found in the Indus river in Pakistan, was on the cusp of extinction.


About 80 kms from Multan, in Pakistan, Taunsa Barrage is a tourist destination popular for dolphin safaris.

Not long ago, these dolphins could be found in abundance from the Indus estuary up into the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. Locally known as Bhulan, the dolphin is currently the second most endangered species of freshwater dolphin in the world. The primary reason for this population plummet apart from poaching, is dolphins getting caught in the cast nets laid out by local fishermen.

Javed Iqbal, in-charge of Taunsa region for STFP, says, “A few years ago, dolphin population at Taunsa Barrage had gone as low as 800. Today, things are much better and Bhulan population has shown a healthy upward trend in recent times.” According to the latest WWF survey, there are more than 1,800 hundred dolphins at the Taunsa Barrage.

A sneak-peek into the conservation efforts


Javed Iqbal, head of Taunsa region, is associated with STFP since 2013.

Iqbal believes that community involvement in conservation activities has played a key role in this. STFP has started a dolphin safari programme which provides alternate employment to the fishermen. “Dolphin safaris are conducted using boats of local fishermen. This gives them employment and an incentive to help authorities in conservation activities and rescue operations,’’ adds Iqbal.

Khandal’s Tiger Watch has employed 50 locals — mostly Mogyas— who reside along the periphery of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Further, they have established a school for young Mogya boys. Local women have also been employed in a handicrafts business by Dhonk, the business arm of Tiger Watch.

The volunteers  are paid to monitor the movement of tigers and other animals of the park, through camera traps and digital heat sensors. “In the past, we used to study tiger-movement from their pug-marks, which was highly inaccurate and flawed. A widespread network of local tribesmen who live along the border of the park gave us the manpower and reach to employ accurate and modern techniques of studying animal movements,” says Khandal.


Dharmendra Khandal has installed several camera traps to monitor tiger movement at the periphery of the reserve in Sawai Madhopur.

Mogyas are an indigenous semi-nomadic hunting tribe who, for generations, relied on their tribe-specific work of ‘crop protection’ as the only means of earning a livelihood. In addition to the widely-recognized meaning, the term ‘crop-protection’ has a unique connotation to it in this part of the world; it involves killing of wild animals who are seen as intruders and potential threats to crops.

Lakhan Singh, an elderly Mogya, explains that they were born into this profession and stuck to it, not to smuggle bushmeat but to make ends meet. A resident of Halonda, a small village on the periphery of the reserve, Singh was among the first to sign up for conservation efforts. A now-changed man, he says, “We don’t hunt animals anymore because our livelihood doesn’t solely depend on it now. We have a respectable alternate which helps the animals and in turn helps in clearing our muddy name.’’


Caught off guard: Lakhan Singh and his family share moments of quiet just before dusk in Halonda, Rajasthan.

Boat-owner Afaq Siddiq makes anywhere between PKR three and four thousand ($20-$30) per safari.

Thirty-five-year-old fisherman, Afzal Khalid, inadvertently, echoes Singh’s sentiments as he says that they were simply working when laying nets; they intended no harm. Riding with him on this wave of change is Afaq Siddiq (24), a boat owner of Taunsa, who is happy that not only have the dolphin safaris brought money, but also empathy towards dolphins. “It feels good that we are helping the dolphins. The safaris are seasonal for now. If these tours take place throughout the year, it will really help us, we will have a regular income,’’ says Siddiq.

These men are part of a changed breed, who are being given their due importance as catalysts of change. Their influence is gradually trickling down to the youth, as they pursue education and alternative career paths. Abhishek Baore, a young Mogya studying in class nine at the school run by Tiger Watch, says, “My father, like his father, was paid for protecting the villagers’ crops from animals, which sometimes meant killing them.”

Representing a significant shift in their mentality, Baore vehemently opposes the killing of animals, and dreams of one day becoming a forest guard.

Bare Hands: A struggle for dignity of labour

 

By-Zeeshan Kaskar, Karan Anand, Akhilesh Nagari, Eisha Hussain and Tahira Noor Khan:

These lines from Langton Hughes’, ‘The Black Man Speaks’ exhibit how democracy, which promises equality and dignity to every citizen, consists of groups that are marginalized and face continued oppression.

