Orgram village has stories to tellof a Muslim baba and a Thakur whose tombs lie next to each other and of a madrassa that has an eclectic mix of students
Orgram,about 120 kilometers from Kolkata,is a Bengal village like any otherwith its lush paddy fields,the CPI-M posters and party flags and the children filing off to school early in the morning. Its so idyllic that its difficult not to probe furtherfor stories of political rancour,for tales of personal egos and communal clashes. And indeed,Orgram does have stories to saybut not what you set out to find. Instead,this village in Bengals Burdwan district tells the story of a former village pradhan who is the head of the Orgram puja mandali,of a Brahmin priest who officiates at the tomb of a Muslim peer baba,and of a madrassa that has more Hindu students than Muslims.
Most of the villagers in Orgram are dependant on agriculture but about 60 per cent of the families own less than an acre. Others work at the village rice mill,the soap making unit or the few fertiliser units in Orgram. The village,which has a literacy rate of about 70 per centhas three primary schools,a higher secondary school and a madrassa. But the villagers take pride in the fact that there has never been any communal trouble here.
Orgram,which has a population of 10,000 people,has 40 per cent Muslims and 60 per cent Hindus. There has never been any tension between the two communities and the bond has only grown stronger over the years, says Kanu Majhi,the village pradhan. Kanu is a former student of the Orgram madrassa.
Asgar Ali Khan,founder of Orgram madrassa and a former village pradhan,is the secretary of the Orgram Sarbjanin Praja Mandal Puja Committeethe local Durga Puja organising committee. On the other hand,Prasad Thakur,a Brahmin,conducts the ceremonies and prayers at the mazar of Hazrat Peer Saheb Gange Laskar,about 200 metres away from the madrassa. Next to the peers mazar is the tomb of a Brahimknown as the Thakur Baba Samadhi.
It is said that the peer baba and the Thakur were close friends and wanted to be together after death. So,the two tombs lie side by side, says Asgar Ali.
But its the madrassa at Orgram that stands as a powerful symbol of religious harmony. The 34-year-old madrassa,which has 883 students and 12 classrooms,has set examples in more ways than one. This school in Bengals rural backyard has challenged religious stereotypes about madrassas. This year,the Orgam madrassa was affiliated to the West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education and it began teaching Sanskrit as an optional subject. The madrassa also has more Hindu students (65 per cent) than Muslims.
Kanika Roys calendar at home has already been flipped to February. Thats when the 16-year-old,a student of the Orgram madrassa, will become the first in her family to appear for a Class X board examination.
My daughter was turned out of many schools since we couldnt afford the fees. The madrassa gives her free uniform and textbooks. She is in Class X and I want her to study further, says Meena Roy,Kanikas mother. The family,which survives on a small patch of land in Orgram village,has also sent their son Gautam (now a Class VII student),to the same madrassa.
Here,Muslim children can opt for Sanskrit and Hindus can study Arabic or Islamic studies. Sanskrit is a scoring subject and I want graduate in Sanskrit and become a Sanskrit teacher, says Syed Shamid Ali,a 16-year-old.
Asgar Ali Khan says the idea behind the institution was to bring education to the poor. I also wanted to bridge prejudices based on religion. Initially,some members of both the communities were opposed to the idea,wondering how Hindus and Muslims can both study in a madrassa, says Asgar Ali.
Most of the students in the madrassa come from poor families. A large number of them are refugees from East Bengal. This madrassas model is worth emulating, says Tara Pad Pal,former headmaster of Orgram High School who is now in the governing body of the madrassa.