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Friday, July 20, 2018

At Home, in School

How the experience of education in a Delhi school collides with the culture of their homes for a bunch of young Muslim girls

Written by Syeda Hameed | Published: October 28, 2017 1:07:09 am
Education, Poverty and Gender: Schooling Muslim Girls in India by Latika Gupta.

Title: Education, Poverty and Gender: Schooling Muslim Girls in India
Author: Latika Gupta
Publisher: Routledge India
Pages: 186 pages
Price: 895

This book is based on the study of a school in Daryaganj, Delhi, which is referred to as MGS (Muslim Girls School) to maintain the privacy of the institution. The study focuses on how the academic life of its students is affected by their religion and culture. It examines the interplay between home and school.

Prof Latika Gupta of Delhi University has several books to her credit. Her latest, this important work on Muslim girls education, analyses the affects of the home environment and culture on the learning of this cohort of girl students. It looks at their life in the context of their school, home, and the religio-cultural ethos of the institution and spaces around it. It deconstructs the interplay of gender and religion in shaping identity and describes how it unfolds in a unique manner in the socio-economic setting of the area.

Daryaganj is an attractive place for research in social relations because of its mixed population and residential-cum-trading character. The presence of Muslim families is prominent, yet it is not a ghetto, unlike some other areas of Delhi. The writer gained access to adolescent Muslim girls through the school. MGS is a government-aided school run under the provisions of Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution. It was originally set up by a charity group which runs an orphanage in the same building, to educate the orphans. In the early 1970s, it evolved into a senior secondary school which receives financial aid from the Delhi government and provides free education to girls. It is located in a relatively well-off part of Daryaganj where several private schools and publishing houses are situated. Most students of MGS come from poorer parts of Daryaganj, the small markets and mohallas. The school’s objective is to promote education among Muslim girls to improve their ability to look after a family. According to the 33rd annual report of the school, “an educated woman is like a blessing for the entire family because she can serve her roles of wife and mother better.” Its perspective on the education of girls derives from the community’s cultural and religious ideals in which her supreme role is within the family. The school situates its educative role of preparing the girls for the world in this view of girls’ education.

Carefully researched using multiple methods to probe the educational ethos of Muslim girls and how it interfaces with their family life, the book is foreworded by Krishna Kumar, former director of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT). Six chapters examine how religion, culture and the home environment affect learning. The girls’ uniform is shalwar, kurta and dupatta. Heads are covered at the sound of the azaan. The morning assembly prayer consists of verses from the Quran. Teachers are greeted with, “Assalam alekum” and respond, “Valekum assalam”. Phrases like “Hai Allah”, “Allah qasam” and “Khuda ke vastey” are commonly used.

Every class has 55 to 60 students but average attendance is never more than 30. They meet friends only at home. The majority go for outings such as movies only with family, which clearly has a powerful hold on the girls. Asked what interests them in mass media, they said film news, TV mushairas, ghazals and soaps. Some said they didn’t watch TV regularly. Most were unclear about career objectives, and said they would work after marriage only if their husbands allowed it. Their socialisation is thus governed by family, kinship and marriage. Not only in Daryaganj, Muslim girl children in similar schools all over the country lead such circumscribed lives.

An alternative set of parallel data was collected from a nearby school of mostly Hindu girls, and showed sharp differences. The findings will be illuminating for policy makers, educationists and Muslim intelligentsia, as they determine how to prepare Muslim girls for the world.

The writer is a former member of the Planning Commission

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