This holds true for the community of manual scavengers in India. Most of the manual scavengers largely belong to the historically oppressed and marginalized Dalit community. The Dalits have also been discriminated against for being “untouchables”. Though untouchability and caste discrimination remain banned by the Constitution of India, the discrimination faced by dalits, has insidiously crept through to the modern society. People from the dalit community have been restricted to the dehumanizing profession of manual scavenging and are subsequently alienated and ghettoised.

In recent years, the government came up with the Swach Bharat Mission, a scheme which claims to clean up the streets, roads, and infrastructure of India by 2019. The central government has spent around Rs 530 crore over its publicity in the last three years but the promises don’t include any relief for the manual scavengers. An overwhelming majority of sanitation workers in India are still contractually employed, wherein they aren’t paid any minimum fixed wages, and often had to work under the hazardous conditions without any safety measures.

“Our kids are asked to sit separately in the school and are bullied because of our profession,” tells Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger. He lives in a neighbourhood where most people belong to his caste. He says other professions are closed for him and the people of his community. “People refrain from giving us any other job because of our caste.”

“Our kids are asked to sit separately in the school and are bullied because of our profession,” tells Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger. He lives in a neighbourhood where most people belong to his caste. He says other professions are closed for him and the people of his community. “People refrain from giving us any other job because of our caste.”

In 1993 The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act was passed and in 2013 Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act was passed to stop the employment of people in the degrading job of cleaning human excreta. Though the government employed sanitation workers do not have to enter manholes anymore, those illegally employed by private contractors have no respite. Despite countless deaths of manual scavengers, not a single person has been convicted under these acts.

The government’s apathy towards the issue reflects in the discrepant budgetary allocation. While in 2013-14, the Budget Allocation for manual scavengers was Rs.557 crores, it has seen a drastic plunge to Rs. 5 crores in the 2017-18 budget.

Manual scavenging, apart from being dehumanizing, is also a lethal profession. In 2017 alone, more than 300 people died due to it as stated by National Safai Karamchari Andolan. Manual scavengers are exposed to high concentration of poisonous gases causing various health issues like hepatitis, cholera, meningitis, typhoid, and cardiovascular problems. Many die because of asphyxiation in the manholes.

According to a survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, around 20,500 people have been identified as manual scavengers across 18 states. These figures have been contested by NGOs and other organisations for the welfare of manual scavengers and thus, considered to be grossly underestimated. The National Commission for Safai Karamchari, on the contrary, reports that there are more than 30 lakh manual scavengers and one person dies every five days because of manual scavenging.




Manual Scavengers are from the caste groups which are relegated to the bottom of the caste hierarchy and are confined to a livelihood which is perceived as deplorable or deemed to be too menial by the higher caste groups. The caste designated profession further reinforces the social stigma that they are unclean or untouchable and thus perpetuates their misery.

An absurd misery

Entangled within the web of society, Virender, a 40-year-old manual scavenger, shares his community’s agony. He talks about the discrimination they face every day, how their children are coerced to sit separately in school and bullied for being born into a manual scavenger’s family. His voice trembles with the years of disappointment both from the society and the government, as he explains his predicament.

While cleaning the gutter, with his hands immersed in the muck, he said with a smile, “..sometimes while cleaning the sewage we come across such disgusting things, that it  becomes impossible for us to eat.”

The sight of him cleaning the shit is one rattled with an absurd misery; the longing for something seemingly impossible, nostalgia for what never was and the regret for not being something else.

In a dim-lit room with walls smeared with a quaint blue, Virender took a chair to sit and started eating. He remembered his co-workers and friends who lost their lives while cleaning the gutters. He says that if it were up to him, he would straight away leave this profession. But in order to survive and provide his children quality education, if he has to work as a manual scavenger, he would.

Virender and many others like him start their days with some booze and smoke. They explain that if it were not for intoxication, they would never be able to convince themselves to get in the gutter brimming with human excreta and muck. The alcohol helps them fathom the courage to face the pungent smell that welcomes them in the sewer.

