Twenty-two days after he set out on a yatra to Dandi in Gujarat seeking better terms for Urdu teachers, Thakur Shamsher Bhalu Khan (45) called off his yatra on the border district of Udaipur late on Sunday, following a meeting with Rajasthan Waqf Board Chairman Khanu Khan Budhwali.
“We have reached a nine-point agreement and invited him to meet Education Minister Govind Singh Dotasra in Jaipur on Monday. Following the meeting, he has called off his Dandi yatra,” Budhwali told The Indian Express. Khan is expected to arrive in Jaipur Monday.
However, over the course of past few weeks, Khan’s march united several Muslim organisations and brought out the growing discontent among a section of Muslims against the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government.
For several years now, the Urdu teachers in Rajasthan have been making several demands, including regularisation of madrasa teachers — currently employed on a contractual basis by the Minority Affairs Department — and more recently, for teaching Urdu and appointment of teachers for the same for primary classes under the Education Department.
What acted as a catalyst were two government orders by Primary Education Director Saurabh Swami on September 2 and September 5. The orders state that only one third language can be taught, between classes 6 and 8, and only one teacher can be appointed for the same in a school, with Gujarati, Urdu, Sindhi and Punjabi being the four languages that were listed as the third language.
The 2004 state policy had empowered district education officers to administer primary education in minority languages but the September 2 order ostensibly altered this provision. “It has been brought to notice that some district education officials are giving approval for another third language in certain schools, which is not as per rules,” Swami said.
Frustrated by the “cold shoulder to Urdu teachers, language and community”, Khan decided to undertake a Dandi march on November 1 as a “Gandhian” measure to have the ear of a “Gandhian CM”.
Protest or marches in Khan’s support have since been held in towns within Barmer, Bikaner, Sawai Madhopur, Ganganagar, Churu, Tonk, Pali, Sikar and several other districts under the banner of various organisations such as Majlis-e-Hind in Barmer, Tehreek-e-Urdu in Sikar. Being Khan’s home district, Churu has witnessed the most number of protests.
For Khan, the seeds of the struggle were sown in 2005 when the Bikaner University “discriminated” against Muslim students. “In 2005, I was awarded the gold medal in MA, but the university did not even inform me. I read it in newspapers… and finally received it (gold medal) after a two-month struggle.” He has since continued seeking more posts for Urdu teachers in Bikaner division, and says he has been promoted only once in his 21-year teaching career, alleging that “Urdu teachers are consistently bypassed for promotions”.
“Constitution of India has Article 350A (for primary education in mother tongue for linguistic minorities). Withdraw this Article and we will not demand anything of you,” Khan said from Udaipur where he had arrived Thursday.
However, Education Minister Govind Singh Dotasra told The Indian Express, “There is no third language in classes 1-5 anywhere in India, but only between classes 6 and 8. If primary school itself had Urdu, then why would the madrasas have opened? Some people are unnecessarily creating confusion.” He said the Gehlot government has “not done anything against Urdu, but only increased the posts. You should make demands which have a legal or reasonable basis and we will go ahead with it. Anyone can sit with us for talks.”
As for regularisation of madrasa teachers, Minority Affairs Minister Saleh Mohammad, who had informed the Assembly in July 2019 that a ministerial committee will decide the issue, told The Indian Express that the report has been submitted to the CM and “a decision will be taken soon”.
As Khan — son of former Congress Churu MLA Bhalu Khan (1980-85) – went on with his padyatra, Muslim voices within the state Congress, including MLAs Hakam Ali Khan, Wajib Ali, Rafeek Khan, Amin Kagzi, Zahida Khan, apart from Mukesh Bhakar, etc. individually wrote to Gehlot or Dotasra, requesting withdrawal of orders, regularisation of madrasa teachers, etc. Some Congress leaders, such as Sadulpur (Churu) MLA Krishna Poonia, also lent ‘moral’ support to Khan, who claimed that over 130 former and current MLAs and nearly 200 organisations have extended their support to him.
In his letter, Hakam said that with the government not paying any attention to the demands towards regularisation of Urdu para-teachers and conservation of Urdu, resentment is rife among the minority community. Rafeek Khan said that the two government orders should be withdrawn and that the impugned section of May 2019 staffing pattern be terminated.
On November 12, the government withdrew its two September orders, but the protests did not stop.
A delegation of Muslim Progressive Forum led by Congress leader Mohammed Shareef also met Congress state in-charge Ajay Maken on November 18 and apprised him of their concerns about disregard by Congress leadership to their issues, such as bypassing them for a mayoral post in the recently-held local polls, apart from the issue of Urdu teachers. The same day, Abid Kagzi, chief of Congress State Minority Cell, announced that a delegation of the Minority Cell will take it up with CM.
Beyond the Congress, Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal had also extended his support to Khan, and asked CM Gehlot to address his demands.
Back in Churu, wife Akhtar Bano has been lending him support thorough public videos and protests. He has three daughters – with the eldest one pursuing law while the other two are BSc (Nursing) students.
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