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Published in the 16-31 July 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Padma Shri for Hussaini
By Nishat Arif H.

Gulbarga: The announcement of the Padma awards every year brings into focus a large number of people who are lauded for achievements in their respective fields. This year’s list of 74 Padma Shri awards covers the fields of music, sports, arts, literature and education. Some of the personalities in sports, visual media and literature are very well known. Their professions are high-profile and glamorous. But the names and faces of the self-less educationists and social workers may not be so familiar to a majority of people. It speaks a lot for our values that educationists, social workers and public activists do not get the media coverage and appreciation that they merit. The subtle change in values that has taken place since Independecne is responsible for this.

Syed Muhammad Hussaini

People like Syed Muhammad Hussaini, Asifa Zamani, BL Srinivas Murthy have such belief in their ideals, values and goals that they have not sought the gaze of the world while carrying on their work with a quiet determination. For every achiever who comes under the focus of the media there are dozens of men and women who remain un-applauded. Unsung by the media that is, for they occupy a very precious place in the hearts and minds of the people for whom they have worked and toiled. “Working for” is the key phrase then. There are those who work for themselves and there are those who work for others. These are the people who have focussed on their respective regions and on particular groups and communities. 

Perhaps not many may know when Medha Patkar suffers physical privation. But it will make a drastic difference to the thousands displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam project, perhaps the difference between darkness and light, death and life. 

Such a personality is Syed Shah Muhammad Al-Hussaini, recipient of the Padma Shri this year for his contribution in the field of education. “Contribution” is an inadequate word for him. For he has lived his life in the service of the people of Gulbarga and this service has been primarily in the cause of education. 

Born on 29 December 1922, Hussaini is the brain behind establishing and patronising more than a dozen educational institutions. Remarkably single-minded about his goal for imparting education, there was a method in his passion, a wisdom that made him go from the microcosm to the macrocosm, from the focussed particularity to the general. He targetted the weakest section of society, the girl-child and started the first institution of learning for girls in 1958. Concentrating upon the Muslims of Gulbarga, he undertook the project with absolute devotion. There was no gloss or fanfare, just the enormous task of persuading the downtrodden, the ignorant, to come out of their hibernation and study. And they did come. 

Hussaini has built up a veritable educational empire since 1957. An empire consisting of 15 institutions – from primary schools to degree colleges and professional institutions like the Khwaja Bandanawaz Institute of Medical Sciences and College of Engineering. Thousands work and earn in the business of propagating education to hundreds of young people who come from all over India.

The last of the institutions that he set up in 2000 was the Medical College. But it turned out to be a bitter challenge that he battles to conquer today. Hussaini Sahab, the standard bearer of free education was made to stand in line with the sellers of glossy educational packages. In the past four years, he has been fleeced by those agencies of the government that hold the power of granting permission to professional colleges. Regressive officials flaunting Quixotic rules come for annual visits and play out a grim game. The permission is dangled like the proverbial carrot, then whisked away on the pretext of a flimsy excuse. Every year more and more money is lavished upon “conditions” that may change the next year on the whim of these officials. 

Meanwhile, students line up every year seeking admission with heart-rending stories of deprivation which the founder of the education society listens to and gives them admission on a pittance. It must be the ultimate irony that the Government deems to acknowledge his exemplary contribution in the field of education by bestowing the Padma Shri upon him, while it undercuts the very existence of his Education Society by the hardline that it adopts towards the professional college that he struggles to maintain.

What does this honour mean to a man of this stature? Personal accolades matter little to him. The constant stream of visitors bringing garlands and bouquets irks him. Success for him translates into service for the people. He wants his institutions to flourish, to provide the best for those who enter their portals. He has invested everything in them. The key word that describes his outlook is “working for others”. Hussaini Sahab has gifted large tracts of land in Gulbarga to the government for constructing a guest house for travellers, donated land for building a Gandhi Bhavan, for educational institutions to various societies.

The continuing sense of insecurity for the medical students bothers him no end. He remains undaunted but deeply disappointed by the unfeeling attitude of the powers that be. Today Hussaini Sahab stands alone on the strength of his convictions and his passion for service. He requires more than mere lip-service from the Government and his fellow citizens. His selfless efforts have uplifted an entire region, something that the bureaucracy in the education secretariat cannot hope for despite all their sops and schemes. An award ought not to be a passing lamp-post for a traveller, to light up and then to plunge him into the darkness again. It should be the timely crown for achievements and services. 

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