Even though the government has banned the act of manual scavenging, the discrimination against those still involved or previously involved in the profession doesn’t end there. While Dharampal, a permanently employed sanitation worker with the government organ doesn’t have to enter the manholes anymore, he has still not managed to escape the discrimination perpetuated by the caste system. Most people still don’t let him come near their houses. They despise his presence as if the squalor they produce is stuck to the bodies of Dharampal and others like him.

An old manual scavenger waiting for work on a wintry morning 
2 PM: Waiting

The irony of being Rani

Rani (literally translates to queen), a 35-year-old woman, has the most ironic name. With eyes filled with tears, she recounts a life full of hardships and short-lived happiness.

In a dingy shanty, with the haunting absence of her husband, Rani lives with three young children. Her husband, Anil, was a manual scavenger and died on 14 September 2018, because of asphyxiation while cleaning a sewer in West Delhi.

“My life has become unbearable without Anil. I constantly think of immersing myself in mother Ganges (a Holy river according to Hindu mythology). But something pulls me back. Maybe it’s the thought of my three young children who have nobody except me.”

Rani feels that if there were no manholes, her husband wouldn’t have died. She hopes that all manholes are closed and no other woman has to face the same fate as she did.

Rani’s story echoes the wail of a hapless woman resonating the agonizing pain of the life of a manual scavenger’s family, her four-month-old son passed away after fighting his last battle with pneumonia, and soon after that blow, within six days Anil passed away, leaving Rani with her three children alone at the mercy of God. 

The Tyranny of Caste

Caste discrimination is the Achilles’ Heels of the Indian society. Dr. B R Ambedkar, the writer of the Indian Constitution and the one who coined the term “Dalit”(oppressed)—has compared caste discrimination in India with that of the discrimination against Jews under Hitler. Caste is a social structure which permits the domination of one caste (a social status in the ‘divinely ordained’ social hierarchy in the Hindu society) by the other on the basis of hereditary. Simply put, it means a perpetual domination of one caste on the other.

According to Stanley Rice, the origin of untouchability is to be found in the unclean and filthy occupations of the untouchables. The Dalits have been forced to clean human excreta, burn dead bodies and remove animals’ corpses. This makes them ‘impure’ in the eyes of the rest of the society. They have been subjected to ostracisation owing to their profession.

In a caste-based society, one doesn’t choose their profession but is restricted to it.“How can one feel proud of cleaning the worm-filled, stench-producing shit of millions every day?” Bezwada Wilson writes in his foreword to Ramaswamy book, “India Stinking: Manual Scavengers in Andhra Pradesh and their work.”

With dirt coated hands, eyes longing for respect, the gaze of a scavenger reflects the irony of a society which seems to inflict the burden and misery of scavenging collectively upon him but at the same time looks at him as ‘impure.’ Kailash, Virender and Dharampal are amongst few belonging to the community of manual scavengers, whose profession historically has been to clean the shit produced by other humans. The predicament is that even today there are millions who are forced into scavenging. Their dignity and life are of little importance to the government and society alike, that have comfortably turned a blind eye towards the agony of manual scavenging.

On the other side of the border

Tehseen Abbas


Manual scavenging is not an attractive career choice but for some in Pakistan it is still the only option. 
“I remember my mother’s words, she said that we can only eat when we clean the waste of others,” said  Akram Masih, who was 15 when his mother told him that he would spend his life cleaning blocked sewage lines across the city. 

Masih is now 25 years-old but he remembers each day he spent cleaning blocked drain lines of Saddar town in the bustling port city of Karachi.

In Pakistan, such jobs are reserved for Chuhras or the lowest ranking members of the minority Christian community.  He lives in Essa Nagri, a predominant Christian neighborhood, with a family of six. He makes Rs.800 or roughly $6 per day. “Rainy days were always the worst I had to do extra work to make the rainwater follow,”  Masih said.

Like Masih, so many others are forced to clean the human waste across Pakistan. 
Saqib Masih, 27, is another manual scavenger who has worked in Karachi for more than a decade.  “We often find it difficult to find any other job in the city,” he said. Manual scavenging involves not only cleaning manholes and blocked sewerage lines but also stepping into drains and septic tanks. All of this is a health hazard, according to medical experts. 

