An Evolving Trust

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Away from public gaze, a chain of schools across J&K has built massive infrastructure with community participation to educate more than 100000 boys and girls of academic excellence. Syed Asma reports the emergence, depression and rise of the Fallah-e-Aam Trust, new affordable brand in a complex, competitive and expensive education market.

A group of bearded persons is discussing Islam, woman and importance of her education in Islam in a room. “If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation,” Advocate Sheikh Ali Mohammed says, trying to sum up the significance of the institution he is administrating.

Advocate Shiekh is the administrator of Jamia-tul-Banat, a girl’s educational institute at Lal Bazar in Jammu and Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar which is run by ‘Women Educational Trust’ an independent trust supported by people living in the locality and fee collected from the students.

Wearing rectangular glasses placed almost at the tip of his nose, Sheikh is busy signing documents; he stops for a while and points towards a woman standing next to him. “This is Shazia and I am helping her complete some formalities. She is taking up a job of a lecturer in Bandipora and I am really proud of her,” he says.

Shazia who is covered by a burqa from head to toe is an alumnus of Jamia-tul-Banat. She works as a contractual lecturer at a government-run college in north Kashmir’s Bandipora. She is married and has a 17-month-old son.

In the meantime, a girl peeps through a corner of the curtain at the door. She too is wearing similar attire like Shazia, clad from head to toe by a burqa. In fact, every female at Jamia-tul-Banat observe pardah.

Hostel block of Jamait-ul-Bannat Lal Bazar(Hostel block of Jamait-ul-Bannat Lal Bazar)

Sheikh orders her to get in and the girl quietly enters the rooms. In excitement, Sheikh introduces her in a tone of pride, “Here comes the star of our institution”.

The girl is Asma Shakeel, who topped the home science stream in the recently declared Higher Secondary Part II (Class 12) results in Kashmir. Asma, a resident of Rainawari in Srinagar, scored 490 out of 500, outclassing thousands of Class 12 students who appeared in the exams this year, Sheikh adds.

Asma topped the list despite the fact that the students at Jamia-tul-Banat have to appear in ten subjects, instead of the five prescribed by Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education (JKBOSE). “Here the girls have to qualify Molvi Aalimiyat as well. It includes studying Fiqah (Islamic jurisprudence), Hadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad {PBUH}), Quran, Tafseer [Exegesis of Quranic text], etc.” says Abdul Rashid Dar, deputy administrator of Jamia-tul-Banat, “Believe me, it is not easy to qualify these subjects with such high score. All these girls have done a brilliant job.”

It is for the first time that students from Jamia-tul-Banat have appeared in the Higher Secondary Part II examination. Till now, the school only offered courses in Aalimiyat and Fazeelat. In the recent session, 90 students had appeared in the exam out of whom only one has to reappear in the exam; rest of the students managed to score well.

“They bagged eight out of top ten positions, besides securing 66 distinctions, 18 first divisions and 5 second divisions,” Dar says.

The girls say they were confident enough to score well as they knew that their way of learning was the best. “We are not made to rote learn here. We are made to learn by participating in discussions. Discussion is a part of our classwork and we do revisions of our subjects in the similar way,” says a cheerful Sehrish Mohammed, a Ganderbal resident, who secured 478 marks and stood third.

“This concept of understanding through Mutala (discussion) is adopted from Rampur. At Rampur we were taught through discussions only and it worked superbly with us. So we thought of introducing the system here as well,” Jawahira Akhtar, Principal of Jamia-tul-Banat says.

Jawahira Akhtar completed her Fazeelat degree from Rampur, Uttar Pradesh and has done a specialised course in Arabic, Takhasus. She did her Masters in Arabic from Aligarh Muslim University.

Most of the students at Jamia-tul-Banat want to pursue MPhil and Phd and almost all of them want to spread awareness about Islam, mostly among women.

They are already doing their best, says Akhtar. The girls at Jamia-tul-Banat, apart from holding religious congregations in their localities when they go home on holidays, are presently teaching Quran and Hadith to about 200 girls who have joined a two-month certificate capsule course at the institute.

Mohammad Aldullah Wani, president(Ameer) of Jamaat-e-Islami ans the former administrator of Jamait-ul-Banat, Lal Bazar (Mohammad Abdullah Wani, president(Ameer) of Jamaat-e-Islami and the former administrator of Jamait-ul-Banat, Lal Bazar)

“Each year we offer a two-month certified capsule course during winter vacation to outsiders,” administrator Sheikh says, “since its inception in 1999, almost five to six regular batches have completed their degrees in Aalimiyat and Fazeelat at Jamia-tul-Banat,” Principal Akhtar says.

