The present understanding of ‘education’ – both of the community and its leadership – is that of the model exemplified by the Aligarh Movement of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. The concern of Sir Syed was focused on the remnants of the Muslim ruling class and landed gentry who had somehow escaped the death and destruction unleashed by the new rulers of India, in the aftermath of the failed First War of Independence in 1857. Those remnants had been turned into ‘personae non grata’ by them.
Nevertheless the new British rulers needed workers and officers who would be faithful to them as well as be knowledgeable about their new administrative and military systems. The concurrent reality, however, was that they were getting such men from the groups who had made their choice to side with them some decades ago and had stayed with them during the 1857 war as well.
Sir Syed saw all this. His sense of loss and helplessness can be gauged by what he once said: “The destruction of my community turned my hair white overnight!”
What Sir Syed did in order to pull up his community from the depths of degradation and deprivation is known to every student of modern Indian history. On one hand he wrote his famous book, Asbab e Baghawat e Hind (Causes of Indian Revolt) in which he tried to convince the new rulers that Muslims were not the only group responsible for 1857; they themselves were also to blame and that if they now adopted a large hearted conciliatory approach towards them, they would not be disappointed.
On the other hand he told the Muslims to turn away from their past attitudes and to single-mindedly devote themselves to ‘education’ – of a new kind too – so that they could become a part of the new system of administration set up by the British thus ensuring for themselves a semblance of acceptance and wellbeing in the new milieu.
Thirdly, Sir Syed made tremendous efforts to establish the Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh so that the Muslim community could obtain that kind of education which he considered essential as well as beneficial for it.
Sir Syed was eminently successful on all the three fronts. Young Muslim men did begin to get accepted in the corridors of power in British India once they had qualified from Anglo-Oriental College. This acceptance reached a high water mark when the Indian National Congress first began to ask for ‘Home Rule’ and later, under the passionate influence of the Ali brothers, for ‘Total Independence’.
THE SCENARIO SINCE 1947
The challenge for the north Indian Muslim leadership after independence in 1947, and more so today in 2009, was and is that the composition of the Muslim community then and now is different from that in the aftermath of 1857.
Members of the civil services, the defence services, the business elite and the landed aristocracy of the North Indian Muslim community largely left for Pakistan after independence. Those from among the last named group who did not do so, were rendered a shadow of their former selves as regards their economic and political clout, as a result of the ‘abolition of zamindari’. This is, of course, not to say that the objectionable aspects of the relationship between the farmers and their landlords could be condoned.
Today, the vast majority of North Indian Muslims are poor as they are below the poverty line, and only marginally less poor even when they are above that line. The problems of today’s Muslims are thus different from those of the post-1857 Muslims.
Second, the post-independence leadership of the North Indian Muslims did not succeed in shielding itself and the community from being ‘solely’ blamed for partition. Third, it was not able to reach any such accommodation with any government of the day as would protect the Muslim masses from recurring riots on one hand, and allow the educated from among them to gain reasonable, if not proportional, representation in the civil, the police and the military services on the other.
The Annual Reports of some of the good schools set up and run under the patronage and management of well respected social and educational activists showed till the last year that about 60% of their students leave school between 5th. and 7th. standards and another 20% between 7th. and 9th. standards.
The result is that the buildings, the furniture, the laboratories, the playgrounds and all other inputs provided for every hundred children entering the school are used by a much lower number from 5th. standard onwards. It is reliably learnt that the situation is generally the same in all the Muslim schools of UP. It would be the same situation in other north Indian states as well. This means that there is a wastage of back breaking effort, precious time and costly resources invested by the community in setting up these schools and yet, the education of an average of about 70% of the students stops at a level well below high school. These drop-outs are the children then, who we see working in homes, eateries, cycle, auto repair shops and factories in the cities and towns of North India.
It is a moot question as to how many of the remaining students who complete high school, do so with such proficiency as to aim or hope to enter the portals of institutions of higher education.
NEW STRATEGY NEEDED
The conclusion that before a poor North Indian Muslim family rises well above its present level of poverty, its children have to leave school and begin work to help their parents look after their families as soon as they acquire enough bodily strength to do so, is there for all to see.
Thus the poverty of the family prevents acquisition of education by a child of average intelligence up to any useful or enlightening level, thus imprisoning the child for whole life in a state of little knowledge and even lesser grooming.
The above scenario must have been repeating itself every year during the last over six decades since 1947. Add to this the dislocation and destruction caused by riots, floods and such other calamities strung in a thread of punitive political and bureaucratic neglect. Further add to it the phenomenon of ‘Hindutva’ (and its variant called by the quaint name of ‘soft Hindutva’) for the sake of its political dividends. The North Indian Muslim leadership should have perhaps foreseen the contents of the Sachar Committee Report.