Dr. Hassan Auj, a medical officer at University of Karachi said that scavengers are constantly exposed to germs. “Their (scavengers) workplace is unsafe and terrible it definitely has a negative impact on their health,” the medic added. “Most of the scavengers have no protection which makes their job more difficult,” Dr. Auj said.

Like India, manual scavenging in Pakistan is also restricted to particular castes — primarily Christians. Public advertisement clearly seek members from the Christian community for such jobs.

Despite little hope of change, Jawaid Michael, a Christian social activist, encourages members of his community to send their children to school. Michael believes it is about time the government protect members of his community. “The government needs to get serious about enacting laws that ban manual scavenging and assist the affected caste communities.”

A news report quoting World Watch Monitor said that minority representation in sanitation work in Pakistan is above 80 percent. According to the report, 824 out of 935 sanitation workers in the Peshawar Municipal Corporation are Christian.
About 6,000 out of 7,894 sanitation workers in the Lahore Waste Management Company are Christian. And 768 out of 978 workers in the Quetta Municipal Corporation are Christian.

Iqbal Masih, who is responsible for cleaning the sewage lines of Federal B Area block 20 said that he and others have complained so many times about the unsafe sites where they are being sent to work. “We never receive safety training; neither we have safety equipment nor do we get any precautions,” he said. “The only response we get is ‘do your jobs or quit’,” he added.

A report by Minority Rights Commission published in 2012 said that at least 70 Christians have died in Pakistan since 1988 while cleaning sewerage pipelines.
A number of Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia, have successfully tackled the problem of sewage management and technology is being used to do such jobs.

While Pakistan struggles to provide equality. People like Akram Masih continue to do their job in tough and inhumane conditions. Masih recalls he had no option but to be a manual scavenger. “There was poverty and I had to feed our family. So there was no other option for me – I covered my nose and started doing it,” he said with a quiver in this voice.

Inside Madarsas: A story beyond stereotypes

By – Hasan Akram, Pramiti Lonkar, Mayank Chawla, Ghada Mohammed, Ila Kazmi & Haris Ahmed Khan

A timeline from the colonial times to the present

Early Islamic education started inside mosques in the form of study circles. It had evolved gradually to separate institutions for elementary and higher stages that taught Islamic theology along with various subjects such as mathematics, grammar, poetry and history.

In the Indian sub-continent, early ‘Madrasas were established in Sindh region during the Arab rule in the 8th century. InSouth India, a form of Madarsas was established almost around the same time along the Malabar Coast. Thus, Madarsa was an essential part of any Muslim society to provide the individuals with education and to fulfill the state’need for preachers, teachers and judges or Qazis.


It wasn’t until the colonial years that the distinction was made between religious and general education. According to Muslim scholars, there were traditionally transmitted sciences such as Quranic studies, Hadith and Fiqh and then there were the rational sciences – logic, philosophy, arithmetic and astronomy. (ReligiousEducation and rhetoric of reform: Madarsa in British India and Pakistan by Muhammad Qasim Zaman) ‘Both these sciences were taught in Madarsas. When the colonizers wanted to set up universities in India, they started promoting this binary,” says Waris Azhari, an Islamic scholar at Jamia HamdardUniversity, New Delhi.

 The British came to an understanding that a distinction between religious and non-religious learning was imperative for sound political administration. The East India Company only supported Madarsas set up by the state or the ones they financially supported. They faced restrictions on imparting religious knowledge, limiting themselves to Arabic and Persian. During Viceroy Macaulay’s tenure, the British came down heavily upon these religious institutes.

Muslims realised that their religious sciences were under threat due to the state regime. In response to this threat, Darul Uloom Deoband was set up in 1866. The syllabus of the Madarsa had now entirely changed, shifting its emphasis from the rational sciences to religious education. Other Madarsas in British India were set up on the same model as Deoband. The focus had shifted to the preservation of Islamic texts.

