Nearly five years after the riots in Gujarat, safety concerns and lack of school facilities have kept Muslim kids away from education.
In Gujarat, riot-hit Muslims are still away from education. Most of them have lost the way. Nearly five years after the Gujarat riots, safety concerns and lack of facilities keep many children away from a decent education.
Meet Ruksana Banu, her life revolves around the monotonous routine of household chores. Every day, she washes clothes, cooks meals, cleans vessels and occasionally goes for sewing classes near her house.
She adores two Hindi tele-serials on television, ostensibly centred around women. Sometimes, she remembers the dreams she had before 2002 and then, the mountainous garbage dump that is heaped near her house in Citizen Nagar, Ahmedabad, which almost seems to represent the crash-landing of those cherished hopes.
She was a class VIII student in a school in Naroda, when the carnage happened. Her house was destroyed, and her neighbours were hacked and burnt alive. Rendered homeless, she and her family eventually secured a roof over their heads in Citizen Nagar, where a relief committee had constructed houses for the riot victims.
Today, her father who owns a push- cart finds it difficult to make a living in his new neighbourh-ood. There are no municipal schools in the area and the family cannot afford to send the children to private schools. Ruksana has a 14 year old brother. “We cannot pay the fees,” says Ruksana, “but I want to study and become a pilot”, she adds.
No one knows how many children dropped out of school in the aftermath of the riots almost five years ago. But the neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad are signposted with distressing reminders of discarded hopes.
On a clear noon, there are little girls sitting outside their homes rolling agarbattis. Adolescent girls wash vessels or clothes, drying them in the sun. Several of the boys are out working. Livelihood is difficult to find and as house budgets shrink, children’s education faces the first and almost always the fatal cut.
Many Muslim families migrated to places that they considered safe, like Juhapura, but the schools there were already overcrowded. It does not help that Muslim pockets have little or no civic and educational facilities.
In Bombay Hotel’s Danilmela area where there are no approach roads, sanitation or water, there are 10,000- 12,000 households, all belonging to Muslims and the only municipal school is located outside the area of habitation. The school has both Gujarati and Urdu mediums, but the Gujarati medium has only a couple of teachers.
The unfilled posts stand as stark reminders of State neglect. In fact, in several localities where Muslims are in the majority, such as Danilmela, Hindu managem-ents have shut down their schools, sold their school buildings or moved to areas that are Hindu dominated.
Haunted by the memories of the riots, Muslims parents believe even today that it is unsafe to send their children, especially girls to schools in Hindu-dominated areas. Human rights groups say that since it was the government’s apathetic attitude during the riots that led to the squalor, the government should now do something to stop dropout rates of Muslim students.
“There is every attempt by the government to ghettoize the Muslims into a few pockets and make their existence invisible,” said Gagan Sethi, member of a monitoring committee formed by the National Human RightS Commission.
Fenced in by an atmosphere of fear, the children like the elders in their families have little to do with their counter parts from other communities, and their opinions are all too often moulded by hearsay and biases.
“There is ghettoisation happening in schools” says Father Fernand Durai, Principal of St. Xavier’s High School. He said that the children will grow up with prejudices, they will believe what is fed to them without any personal experience with children of other communities. I can only say that it points to a pathetic future for our country, he added.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)