The next big target for Malappurams Muslims is the civil services.
The Kerala district,second only to West Bengals Murshidabad in terms of their Muslim population,has been striving since the 1990s to conquer religious orthodoxy and limited educational facilities,with Muslims bagging toppers positions in the high school finals,and engineering and medical entrances. All of that has inspired the civil services dream that has caught on at high school level itself.
Two batches comprising 150 students of classes VIII and IX attend a civil services foundation course on Sundays and holidays at Areacode in the district. The eight-year course will last until they graduate,and subsequently the eligible will be enrolled in civil service coaching centres. Although the programme is open to all,most of the students are Muslim.
There was a time when the district was so short of educational resources that its schools had to recruit non-Muslim teachers from southern districts of Kerala. Then jobs in the Middle East created a new middle class who looked for better education. In 1998,a Muslim girl for the first time topped the Class X finals,inspiring others. In later years,several Muslims topped engineering and medical entrance exams. In 2011,when Muhammed Shihab,brought up in an orphanage,cleared the civil services exam,Malappurams Muslims celebrated it as a feat by the community.
Social critic Prof Hameed Chendamangalloor said the middle-class boom has created an urge for high-end careers. Also,the perception that Muslim representation in civil service is negligible makes the new generation aspire for such jobs, he says.
The Muslim community has doctors,engineers and other professionals,but our representation is very poor in civil services, agrees Molayil Ashraf,who along with four other youths run the course that grooms schoolchildren for the civil services.
Five years ago,the youths started Resourceful Academy for Competitive Examination at their village Moorkkanad,near Areacode,where scores of teens are engaged in illegal river sand mining. Last year it was Muhammed Shihab who broached the idea of starting a foundation course at school level, says Ashraf.
The students,80 last year and 70 this year,were selected on the basis of written tests and interviews,or school scores. Students are charged Rs 6,200 a year and the economically backward are supported by NRIs. Once every month,an IAS or IPS officer takes classes; these are otherwise addressed by subject experts from the coaching industry. Classes are based on the school curriculum and students are trained in creative writing,besides getting to videoconference with bureaucrats and professionals.
Ashraf,also a schoolteacher,says many students had once wanted to take up sand mining or travel in escort trucks to warn miners against police. This route to easy money has distracted many from school.
Fayiz Ali of IX says the course has been a motivation. Many of my classmates were engaged in sand mining,which would fetch them Rs 500 for a few hours of toil. This had prompted many to drop studies.
Shareef M,who works as a sand miner,has now sent his daughter Sitha to the foundation course. She is earnestly reading newspapers and keeping track of current affairs, he says. A girl attending the course can send a strong message through a district where child marriages and dropouts by girls prevail. A government survey had counted 4,249 child marriages among Muslims in 2009.
Attitudes have changed all over. Class IX student Munsifa K Ts elder sister Muna had dropped out of higher secondary to get married. This year she had joined a degree course. I have decided to say no to marriage till I complete my studies, says Munsifa,daughter of a porter and being coached free. M P Rushida says her mother will resume her education,having dropped out after marriage. And Md Mazin,son of an auto driver,says,Many of us are now skipping weddings on Sundays for the course.