Visitors to Chopda, a dusty town in Jalgaon district 420 km north of Mumbai would, be surprised to see, in contrast to the rising polarisation seen in education, that it is home to a decades-old Urdu school run by devout Hindus.
The school, Pratap Vidyamandir with 4,000 students, is the biggest in Chopda and one-of-its-kind in the state where a Marathi and Urdu school are run on the same premises by the same management.
“The school was set up in 1918 by my grandfather Maganlal Nagindas, a Gandhian. It started as a co-ed Marathi school. Later, my grandfather realised that in view of the large Muslim population in the area, we should have an Urdu school as well,” Madhuri Mayur, the Trustee Secretary of Chopda Education Society which runs the school, said.
Maganlal, it is said, was excommunicated by his Gujarati community after the Urdu school opened.
The Urdu section was set up in 1965 with four students. The strength of the Urdu school, which today has classes from 5 to 10, is 275.
The lure of Urdu schools is strong for the Muslim community. There are 5268 Urdu schools in the state, the highest after English and Marathi. Nearly 30 per cent of Chopda’s 72000-strong population is Muslim. Hindus are mainly into agriculture and trading, and Muslims traditionally into jobs like farmhands and construction labourers. With no industries in the area, economic disparity has made the town communally volatile.
“When the Urdu school was opened, my family had to face opposition from people including our community. They believed that entry should be restricted to only our community. However, our family was firm that if this town had to progress, then we had to take everyone along and ensure their education,” Mayur said. She had left her job in a leading auto ancillary unit in Pune to manage the school.
Interestingly, before the Urdu section was opened, local Muslims had to travel outside Chopda if they wanted to pursue secondary education.
The management of the school has also hired Persian teachers to ensure Muslim students learn Persian.
“Almost every Muslim resident in Chopda from the 60s to 80s studied in this school. The members of the Muslim community felt the need to set up another school and that came up in 1983 almost 18 years after this school was set up,” Assistant Headmaster Kazi Khwaja Mujib Ahmed, who is in charge of the Urdu section, said.
The coming up of the other Urdu school meant numbers in Pratap Vidya Mandir have now dwindled. It presently has 275 students taught by eight Muslim teachers. The management believes that such schools are the need of the hour.
“Such schools represent plurality of our nation. In our school, we have Hijab-wearing students sharing space with girls of the Hindu community. This interaction helps in breaking stereotypes and understanding each other’s culture. Understanding and empathising with each other is the need of the hour. I wish there are more such schools which emulate our model,” Kazi said.