(BY AISHWARYA MOHANTY)
At the junction of two narrow lanes in Ahmedabad’s Shahpur Mill compound, stands the rainbow coloured four-storey building that houses Vishwabharti Shala Sankul. Founded in 1963 as a high school for girls, Vishwabharti Shala Sankul is today a co-ed school with nearly 2,000 students — 99 per cent of them being Muslims — according to the invite the school sent for its annual day celebrated recently.
When Suresh Shukla, a local resident, had founded the school 55 years ago, Shahpur was largely dominated by Hindus and Jains. The school, too, had students predominantly from these two communities. The school, which runs primary and higher secondary schools in English and Hindi medium all from the same building, claims to be among the oldest schools of old Ahmedabad, which started a school only for girls in the beginning.
Today, too the school has a good number of girls, many seen wearing hijaab over their pinafore off-white frock uniform. Much of the changed demography in the school — from a majority Hindu to now a majority Muslims — is attributed to change in the demography of the locality. Frequent riots in Shahpur had led to Hindu and Jain families moving out from the area, and Muslims became the dominant community. In 2002, when the entire state was gripped in the post-Godhra communal riots, the school faced its worst existential crisis.
“When the communal tension was at its peak, our then trustee and founder of the school Suresh Shukla, who is now nearly 100 years old, decided to shift the school, fearing safety of the students. But the Muslim community in the area assured him that he could continue to run the school from the same place, and no harm would ever be inflicted on the school and its students,” said Avinash Bhatt, principal of the school, who has been associated with the school since 1989.
“Ever since then, the school has been functioning smoothly without any hassles, and it gets full support from both the communities,” Bhatt added. People associated with the school say that even amid tension in the area when curfews were a regular feature, the school functioned normally.
The students celebrate all festivals — from Uttrayan, Rakshabandhan and Diwali, to Eid with equal zeal. Once in a week, the students are made to offer ‘sarvadharma prarthana’ (prayers of all religion). Last Thursday, when the school celebrated its annual day, one group of students dressed as Emperor Akbar danced to ‘Azeem-o-Shaan Shahenshah’ from the Hindi film Jodha Akbar, and another group of students, dressed as Maratha King Peshwa Baji Rao, danced to the ‘Malhaari’ number from the film Bajirao Mastani.
“Despite a change in the religious demography of students over the years after the 2002 riots, nothing has changed for the school and the school’s outlook towards these students and their education,” said Bhatt.
For years, the school, which is affiliated to Gujarat State Education Board, have had only Hindu principals — from Mehul Bhatt who continued at the position from 1989 to 2017, to the incumbent Avinash Bhatt. The management of the school, however, changed hands in 2014 when Moizzudden Chisty took over as the new managing trustee. “The change in the school’s management was very smooth, and for us, all our students are equal. We have larger goals to attain now and we want to reduce the number of students dropping out,” Chisty said.