Be that as it may, it is evident that both the North Indian Muslim community and its leadership need to embark upon an entirely new strategy, different from the Sir Syed model.
SMALL BUSINESS BY PARENTS
If the stress on ‘education’ has not worked for children belonging to poor families and has not provided the solution to their poverty during the last over six decades, is a new strategy of small business by the parents of those children, worth trying?
Studies reveal that those who do even small business, preferably in a cooperative matrix, do manage to escape grinding poverty. Studies also reveal that one does not have to be highly educated for being a small businessman. In fact, the highly educated rarely go the business way at least from among the North Indian Muslims. And the crowning reality is that even the highly educated, except the professionals like the doctors, the engineers and the management experts, generally remain, at least for a large part of their working years, in a ‘hand to mouth’ situation as long as they remain God fearing and honest.
Take, for example, the Bohra community in Mumbai. There was a time when they were concentrating all their efforts on small businesses operating from within a cooperative matrix binding the whole community, rather than on education. After a reasonable period, they began to give the same degree of attention to education. Today, they are fairly successful in business, are not poor any more and are fairly educated.
This new strategy thus requires the parents from a typically poor family to take up small business, preferably in a cooperative matrix. Provided it is supported by the community, it will not take more than 15 years for a below poverty line family to rise well above it. After this period, these parents will be able not only to pay the fees for their children to study at least till the higher secondary school level but also to lead a reasonably decent, even if simple, life. In the interim period, the children of these poor parents will have to do with whatever level of education they and the community can manage for them.
Of course, not everyone is cut out to do business. Hence the stress on a cooperative framework should be taken seriously, for it will enable each member of the group to support the rest in the area of his own strength.
The case of the intelligent and hard working children has always been and must remain different: it being the responsibility of the whole community to help them to study up to their highest potential.
As mentioned above, small businessmen do not need to be highly educated. It should be remembered, however, that even among them, only the well groomed are truly successful beyond the ordinary level. Grooming is a word with many facets of meanings:
If it includes God fearfulness, it also includes high manners. If it includes praying five times a day, it also includes very hard work. If it includes correctness of weights and measures, it also includes always speaking the truth. If it includes an oft smiling face, it also includes scrupulous keeping of promises. If it includes knowing one’s own rights, it also includes happily giving a little more than the rights to others. If it includes looking after one’s family and relations, it also includes being silently helpful to the unrelated needy.
This list could go on and on but suffice to say that if one went on being obedient to God and His Prophet, one would become more and more well-groomed as well as more and more successful in one’s business as time passes.
COMBINING EDUCATION AND SKILL
During this interim period of poverty alleviation efforts, it will be necessary to devise a strategy for the children who are going to school but are likely to drop out or have dropped out already.
One alternative is that such boys be provided facilities for pursuing their education at night schools while being allowed to work part time during the day. Their parents will have to be paid the earnings lost by these boys as a result of working part time. Apart from this, they should also be granted free studentship at schools.
Another alternative is: boys be taught some readily marketable skills through 6-monthly, 12-monthly or 18-monthly courses .Time for these skill acquisition courses can be found by reducing the number of subjects in higher classes, to the bare minimum. One of the most successful institutions run on these lines is the more than 70 odd years old Mohammad Haji Saboo Siddik Technical High School of Anjuman-e-Islam of Mumbai.
It is of course good if these courses can be recognised by the state and central governments but emphasis should always be laid on the high quality of the course content, qualification of the teachers and instructors and the acceptability of those who have undergone these courses, by the employment market.
Another worth considering alternative is for those who have already dropped out of school and are learning some trade and craft through informal hands or on training under senior craftsmen. For such boys, the need will be to strengthen and add value to this arrangement with the teaching of the ‘theory’ behind the ‘practice’ as well as to teach them a bit of English.
Boys who cannot fit into one of the above alternatives for one reason or the other, can adopt the Open School route explained here in the context of girls’ education.
Girls cannot be sent to night schools. They will have to be encouraged to study at home and appear every year at the National Open School Board till they have studied to their potential. Girls too must be taught such skills that can be practised at homes and marketed nearby which will enable them to earn some monies to help their parents today and their families, after marriage.
All said and done, we must also strategise around the fact that facilities for distance education are available everywhere, both to boys and to girls, both at school and at home, both before marriage and thereafter, literally life long. One can enter the ‘education mode’ or the ‘employment or homemaking mode’ at one’s will or even carry on these activities together. In short, there is no need for any boy or girl to feel helpless at stoppage of education at any stage of his or her life: he or she can re-start the process any time as well as complete it at his or her pace.
Of course, it goes without saying that grooming as described earlier, both of boys and girls, should always be a part of every process of learning and skill acquisition.
(to be continued)