The administration looks satisfied with the results achieved by the students of the institution. “All of them have managed well for themselves. Some of them are doing M.Phil, PhD; some are working as lecturers and almost all of them are running darsgahs where they teach the Quran and Hadith,” Akhtar adds.

The residential institution spread on about 14 kanal land in Lal Bazar has presently at least 400 girl students on its rolls, besides two dozen teachers, mostly women, and numerous other workers as well. The management is planning to expand the infrastructure in the wake of the increase in a number of the admission forms. The candidates are selected through a screening test. Besides, the institute has seats reserved for the orphans.

The setup at the institution is unique. At Jamia-tul-Banat, they have an isolated students section where no outsiders, especially men which includes the workers of the institution, are allowed. A small door makes way to that secluded world of 400 girls where they play, talk and giggle with each other. The area is surrounded by buildings with a playground in the middle of it where a volleyball court has been set up. “In summers, these girls find some time to play in the ground,” says Akhtar.

As Akhtar explains the work culture of the institute, the loudspeaker at the campus calls out names of girls whose families have come to meet them. A separate system has been formulated for such meetings. Small ply-board cabins are made, one for each family, to maintain a distance between the families and to allow them talk freely with their wards, says Akhtar.

The students say they are satisfied with the life they are living at Jamia-tul-Banat. Each one of them says that it would be difficult for them to get adjusted back in their homes once they finish their schooling. “We are now more attached to each other than we were to our families,” says Sehrish. “Besides, I will miss the food that I eat here,” say Shaheen Sultan, “it is delicious!”

Mohammed Abdullah Wani, the president (Ameer) of Jamat-e-Islami and the former administrator of the institution calls it a paradise.

It was in his tenure that regular education was introduced at Jamia-tul-Banat. Otherwise till then, only Molvi Aalamiyat and Molvi Fazeelat were offered, he says.

Central Office of Falah-i-Aam Trust(Central Office of Falah-i-Aam Trust)

Jamia-tul-Banat is run by an independent trust but it been using some workforce and expertise from Jamaat-e-Islami. Wani, an experienced teacher and educationist, was offered the administrator’s post when Jamia-tul-Banat was going through a bad time, he says.

“I had an experience of a long time and Jamaat has never hesitated to extend a helping hand in the projects which are for the good of the society. So I joined Jamia-tul-Banat for some time. I believe Jamia-tul-Banat was changed for the good,” Wani says.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is the oldest political and religious organisations of the state. It was formed around 1935 in Kashmir. After working for many decades, JI started a chain of schools across Kashmir as they wanted to contribute towards education. These schools were run under the Jamaat directly. Commonly they were known as Jamati schools.

“They were reputed schools wherein they had a proper system in place. It was very tough to qualify for a JI school,” says a school pass-out who is now a doctor. “Then, we had to qualify an entrance to get into these schools. These schools not only taught you regular education but they gave equal importance to moral education as well.”

The teachers of JI schools believe that they have till now produced the best lot who are presently working as doctors, engineers, lecturers, professors and some of them are in civil administration. The JI members say that the impact of these schools was very positive on the masses but these schools were not allowed to run for a longer period as they were expected to. —

Apparently, because of some political rivalry, these schools were stopped many times. In 1971, when National Conference’s Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was in power, an order was issued that no political party in Kashmir was authorised to run its own schools, say Mohammed Abdullah Wani, President, Jamaat-e-Islami.

So JI was barred from running any schools.

Since the schools were very successful and the association of people was very strong with the organisation, a group of individuals came up with an independent trust in 1972 called ‘Falah-i-Aam’.

Small-cabins-made-of-ply-board-used-when-families-come-to-meet-their-daughters-(2)(Small cabins made of plyboard used when families come to meet their daughters)

The schools which were directly run by JI later affiliated with Falah-i-Aam, says Ghulam Mohammed Mir, General Secretary of the Falah-i-Aam Trust (FAT).

Presently, FAT runs 333 schools across the state including one in Jammu city and a few in Doda. Most of their schools are in Kashmir. They have about one lakh students enrolled in their schools and about 3700 teachers are engaged with them.

These schools are run by the local bodies of the areas they are situated in. “In most of the cases, the funds spent on the infrastructure and the salaries of the employees are managed by the fees paid by the students and the donations generated from the locality,” says Mir.

“Since the funds generated by these schools do not allow us to offer our employees decent salaries, so, apart from the executive members, all others work with us on a part-time basis from 10 am to 4 pm.”

The union home ministry has barred FAT schools from taking any foreign investments under section 10 (a) of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976. The restrictions have been reportedly imposed on the grounds that these “organisations are of political nature”.

