“Two years ago Abbu stopped me from going to school. At that time I was studying in standard nine in a government school,” said Zeba, “and it seemed an end of everything in my life.”
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SHE is dark, skinny and has large thoughtful eyes. She can be written of as a shy, gawky girl in her 20s. But one cannot miss the indomitable spirit in this girl when she narrates boldly, her ordeal against her Abbu’s wishes, who believed that grownup girls must stay at home.
Meet Zeba, a student of the Hazrat Inayat Khan Education Centre in Nizamuddin Basti. The contentment in her smile indicates the sea-change her life went through.
“Two years ago Abbu stopped me from going to school. At that time I was studying in standard nine in a government school,” said Zeba, “and it seemed an end of everything in my life.” But Zeba’s never-give-up attitude and relentless counseling of the teachers and social workers at the Hazrat Inayat Khan Education Centre helped to change her Abbu’s views.
“I owe my teachers a lot. Although Abbu has changed a lot but people in my neighbourhood are still against a girl’s education and believe that women should be confined indoors,” added Zeba.
Located in the interior of Nizamuddin basti, the Hazrat Inayat Khan Education Centre works out of a four-storey building. The school is for girls who never went to school or dropped out long ago. Most of the students come from the Nizamuddin basti. But as the word about the school goes around - girls from Ashram, Patparganj and from the area adjoining the basti have also started coming.
A bumpy ride by an auto takes you to the vicinity of the school, where you will be forced to seek a local paanwallah’s help to find its exact location in the congested basti.
The building is quite unusual for any school. At the very entrance a clinic with patients thronging the place and mostly women in burquas, welcome you. But as you proceed a few metres, the chuckles and giggles become more audible to make sure that you are in the right place.
The school opens as early as 8 a.m. and is active till nine in the evening. The school is divided in three shifts and in the early morning shift non-formal classes are held for the girls. “There is no age bar and the idea is to bring them back in the mainstream education system,” said Rita Paul, principal of the school.
By the time the morning session wraps up, girls start arriving for the bridge classes. Once they successfully complete the bridge classes they are allowed to appear for secondary and higher secondary exams through the national open school.
Most of the girls in the centre have a similar story like Zeba and have shared suppression at home. But this non-formal school has helped them to achieve a lot in life. There are many gutsy women like Zeba who have not only succeeded in influencing their families but also have complemented the work done by the social workers in the basti.
The basti is (home to the) shrine of great Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, a versatile talented musical genius Amir Khusro and Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan, follower of Nizamuddin Aulia. Steeped in history and culture, the basti is a big attraction for pilgrims from all over the world who come to see its monuments, tombstones and the shrines. The labyrinthine lanes of the basti are rich in local legends, delicious traditional cuisine and the famous qawallis. One would also find a number of madrasas as well.
Over the centuries, the Nizamuddin basti got engulfed by the burgeoning capital, and today the old settlement has become a bustling, congested urban village. However, it is sad that this historic place, which has been around since the 13th century, could not keep pace with the development in the capital.
Today, Nizamuddin is also home to a large number of Muslim migrants from poorer parts of the country who work as daily wage labourers, rag pickers, maids, vegetable vendors or petty shop owners. Beggars, run away children, deserted women also come here to seek refuge. The place has poor access to health and education facilities.
In these given conditions the school started by the Hope Project is doing a wonderful job in educating the women folk in the basti. This year 18 girls from the school appeared for the matriculation exam and eight girls appeared for the higher secondary exam through the national open school. “All of them have passed with good marks,” said Jamila, who teaches the higher classes. Moreover 40-50 girls have been admitted this year.
The wall magazine of the school indicates the interest taken by girls in co-curricular activities. This summer the students had a theatre workshop with the National School of Drama (NSD).
In fact a group of six girls went as far as Nainital with the principal of the school. “Considering the families they come from, I think it was quite an achievement for us as they were allowed to go for the excursion,” said Paul.
Indeed it is. As Afsana, an ex-student of the school says, “It is just the beginning of our lives.”
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