Dressed in a blue salwar-kameez, a dupatta over her head, Musra Khatun works the sewing machine at her home, stitching her school uniform. Until last week, Musra was just another 15-year-old in Rehna. Now she is a local celebrity. She is the only student of her class from her school and village to have passed the Class 10 Haryana board exams this year.
The Government Senior Secondary School in Rehna, a Muslim-majority village in Raipur Rani block of Panchkula district, was upgraded to Class 12 only in 2014-15. Until then, it was up to Class 8.
Out of 35 students in the first batch from the school to write the Class 10 exam in March 2016 , five passed. In 2016-17, all 41 students of Class 10 to write the exam at the school failed. This year, of the 63 students who wrote the exam, 23 of them girls, 41 included those who failed last year. They failed again. Musra was the only one to break Rehna’s Class 10 board exam jinx, getting 69 per cent marks.
The Rehna school has around 150 students from Classes 9 to 12 and five teachers. Six sanctioned posts of teachers are vacant.
In fact, for all the senior science classes at the school, there is just one teacher, Satish Kumar. A Chemistry teacher, Kumar also takes Physics and Biology classes for Classes 9 to 12, and was Musra’s class teacher. Says Kumar, “As there was no Maths teacher for some time, I had to teach Maths. I taught English too. Musra is diligent. She came to me to clear all her doubts, irrespective of the subject I taught. I did the best I could.”
For the abysmal Class 10 record, teachers also blame the no-detention policy. “Students’ basics are not clear. How will they write the board exams?,” says a teacher.
Principal Tejinder, however, claims the reason is the “conservative” atmosphere of families. “These kids are sent to madrasas by parents for religious education. We need to pull them out from there so that they attend our classes.”
But sarpanch Alam Gir says students go to madrasas only because they fail in the regular school. “When students don’t get proper education, where will they go? They will go to these madrasas so that at least they become eligible to become maulvis.”
For Musra’s family, it has been a tumultuous few weeks since the results were declared. “I feel like crying listening to people’s comments. Sometimes they say what’s the big deal if she has passed. At other times, they say I must have put in a word with someone at the board. A labourer like me who earns Rs 300 a day, what kind of influence does he have?” says father Iqbal. His voice filled with pride, he adds, “In a school where not even a child would clear exams, Musra has passed with such good marks.”
Iqbal recalls how as a child he wanted to join the Army, but his parents pulled him out after Class 8 and put him to work. Iqbal has been a farmer since, working on the family’s small plot, earning about Rs 6,000-7,000 a month. They have a one-room pucca house with no TV, no fridge, no cooler or a smartphone or any vehicle.
“What I couldn’t achieve because of lack of proper education, I don’t want Musra to face. I keep telling her mother not to give her chores and to let her concentrate on studies. When you are battling so many social issues, it is difficult to give your daughter an education. So I request the government to help us by providing good teachers,” said Iqbal, whose only other child, a girl elder to Musra, lives with her aunt. That’s her only request to the government too, Musra says. Adding that she wants to support her parents financially, she says, “I want to become a doctor. I wish I could convey to the government to provide us adequate facilities at school, otherwise my dreams too will shatter.”