Abdul Malik, now 50, was a sixth-grader when his school building was razed to the ground. The year was 1976, when the country was in the throes of Emergency. The school was shifted to a piece of land, belonging to an Eidgah, at Quresh Nagar in Sadar Bazar area where Malik completed his schooling.
Four decades on, the school is still struggling for a permanent address. From the day in 1976, when the school building at Sarai Khalil was taken down, to the present, it has been operating from the precincts of the Eidgah, under tin sheds. It neither has land nor a building to call its own.
“We were in our days of innocence back then. Imagine how it must have felt seeing our school building going down brick by brick. It’s been years since I left school and it fills me with a sense of sadness that it still hasn’t found a new address,” Malik said.
Striving for change
Now a manager of the school where he took his life’s lessons, Malik has set forth to give the students what he never had — a proper schooling environment and a roof of concrete over their heads. And, in this quest to give the students their due, he has other alumni for company. However, their sincere intent and effort doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference on the ground, as the students still take their seats under tin sheds.
One of the 800 students enrolled at the Quami Senior Secondary School, 12-year-old Mohammad Kashif has a dream — to become an engineer. Kashif, a resident of Nabi Karim, sets off for school on foot at 7 every morning and reaches journey’s end in 30 minutes. His father earns his bread working at a bag making factory.
While it’s certainly no fun studying in a school, which only has chalkboards, benches and chairs to offer in the way of infrastructure, Kashif has been told that aided minority institutions such as this had a lot to look forward to back in the day. “It would be nice to see the school rebuilt someday. We face problems galore whenever it rains,” he said.
Classes under tents
Though far from ideal, the current arrangement is an improvement, if one can call it that, from 2002 when classes were held inside tents. Later, with help from alumni and members of the community, tin roofs and L-shaped walls were built in a corner of the Eidgah ground.
Despite continued efforts of the alumni to improve their lot, Kashif and his friends don’t have much to rejoice. However, they have hope that donations from the alumni will help the school script a new chapter someday.
“We have been waging a long struggle to give the school a permanent address. It was a relief when the court directed the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) to give us land to rebuild the school. However, the DDA offered only 1,600 metres of land, which was grossly unfair. Our school caters primarily to poor and underprivileged children and it is imperative that they are not deprived of the basic right to pursue education,” Malik said.
“This is a religious site where devotees gather on Eid and Bakri Eid. It also hosts events for people from the Muslim community. They often object to a school being run on the premises. What do we tell them? While governments have come and gone over the years, none cared to do anything to change the lot of this school. Imagine the plight of the students attending the school on cold, breezy mornings. How can one study in the open?” Malik said.
“Our alumni do keep sending donations from time to time. But unless the school gets a building, one can’t expect much out of it,” Malik said.
Lack of space, a handicap
Mohammad Ali, the principal, said there are problems galore in running a school from an Eidgah property. “Those visiting the site for religious reasons voice objection, claiming the space has been encroached. Also, an Eidgah is supposed to be roofless. Hence, we had to be wary of the sentiments of the community while making arrangements here. We had no option but to somehow run the school from tin ned structures,” the principal said.
He said the school majorly caters to children of labourers and street vendors.
The school gets 95 per cent funding from the government and 5 per cent from its management, Ali said, adding that every effort was being made to give good education to the students.
However, Malik said lack of space does impair the management’s efforts to give students an ideal learning experience. “You can’t set up a laboratory here. There’s hardly any room for infrastructure. There’s a risk of outsiders breaking in and stealing school equipment. The toilets are pretty far from where the school operates. Where is the space to put new benches and desks? We have worked hard to keep our premises clean and prevent outsiders from breaking in. However, this is a public property and we can hardly play by our rules out here,” Malik said.
“We have to give these poor students a proper ambience to study. Where else will they go,” Malik said.
No progress despite HC order
Firoz Bakht Ahmed, chancellor, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, who has been seeking restoration of the school, said it is regrettable that despite the high court directing the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to provide land for the school, last year, there has been no progress on than front.
“Despite the high court order last August, asking the central government to allot 4,000 metres of land for setting up a state-of-the-art Urdu medium school, with help from the Delhi Directorate of Education, nothing has been done. Even the demarcation of the area where the school is to be rebuilt hasn’t been done,” Ahmed, also an activist and petitioner, said.
Bakht said he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his help in giving this school a concrete shape.
The school has 12 classrooms and a staff strength of 32.
The alumni, which includes Sirajuddin Qureshi, the chairman of Islamic Cultural Centre, have been making all sorts of contributions to give the school the necessary infrastructure support, but their best effort doesn’t seem to have been enough.
“Someone sends books, someone buys uniforms for the students. They all do their bit for their alma mater. However, what we need, most of all, is a piece of land where we can set up a proper school. If and when the government gives us land, as ordered by the court, we’ll be able to give students what they need,” Malik said.