56-year old Urdu school faces closure
Firoz Bakht Ahmed reports about a school without premises for the last 28 years, where teachers are not paid salaries for three months
A 56-year old school catering to the most backward sections of the Muslim population of Sadar, Qasabpura, Quresh Nagar, Bara Hindu Rao and Kishanganj in the Walled City of Delhi faces an uncertain future, if at all. The school has been functioning with bare minimum infrastructure in tents and under tarpaulin sheets.
Qaumi School: tents in the open air
"Every time there is a dust storm, a spell of rain or a cold gust of wind, over 500 students in the ragged tents of the Qaumi Senior Secondary School huddle closer and wonder how much longer they will be forced by official apathy to bear the harsh vagaries of nature,’" states M Atyab Siddiqui, the legal affairs secretary of Friends for Education, an NGO that has been trying hard for the last 14 years to uplift the lot of the hapless school.
A ramshackle tent with a moth-eaten blackboard and creaky furniture constitutes a classroom. A make-shift laboratory now functions under a tin roof that gets blown away on breezy days during inclement weather.
However, the unpredictable weather of the capital has caused incessant worry. "It is the students who suffer the most be it summer or winter," says Mohabbat Ali, school’s vice principal. A fact that other teachers confirm. "Students are sick most of the time owing to the warm sandstorms in summers and chilly winds during winter," says another teacher.
The vermin over the last 28 years have not only damaged the school records but eaten away most of the books of the now almost a non-existent library of the beleaguered school.
"The plight of the students mostly drawn from families of book-binders, muezzins, imams, carpenters, box-makers and petty hawkers is indeed pitiable," recounts Siddiqui. During monsoon, it becomes impossible to run the school as it is always water-logged, according to Iqbal Malak, a community worker and general secretary of Friends for Education.
Since 1976, the students passing out of Qaumi School have not experienced what it means to study in a school with a roof over their heads. This government-aided school has been functioning under trees inside the Delhi Eidgah from the time their 23-roomed and five-storeyed school building with more than 600 students in Sarai Khaleel area, was razed to the ground during the Emergency on May 15, 1976 with an assurance that soon the school will have a massive building and even a playground in the vicinity. That ground was Eidgah.
But it is an irreligious act to run a school on the Eidgah grounds, claims Furqan Ahmed, a senior economics teacher. While after the Emergency resettlement programme, other residents and shopkeepers were rehabilitated in Shahzada Bagh and Inderlok, nothing was done for the school, laments Javed, an Urdu teacher.
However, despite assurances by several politicians and officials over the years that proved to be mere hollow promises, the school continues to function on the Eidgah premises where it was granted temporary accommodation to store its furniture and equipment, 70 per cent of which was stolen during the shifting in 1976.
A memorandum accompanied by affidavits and signed by thousands of residents of the Bara Hindu Rao area was given to the then president of India, Giani Zail Singh and freedom fighter Aruna Asaf Ali according to an alumnus and a member of Qaumi School Old Boys’ Association, Naim Qureshi.
The list of the VIPs who have been contacted for help runs like a who’s who: Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Chandra Shekhar, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh, Sikandar Bakht, Arif Mohammed Khan, Tara Chand Khandelwal, Jai Prakash Agrawal, Jagmohan, BR Tamta and Rukhsana (Singh) Sultana.
Also included in this list are the former governors of Delhi, namely HL Kapoor, Romesh Bhandari, Markandey Singh and PK Dave, during their tenure. But all in vain, according to an illustrious alumnus, the late Shahid Ansari whose roof-high file of documents proved that he left no stone unturned for his alma mater before his untimely demise.
In 1991, Jagdish Tytler, the then area MP and a union minister in communication, tried with the DDA to get the school some land in Dwarka, Narela or Pitampura but the offer was rejected as the poor students of the area had no means to travel from Old Delhi to the outer Delhi areas. "We informed the DDA that moving to the area prescribed by them is akin to closing our school," said the former principal Azhar-ul-Hadi. "Most of the students studying in our school are below the poverty line and come walking to the school," Hadi stated.
The Qaumi School was founded soon after Partition in 1948 when it was set up with funds raised by poor Muslim residents of the area. It was taken over by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi in 1960 as a primary school. In 1975, it was raised to the higher secondary level.
Recently, the Directorate of Education has even stopped the grant of the school and the teachers are without salary for the last three months. The Board result this year for class 10 was just 17 per cent and for class 12 it was 33 per cent. The manager of the school, Abdul Malik, is unable to tackle the situation. Now the teachers of this Urdu-medium school are running from pillar to post to collect the five per cent grant that the aided schools have to accumulate. The government provides 95 per cent grant to such aided schools.
Some teachers say that the earlier manager, Mr Siraj Qureshi, was providing the five per cent grant to the school but he resigned in 2002 on account of the quagmire the school got suck into after it removed a lady teacher (Bazm-e-Ara) who later filed a suit in the court demanding reinstatement. The court asked the management to pay her the 27-month salary besides ordering them to reinstate her. Owing to this impasse the student community suffered.
"If no action is taken to save the students and teachers of the school, the institution will be closed. Our petitions have been unaddressed because of the callous attitude of the concerned authorities that will one day drive hundreds of students into the darkness of illiteracy," says a disgruntled Atyab
Firoz Bakht Ahmed is social activist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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