Bihar poll and the Muslim mind: In Seemanchal, Muslim youth yearn for education

Kishanganj: Come elections in the Seemanchal region, political leaders of all shades go back to the same tired old rhetoric customised for the predominantly Muslim population. It is directed at exploiting the sense of insecurity in the community; if development is discussed at all, it comes as filler. Education and the aspirations of the young Muslims, of course, are not important enough.

The disconnect between the political class and the youth is glaring in this region bordering Nepal and West Bengal. The dropout rate after high school is as high as 98 percent; it is 92 percent for boys and girls after standard eight and nine. A whopping 88 percent of children leave studies between standard 4- 7. The districts of Kishanganj, Purnea, Araria and Katihar present a dismal picture when it comes to education, yet evidence suggests there is no dearth of talent here.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Mohamad Aslam, an entrepreneur and president of Human Chain, an NGO working for the educational upliftment in the area, said, "Thirty to forty students from the region qualify in the pre-university entrance examination conducted by Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, and Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, every year."

"At least 30 students from the four districts get admission in graduate programmes at prestigious DU (University of Delhi), JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University), JMI and AMU each year. The number of those who go to such varsities to pursue post-graduation is somewhere between 15 and 20,” he said.

In addition, he said, one boy from Purnea cracked the civil service examination this year and got into the Indian Revenue Service. Six successfully got into Bihar Public Service Commission (BPSC) examinations last year.

The area sends 12-15 Muslim students to different government medical colleges. Nine students – two each from Kishanganj, Araria and Purnea and three from Katihar – cracked the IIT-JEE this year. Around 30 students enter government engineering colleges and at least 60 students manage to get admission in various government polytechnic colleges every year. An equal number of students get into Industrial Training Institutes (ITI).

“It shows the students here are meritorious and want to study. But they are deprived of basic facilities such as good quality government-run primary, secondary and senior secondary schools. Economic backwardness contributes to the illiteracy in the region. Parents send their children to bigger cities to earn money which would meet the requirements of their family back home,” Aslam said.

Though we at Human Chain constantly organise Talimi Mela and have coined a slogan ‘aadhi roti khayenge, phir bhi bachon ko padhayenge’ (will eat half bread but educate our children) so that people become aware of the importance of education, a lot still needs to be done,” admitted Aslam, an AMU alumnus.

When asked about the economic background of those who compete in the competitive exam, Aslam said, “Fifty-seventy percent of the students are economically sound. Their parents are teachers, bank officials and in government services. The remaining 30 percent come from the economically weaker section.”

Muslims, as per the religious census of 2011, account for 67.97 percent of the population in Kishanganj.

In Purnia, where the community constitutes 38.46 percent of the population, these figures stand at:

In Araria, where Muslims make up 42 percent of the population these indices settle at 0.35, 0.19, 0.08 and 0.10 respectively against general category scores of 0.17 for economic index and 0. 24 for health index.

The NSSO findings are the same for the 44.47 percent Muslim population of Katihar. Their economic index, educational index, material well-being index and health index are 0.17, 0.22, 0.01 and 0.19 respectively.

“The place remains cut off from the rest of the state because of poor connectivity and infrastructure. The educational aspirations are very high, but social, economic and educational backwardness comes in the way. Therefore, the AMU centre is being looked upon by residents here as a saviour,” says Dr Rashid Nehal, director of AMU centre at Kishanganj. He stressed on strengthening the primary, secondary and higher secondary education systems and setting up at least six universities.

Tafheem Rahman, who now runs a private school after leaving a plum job abroad, links the high dropout rate to the pathetic economic condition of people.

“You cannot analyse the two things separately. They are inter-linked. How can a person who struggles throughout the day to make ends meet think of sending his children to Bhagalpur, Patna and Delhi for studies. If you go by the data, you will find that the highest enrolment is in primary and middle schools. Why? Parents send their children to school for the mid-day meal. In addition, they get money for books, stationary items and uniform. When it stops in high school, we witness high dropout rates,” he explained.

Citing the case of his own school, he said the parents of most of the students studying there are government servants, mainly teachers.

“But things are changing. Twenty percent of our students belong to the extremely weaker section but their parents manage the tuition fee we charge. It is low. This is a positive signal indicating that people are becoming aware of the importance of education. Nothing can change overnight, it will take time for the trend to be visible on a bigger scale,” he said.

Dr Nadeem Usmani, a teacher in mathematics and physics who runs preparatory classes for medical and engineering tests, also agreed that people at the lowest rung of society are realising the importance of education.

In 2011, two students cracked IIT-JEE, one got selected in Bihar government’s pre-medical test and 22 students entered different NITs. This year, his six students cleared West Bengal Combined Engineering Test.

“All of them were from weaker economic background. Some of them were even not able to meet their stationery expenses, forget about lodging and food. But they did not give up and proved their talent. Based on my seven-year teaching experience in this region, I can say without any doubt that students here are intelligent. What they need is proper guidance,” he said.

Dr Abuzar Kamaluddin, former vice chairman of Bihar Intermediate Education Council and senior principal at Bhim Rao Ambedkar Bihar University, accused Muslim leaders of using religion for their vested political interest and not allowing the region to develop.

"Muslim politicians like Syed Shahabuddin and MJ Akbar got elected as Members of Parliament from Kishanganj but did nothing for it,” he said. But he blamed the people of the area for this.

“They are not aware of their own issues. They are driven by selfish gains, and that’s why government officers and their representatives in Assembly and Parliament can afford to be irresponsible,” Kamaluddin said.

The noted educationist, who has written several books on education—the latest one is Education: Views and Vision – A suggestive Study with Critical Analysis Under the Backdrop of Bihar, stressed on improving the standard education in government schools and making it competitive.

“The educational facilities and standard of education in Urdu/ Hindi medium schools are far lower in comparison to English medium institutions, which is reflected in the low level of performance of students of these institution in general education as well as competitive examinations. Thus the problem of education is manifold - high mass illiteracy, low standard of education and low level of performance. We have to tackle all these problems simultaneously, for which we need to adopt a multi-pronged policy,” he added.

The role of Islamic seminaries like madrasas is extremely important, but Dr Kamaluddin said that unfortunately they have failed to upgrade their syllabus.

“The focus of madrasa education is theology. If they want to survive, they have to modernise within the walls of Islamic principles,” he said.

Interestingly, Seemanchal is where where an educational movement was launched in 1966 under the aegis of Insan Educational Experimental Complex by Padma Shri Dr Syed Hassan. Hassan was a visionary student of Dr Zakir Hussain, the former president of India and one of the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.  Many educational institutions like Insan School, Insan Adult Educational, Insan College, Insan College of Education were set up in Kishanganj. The institution gradually spread over a hundred acres in a few years. People started calling the area ‘Jhopriyon ka Shahar’ (town of huts) due to bamboo huts that were used as classrooms and residences.

Hassan, who served as assistant professor at Frostberg State University in the United States in 1960, emphasised on bridging the gap between the teachers and students. Instead of the usual trend of calling teachers ‘sir’ and ‘madam’, students were asked to call male teachers ‘bhai’ (brother) and female teacher ‘baji’(sister). Students addressed their seniors as ‘bade bhai’ (big brother).

The institution produced many doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, teachers, professors and politicians. Interestingly, all the four MLAs who have represented Kishanganj district have been educated in Insan School. But unfortunately, it is in a poor shape now. Attempts are being made to revive it once again.

Updated Date: Oct 08, 2015 17:52 PM

Also See