In 1875, Aligarh Muslim University was set up. “Since then,the Muslim ulama decided to take up the task of teaching the religious sciencesin the Madarsa and let the university take up the task of modern education,”says Wazhari.

Most private Madarsas in India resist state funding as the ones run by the state are in deplorable condition. They also fear that the state may exercise control over the syllabus in lieu of funds. Further, many of the Madarsas are run by families over generations who don’t want to pass over the ownership to the government

After the events of 11 September, 2001, Madarsas across the world began to be viewed as a hub of extremist activities. In a Congressional report on Madarsas by the United States government- ‘observers suggest that these schools are wholly unconcerned with religious scholarship and focused solely on teaching violence.’

“Several Madarsas in India were run by foreign funds from Saudi Arabia and other countries. As Madarsas were seen as a threat, the funding soon dried up after 2001,” says a member of the administration at Jamia Riyaz Ul-Uloom in New Delhi.

In a recent survey by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), the educational attainment of Muslims is the least. In urban areas, the number of male Muslim postgraduates is as low as 15 per 1,000. This number is about four times lower than that of other communities, including Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Despite India being the fastest growing large economy, the economic condition of Muslims does not show any sign of improving.

Madarsas often pave the way for affordable education in low-income households. Caught between the cycle of ‘reform’ and ‘modernism’, Madarsas strive to maintain their relevance in the contemporary world.


One cannot limit oneself to the Madarsa, need to study beyond it: Ayaz Ahmed

17-year-old Ayaz Ahmed has already chalked out his career plans. Currently studying at Jamia Riyaz Ul-Uloom in old Delhi, he wants a desk job as a web designer. ‘Mujhe AC aur kursi ki naukri karni hai’- I want a job where I can sit in an airconditioned room. He also aspires to serve his community along with his regular job.

Four years ago, Ayaz joined the Madarsa to offer hisservices to Islam. After finishing his classes in the Madrasa, he travels toMukherjee Nagar in North Delhi to study for a Diploma in Computers. Several universities don’t give due recognition to students of Madarsa to enroll in college courses. Ayaz is also giving his Class 12 examinations from theNational Institute of Open Schooling so that he can apply for a Bachelor’s inComputer Applications.

According to him, studying in a school or college is necessary to earn a livelihood and studying in a Madarsa is necessary to become a good Muslim. He believes that both of them are of equal importance. When asked if Madrasas need to change to remain relevant, Ayaz says, “A Madarsa is a fort for religion. If they change, then there will be no such thing as a Madarsa.”

If everyone becomes doctors who will spread the message of Islam?: Mohammad Asif

It’s a few hours after sunrise. The boys are busy getting ready for their morning classes. As they comb their hair while sharing hand mirrors in the corridor, 24year old Mohammad Asif walks along and gathers a small crowd. The students in the Madrasa are not too pleased with Asif as their newly elected leader. They believe the student union president has not done enough to make their problems go away. ‘What have you done for us since you were elected? We have been asking for a good English teacher since months’, says the tallest one amongst them.  Asif explains that he has been trying to get a teacher that the Madrasa can afford but to no avail. “There is a constant need for funds and we always come up short,” says Asif.

Four years ago, Asif came to Jamia Riyaz Ul- Uloom in old Delhi to become an Islamic scholar. Born and raised in Muradabad, Asif soon realised that the world looks at the Madrasa with a different lens. Largely, the narrative in media is that extremist beliefs are being taught in Madrasas. This is also largely backed by the research papers on Madrasa written by government agencies. ‘There is no understanding of the message of Islam. What does Islam really say? It is the messenger of peace’, says Asif.

And it is this understanding that Asif wants to bring in to society’s discourse on Madrasas. While Asif acknowledges the lack of economic stability that comes with becoming an alim, he believes there is a need for more youngsters to start learning the religious sciences.“If everybody becomes doctors and engineers and no one becomes an alim, then who will tell the people what goes on inside a Madrasa?’ he asks.

Eventhough the children at Madarsa have the talent, they can’t get jobs: Arshad

“Learning Urdu was the biggest advantage of studying at the Madarsa,” says 23-year-old Arshad. He is preparing for civil servicesand he has chosen Urdu as his optional subject. However, Arshad believes thatis the only advantage he has over students from the modern education system.