Mir says all the FAT schools are recognised with JKBOSE. “Most of the infrastructure of these schools belongs to the trust and rarely is any school which is running in rented apartments,” he says.

These schools give equal importance to the regular as well as moral education, the executives of FAT say, “We have a good number of non-Muslims in our schools as well. For them, Islamiyat and Arabic are optional subjects. They are made to learn Hindi,” Mir says

Ghulam Mohammed Mir started his career in the late seventies as a teacher at a school run by FAT and was drawing a salary of Rs 20 per month then. Talking about the passion of being associated with these schools, Mir says he left the offer of being a broadcaster on Radio Kashmir which would have definitely fetched him more than Rs 20 a month.

“It wasn’t true with me only; anybody associated with the ideology of JI wanted these schools to survive as they were contributing to the society in a positive way.”

Even after JI disassociated itself from these schools and handed them over to FAT, the problems faced by these schools did not end. “These schools were never again given a space to grow and compete,” says a senior JI member. “They were made easy prey of any political controversy which happened in any of the two countries [India and Pakistan].”

In 1979, many of the schools running under FAT were burnt. Most of their property was damaged and many of their workers were even killed. The damage was done after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former Pakistani President was executed.

“It was presumed that Zia-ul-Haq, Bhutto’s successor, was behind his execution and that he [Haq] had ideological affinities with Jamaat. So our cadres in Kashmir were targeted,” says Abdullah Wani with a sarcastic smile.

Mir says many JI members were killed in the clashes while they were trying to save the schools in their locality. “I remember one of my close friends, Mohammed Akbar Lone, was killed while he was trying to convince people not to put a seminary on fire. He was killed while holding a Quran in one hand and the handle of a door in another.”

Mir too was accompanying Lone but he somehow managed to survive, though he had to undergo surgery later, he says. The survival of FAT and its schools was made very difficult through all these years.

Then came 1990 and Governor Jagmohan was sent to Kashmir to control the popular armed uprising against the state. He officially banned and closed down all the schools run by FAT. “He claimed that these schools were involved in anti-national activities,” a senior JI member says.

To reopen the schools, some of the members of the trust accompanied with a few JI members flew to Delhi and approached KK Venugopal, the then president of the Bar Association of Supreme Court of India. With the assistance of Mian Qayoom, a lawyer, Venugopal got the Governor’s order revoked by J&K High court and the schools were opened again.

However, the schools reopened but the FAT and JI members who had gone to Delhi to approach the lawyer were detained and kept in different Indian jails for months.

After a failed attempt to ban these schools, the then state government offered the FAT school teachers a “bribe” by offering them ‘secure’ government jobs.

In the recent autumn session of the legislative assembly, J&K chief minister, Omar Abdullah said, “However, the government in 1990 banned erstwhile FAT schools but its students were enrolled in nearby government institutions. As many as 873 employees (835 teachers and 38 Class-IV) of these banned institutions were absorbed by the government.”

“Hundreds of teachers were then inducted in government schools in our name but actually only 80 out of 1200 teachers belonged to FAT. Others had managed to arrange fake certificates,” Abdullah Wani, Jamaat President says,

“All these steps were taken to weaken FAT,” says a senior JI member.

In all these years, Jamaat lost many of its members. Abdullah Wani says that about 500 of their basic members have been killed over these years. “I am not including the activists and workers or the associates of Jamaat. The number would rise to thousands then.” Many of their members were subjected to enforced disappearances and their properties were damaged. Bashir Ahmed, a JI associate who had come to meet Wani at his office, interrupts, “Many of our orchards were put on fire just because we were Jamaat’s workers.”

“Along with 23 other men of my locality, I was picked up by Ikhwanis (government renegades) and only 10 of us were left alive. Others were killed. My brother was one among them.” Ahmed hails from Kulgam and says they lived an uncertain life for a long period just for being associated with Jamaat-i-Islami. He claimed that south Kashmir was the worst hit in that period.

Mir, the general secretary of FAT says, “The survival of our schools was made difficult from time to time. At one point, it was made impossible. But we fought back each time. The biggest loss that the trust faced was the loss of the valuable workforce, the members who were killed or who left the trust because of one reason or the other. This made us lose the standard that we had set, of being the most successful privately owned chain of schools.”

Mir now believes that their schools are presently doing well. In the recently declared results of Class 10 board exams, about 78 per cent of their students managed to pass. Besides, they bagged eight out of the top 20 positions, Mir shares.

“In Higher Secondary Part II exam, our students secured at least two out of the top ten positions and about 90 percent of students managed to qualify the examination. But a lot of work and support is needed to make these schools reach the position they once had in the state,” he says.

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