A sharp rise in Muslim girls education in Rajasthan

By Ashafaque Kaymkhani

Sikar (Rajasthan): Though Muslim girls in other parts of the country are still struggling to get education like boys, Muslim girls in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan made a significant progress. In Sikar and surrounding villages, over 20,000 Muslim girls have been attending schools and colleges every day while Jhunjhunu district also has more Muslim girls attending schools. The region witnessed a seachange in the mindset of Muslim parents who are now convinced of the need to educate their daughters.

‘’Eight years back, when I came from Goa here and joined a school as teacher, I noted a trend emerging among the Muslims to send their daughters to schools. Now almost every family sends its daughters to schools. We get a tremendous support from mothers and grand mothers”, says Shabina in Sikar. The process to motivate Muslims for girls education started in 1997 when a Mumbai-based social worker A Wahid Chowhan set up a school named “Excellence Girl’s School” in Sikar. It was exclusively for girls belonging to all faiths.

‘’In the beginning, there was a lot of apprehension and doubt about our project. Even a small section of society opposed and raised several questions but we convinced parents and ensured the safety of girls. It yielded results, Mr Chowhan says. ‘’We started it with only 27 girls and now we are running a girls college in Sikar with 3,000 girls.” His school and college are different from others as these provide education free of cost and also supply free uniform.

Hailing from Sikar, Mr Chowhan developed the school based on secular principles. “It is based on a broad vision to provide equal opportunities to girls, particularly the economically backward section of the society, irrespective of religion, caste, or creed. It is an educational institution based on secular values”, he says. Not only Muslim girls, but sizable Hindu girls also enrolled in the school and the college. The Shekhawati region witnessed mushrooming schools not only in towns but also in small villages.

In Fatehpur town of the region, Jamiat-ul-Vyaparian runs three schools, one of them is exclusively for girls. ‘“Now our girls are getting modern as well as religious education. We realised the value of modern education. Boys also want educated girls when they look for a matrimonial match, says social worker Yusuf Ahmad Khokhar. Shabana has four sisters and one brother while she is the only girl in her family who got an opportunity to attend the English-medium school in Fatehpur. A class 5th student, Shabana says, “My father is an auto rickshaw driver. He wants to see me a doctor. Had such school not been set up here, it would be difficult for girls like me to get education”, she says.

Muslim girls opt for commerce, architecture, computer, science and law courses previously considered as male preserve.” I am pursuing computer science and want to be an IT professional. You know there is a demand in private institutions for IT”, says Rahila, a Muslim girl at Excellence College. Nuzhat doing her management course said it was her father who allowed her to be a management graduate.

Aftab, a local Muslim, prides on his daughter. “My daughter will be the first architect among the Muslim girls in Shekhawati region. This was unimaginable a decade ago. When I decided to allow my daughter to get good education, lots of people opposed it, but now you can see a great change in society.” He gives credit to Mr Chowhan for this change. “I am sure Muslim girls outnumbered boys in education”, says a social activist in Sikar.

The region has a good number of people living in Gulf countries and Mumbai for business and employment. Many of them helped in setting up educational institutions in Shekhawati region. A decade ago, Mohammed Hussen Pathan used to live in Saudi Arabia. He returned to his village and set up a school. ‘’I am happy to help the community and the region. My school has over 300 girl students, my own daughter is doing graduation”, Mr Pathan says.

 ‘’The rise in educational standard helped in many ways. We did not hear any incident of communal tension during the last one decade, as our priority now is education”, says Kayamkhani, “You see girls out shining boys in every examination and competition”, said a local leader.

The educational institutions impart modern as well as dini or religious education. ‘’There was no debate over the kind of education, says Khalid Akhtar, who teaches at a Muslim girl’s school in Sikar.

Master Sirajuddin was the fist in the area who gave a call for girl’s education in 1963. Now he heads a Muslim girls school in Sikar. “That was the most difficult time. Now parents themselves come to us for the education of their daughters. When we have parents meeting, women come forward to support the cause of girls education”, he says.

‘’When a girl gets higher education, she will teach her entire family. The society now recognizes this fact, says Rukhsana, a teacher in a private college. Education also curbed the menace of child marriage in the region.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2010 on page no. 5

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