Many Madarsas are not governed by a central body. Hence, there is no standardised syllabus. History and geography taught at the Madarsa has barely helped him prepare for civil services. “Before coming to JNU, I was not even aware of my rights or the Indian constitution,” says Arshad.

Madarsas have a 12-year course. The governmentrecognises Madarsa education only if the student completes the entire length ofthe course. Else, he is considered a dropout and has to start over. Further, several colleges don’t recognise these certificates. JNU is one of the fewinstitutes which recognise Madarsa education.

“There is a need to restructure the syllabus and work with the government to gain recognition,” says Arshad. Even though a child may have the requisite skills, he cannot get employed without a valid certificate.

I want to become the future: Shamshaad Alam

As the students in the Madarsa settle in after dinner, Shamshad arranges notes for his class.He teaches his class based on themes. Today, he is going to teach the studentsthe etiquettes of addressing people in English. Although English is included inthe curriculum of the Madarsa, some of the students feel it’s not enough.

“Shamshaad helps us in making conversations. What we study from the teacher is mainly textbook knowledge which doesn’t help us to talk in English,” says one of his students. There are around 15-20 students who pay a monthly sum of 300 rupees for the night classes. Shamshaad has been training himself in English for the past seven months at the American Institute in New Delhi.

He passes on these teachings to his students. Shamshaad also said that once he imposed a fine of five rupees for anyone speaking English in his class. He says that the same rule is applicable at the American Institute too.

According to Shamshaad, English helps him bridge the cultural gap and he considers it as important as currency in today’s world. “Now, when I step out of the Madarsa, I become a part of the culture outside. There is no difference,” says Shamshaad.

He says that English is not taught ‘up to that level’ in the Madarsa. When asked if he plansto talk to the principal about it, he says he doesn’t want to rile things up asthe teachers might take offence. He refrains from questioning their pedagogy. Shamshaad plans to learn five more languages in the future and aspires to become a translator.

 

In need of an upgrade in Pakistan

madrassah main
It is a small room packed with teenagers, all of whom sit on the matted floor, with wooden desks in front of them. They are virtually glued to the copies of Holy Quran places in front of them as they recite verses in chorus following their Qari (teacher). This is a regular madrasa class at Jamia Darul Khair, a medium-sized Deobandi madrasa (religious seminary) in Karachi.

In Pakistan, there are over 35,000 functioning madrasas, as per  a report titled “The Madrasa Conundrum – The state of religious education in Pakistan” by Umair Khalil, lead researcher of HIVE, a non-governmental organization.

The report estimates 64 percent of Pakistani madrasas are Deobandis. Whereas 25 percent are Barelvis and the remaining 11 percent are from different sects.
A large amount of Pakistan’s youth receives education at madrasas. A majority of these young students belong to underprivileged backgrounds and cannot afford to enroll at schools. “I have a year left in my graduation as a religious scholar. I came here from a very deprived area of Torghar district in Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I could never have imagined to study if madrassas weren’t there,” said Sibghatullah Qayum, a student of Jamia Darul Khair.

In Pakistan, madrasa based education has a great deal of significance in the society. Madrasas are considered as the primary source for Islamic teachings. On the other hand, these institutions also fill the vacuum created by the deteriorated educational system of the country.

According to an associated press report, approximately 2 million students have been enrolled in madrasas across Pakistan.

Reason being, they provide free religious and basic education to the underprivileged students of the country and also serve as an alternative to state-funded schools which used to provide spasmodic and substandard education. Qayum’s further described that all of his colleagues are from diverse rural areas of Pakistan where educational institutes are a rare find.

“On my return, I plan to teach at my local madrasa,” said Qayum.Historically, the curriculum at madrassas has undergone revision. They’ve taught Arabic grammar to learn Quran and Hadiths, Philology, Persian poetry, Philosophy, Penmanship, Arithmetic, Logic, Fundamentals of jurisprudence, Dialectics and Dogmatic sciences. Even, Swimming and Horse riding were included in the syllabus by some madrasas as co-curricular activities.

