Muskan Fatima writes about the family of Prof Nooruddin, Kashmir’s first mathematician and the first VC of the University of Kashmir, most of whose 10 children contributed immensely to diverse fields

Dr Ashrafa Jeelani, daughter of Professor Noor-ud-Din, the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, hails from a family deeply committed to education. With ten siblings, including five brothers and five sisters, all highly qualified individuals, Ashrafa credits her mother for instilling a strong educational foundation in their lives.

A prominent figure in Kashmir, Ashrafa has emerged as a leading botanist and educator. As the first lady principal of Boys College and the first lady president of Kashmir’s Teacher’s Association, she has contributed significantly to the field of education and educator activism. Her expertise lies in Cytomorphology, a science that is used in determining the external features of cells., and she has authored many books on the subject, including Cytomorphology (in 2 Volumes), Education Through Exposure, and Reflections of an Educationist.

However, reaching this level required a lot of effort and sacrifice. Interestingly, however, her obstacles though numerous were interesting. During her pursuit of a doctorate, when she finally submitted her thesis for the degree, it was tragically lost in a scuffle at the University of Kashmir. This is something that usually cannot be imagined in the twenty-first century but that was a different era.

Undeterred, she displayed resilience and rewrote her thesis, ultimately becoming the first woman from Jammu and Kashmir to earn a PhD in Cytomorphology. Her determination and dedication to her studies exemplify her unwavering commitment

Advocacy for Adult Education

Driven by a strong belief in the importance of education, Ashrafa dedicated herself to various initiatives, including Adult Education. Her goal was to eradicate illiteracy within her community.

One particular incident left a lasting impact on her when an 85-year-old man expressed his desire to learn to read. Witnessing such enthusiasm for education reinforced her conviction that learning is a fundamental right that should be accessible to all, regardless of age.

Beyond Academics

Beyond her academic pursuits, Dr Ashrafa leads a vibrant and active life. Since her childhood, she has engaged in activities such as boating, swimming, and gymnastics. She also pursued a course in photography at the University of Kashmir and, during examination breaks, she indulged in tailoring.

Even at her current age, she maintains a beautiful botanical garden in her courtyard, each plant adorned with a nameplate, showcasing her passion for botany. She is perhaps one of the few botanists in Kashmir who can identify a plant from a distance and offer details about its use within and outside the pharmacy.

Supporting Girls’ Education

Inspired by her late father’s unfinished work on women’s issues, Dr Ashrafa embarked on her mission to address societal challenges faced by women. Her book, which delves into topics like sex chromosomes and draws from real-life court cases, sheds light on the importance of gender equality, girls’ education, and eliminating harmful practices like dowry. She firmly believes that both boys and girls are equally deserving of respect and opportunities, emphasizing the significance of prioritizing girls’ education.

By breaking gender barriers in the field of Cytomorphology and advocating for educational empowerment, Ashrafa continues to shape the landscape of Kashmir while inspiring future generations of women. Her remarkable achievements and unwavering dedication serve as a testament to her enduring impact on society.

With decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge, Dr Ashrafa has taken on the role of a mentor to aspiring young minds. She believes in nurturing and guiding the next generation of students and researchers, passing on her expertise and inspiring them to explore the world of botany and education. Through her mentorship, she aims to create a legacy of passionate learners and scholars who will continue to make a positive impact in their respective fields.

Dr Ashrafa Jeelani in his study at Srinagar.

Inspiring In-Laws

Studies and eventually making contributions essentially requires a strong support structure. While she had it all at her father’s home, she said she was fortunate enough to have even better after she married.

Dr Ashrafa Jeelani attributes a significant part of her success to the unwavering support she has received from her family. Not only did her parents provide a nurturing environment for her academic pursuits, but she was also blessed with supportive in-laws who encouraged her every step of the way. Their belief in her abilities and their continuous support have been instrumental in her journey of achieving excellence in her chosen field.

Recognitions and Contributions

Dr Ashrafa Jeelani’s contributions have not gone unnoticed, as she has received numerous accolades and recognition for her exceptional work. Her dedication to education and her groundbreaking research in Cytomorphology has garnered widespread acclaim, earning her the respect and admiration of her peers and the wider community. She continues to actively contribute to academic discourse, attending conferences, presenting papers, and sharing her knowledge with fellow experts in the field.

A Lasting Legacy

As Dr Ashrafa reflects on her life’s work and achievements, she takes pride in the lasting impact she has made on education and women’s empowerment in Kashmir. Through her efforts, she has helped create a more inclusive and equitable society, where girls and women are encouraged to pursue their dreams and contribute to the progress of their communities. Dr Ashrafa’s legacy extends far beyond her accomplishments, inspiring generations to come and leaving an indelible mark on the educational landscape of Kashmir.

In a region marked by a rich culture and historical significance, Dr Ashrafa Jeelani’s name stands out as a symbol of determination, resilience, and the transformative power of education. Her journey from a young girl with a passion for botany to becoming a leading figure in her field and a beacon of hope for aspiring women serves as an inspiration to all who believe in the power of knowledge to shape lives and create positive change.

Like Father, Like Daughter

For her achievements, Ashrafa gives credit to her father, Professor Noor-ud-Din, who was a luminary in the field of education. As the first Vice Chancellor of the University of Kashmir, he has played a pivotal role in shaping the educational landscape of the region. Noor-ud-Din’s intellectual prowess and passion for learning were evident from a young age.

Despite starting his professional journey as a school teacher, he steadily rose through the ranks to become the highest authority in the educational hierarchy. His commitment to girls’ education was exceptional, and he tirelessly worked to break down barriers and persuade parents to send their daughters to school.

Prof Nooruddin, KU’s first VC. KU was then Jammu and Kashmir University.

His contributions to Kashmir University were significant, establishing departments such as Kashmiri, Biochemistry, Fine Arts, Institute of Languages, and Central Asian Studies, and making invaluable additions like the Central Library. His influence and dedication to education laid a strong foundation for Ashrafa’s own pursuit of knowledge and her unwavering commitment to educational excellence.

A student of the historic Islamia School in Srinagar, Nooruddin passed his matriculation from Punjab University in 1936. Then he joined SP College, then called Prince of Wales College and finally became the first MSc Mathematics from the AMU. “When he came with his degree, the people greeted him like a hero and took him on their heads from Lal Chowk to Kalashpora,” Ashrafa said. “It was a huge celebration as he was the first mathematician of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Later, as a bright teacher of the Jammu and Kashmir education department, he studied at Leeds University. He served as a teacher in Askardu before the partition and crossing the mountain – the Zoji La, took his family two months. “Many decades later, I visited Leeds University and approached the administration and they were kind enough to offer me every record they had on my father,” she said. These records are part of her writing on her father.

(This write-up is based on two interviews that Iqra Akhoon had with Dr Ashraf Jeelani)


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