In Search of Light

Hazarat Deewan Zafar (R) Girls’ High School at Panskura, East Midnapur in West Bengal is an effort to impart modern education to the local Muslim girls. A two-hour drive (about 100 kilometers) from Kolkata takes you there.

Girls school

By Aditya Raj

Clad in red and white, they are heading for lunch. However, they are not entitled to get a single grain of corn in the name of the much-hyped mid-day-meal. Asked about the cause of discrimination, a seemingly frustrated, Dr. Syed Rashed Ali, professor of Islamic History, Calcutta University, tells me, “Since our school isn’t affiliated; students won’t get anything from Govt. of West Bengal”. About 80% of these 400 students (150 residential) come off financially poor families. Two square meals a day is not assured there. In most cases, the sole earning member of the family is either a marginal farmer or an agricultural labor or an imam of a mosque of a far-flung village. Hadn’t they joined the school, they would’ve migrated to urban sectors to join the domestic help force, or been the victims of child marriage.
“In 1995,” recalls Dr. Ali, “Md. Israel, a member of the then CPI(M) district secretariat of undivided Midnapur proposed to set up a madrassa for the local Muslim girls”. The intention of vote bank politics was readable. Dr. Ali was invited to cheer a newly formed committee of 13 members in this regard. Muslim girls’ post childhood attempt to attend the co-ed school doesn’t make a happy reading to orthodox Muslims. This outlook puts the adolescent Muslim girls behind curtain. As a school going kid, Dr. Ali read it and felt the need of a separate girls’ school at Panskura.
“I grabbed the opportunity. A separate school was long overdue for the local Muslim girls”, observed Dr. Ali. Asked what let him take a u-turn from madrassa; he confirmed, “If you are to march forward; you are to take a call on modern education”. The tug of war in between tradition and modern continued for a fortnight. Finally, the latter saw green.
In absence of a separate building, Pratappur unit 2 primary school building housed the newly formed secondary school for girls in 1997. As settled, the classes of the secondary school would be taken in the morning. The classes of the primary school were to follow later in the day. A couple of years later, a separate building became a must for the secondary school. A land of about 3 acres came from Syeds’ ancestral property for the purpose. To keep the secular credential of the school intact; a clause was drafted: no religious activities would be permissible ever within the school premises.

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