But, these practices were abandoned after the downfall of liberal Muslim empires across the world. According to the curriculum published by each board on their website, it is drafted in such a way that it follows Dars-e-Nizami which is the historical madrasa curriculum of the subcontinent, combining in-depth religious and some secular subjects.

Most academic experts claim that the system of education at Madrassas has been out of touch. A professor of linguistics at a university in Karachi, who wished not to be named, questioned: “How can you educate students and prepare them for the world if you haven’t updated your curriculum in decades?”madrassah secondWhile many religious institutions claim to teach English, Science, Drawing, Math, Logic, Sindhi, Urdu, Economics, Persian, History, Geography, Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Astronomy as secular subjects throughout the period of study.  Their primary focus remains on Arabic (Grammar & Literature), Islamiat, Life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Tajweed, Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, Qira’at, Hadith, Tafseer, Ethics, Ruling of Edicts and studying the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Our curriculum is designed in such a way that it develops student’s expertise in religious education without ignoring secular subjects because at the end of the day our prime intent is to educate students regarding Islam,” claims Mufti Adnan Ali, a scholar, and teacher at madrasa Jamia Darul Khair.madrassahHowever, Murtaza Haider, the Associate Dean of research and graduate program at Ryerson University in Canada who is currently researching on madrasa graduates and their prospects in labor market has debated over the fact that the curriculum offers secular subjects only at the initial phases of studies and are gradually reduced as the classes proceed.

This means students lack in technical and vocational skills which limit their job options. “With our limited funding sources, we can only teach theoretical subjects to the students. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to introduce technical and vocational training in madrasa curriculum to help these students in attaining certain kind of skill development as well. Had it been implemented it would be a great initiative,” explained Mufti Ali in his defense.As the graduating madrassa students approach the competitive job market a majority of them fail to find employment opportunities.

“Most of them are not trained for the world we live in,” said a top ranking multinational firm’s HR manager, who did not wish to be named. Professor Jamal Malik, chairman of Islamic Studies at Erfurt University in Germany and an expert on the matter stressed the fact that the curriculum at madrassas in Pakistan should be revised and should include technical and vocational training which could help students securing better employment opportunities in job market.

While there is little political will to reform madrassas, the current Chief of Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has recently stressed that madrasas should be reformed. In 2015, the Sindh government initiated the registration process of madrasas in the province. Lawmakers in the province have also drafted a bill for registering madrasas and monitoring their funding sources but unfortunately it has been nothing more than a paper tiger.Some madrassas in the country have realized the need for change. Darul Uloom is one of them.

“Darul Uloom has always tried to set standards,” said Mufti Ebad-ur-Rehman, head of the department of studies at Darul Uloom, Karachi. “Adopting a curriculum which has a mix of traditional religious subjects along with updated modern subjects has helped us produce better students,” the cleric claimed. While Darul Uloom may have experimented with reforming its curriculum, there are many madrassas across Pakistan that continue to resist change.

“It is necessary for the government to introduce compulsory act for reforming madrasas which should be applicable across the board,” said Murtaza Haider an expert on madrassas at Ryerson University in Canada.  

“You can’t have unskilled workers in the market. Students must receive vocational training along with religion and other subject to be able to sustain themselves in the market,” Haider stressed.  

70 years after independence, Delhi’s taste-buds want more from Pakistan’s kitchen

Pakistani biryani at Deez Cafe

Midhat Fatimah and Rajat Mishra

The surge in the number of desk-workers foraging new exotic food outlets has boosted the restaurant business in Delhi, Connaught Place being the hub. However, interestingly, menus of many restaurants have Pakistani dishes. A few restaurants serving North Indian and Mughlai cuisine have added Pakistani food items.

Deez Filmy Café and Bar in Connaught Place specialises in Handi Biryani (Biryani cooked in an earthen pot) and serves North Indian and fast food with a punch of Bollywood in its setting. Food is served in a hall with walls adorned with posters of famous dialogues from Bollywood movies while contemporary Punjabi and Western music plays in the background. The menu offers a range of items including Pakistani food items like Sindhi Biryani and a gravy dish called Pakistani Chicken Masala which has a paneer variant too.

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