India is a land of vast untapped potential. Often, we tether ourselves with big ideas and forget simpler solutions. Zakir Hussain Delhi College’s outreach team is showing us a way.
Sandwiched between the iconic Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Civic Centre (tallest building in Delhi) and Zakir Hussain Delhi College (oldest educational institution in Delhi) is a narrow lane, which takes you to Basti Khwaja Mir Dard. The tedium of the community is broken as one inches closer to the masjid. Adjacent to the masjid, a large hall is bustling with energy. More than 40 students have gathered here with their report cards and they are sharing their results with the gathering. Dressed in a plain white kurta, Dr Devesh Vijay, Professor of History at Zakir Hussain Delhi College (ZHDC), is listening intently to the kids and adding his comments to bolster their confidence.
“Last year, I fetched 61 per centmarks in 8th grade. This year, I have scored 83 per cent and stood third in my class,” says Arba with a confident gleam in her eyes. More than two third of the students have improved their performances from last year’s. As a reward, Ajay and Mozammil, students from ZHDC, are handing chocolates to the high performers and a cheerful applause ensues. Both of them have been a part of ZHDC Outreach Committee, and along with their teammates, they have been teaching the community students on a regular basis.
A Journey begins
This community is named after Khwaja Mir Dard, the legendary sufi poet and theologian. The Basti houses his tomb, which despite being a five minute ride from Connaught Place, is unknown to many. The dilapidated condition of his tomb is a witness to the deplorable state of the Basti, which houses around 1500 families. Most of the inhabitants are daily wage labourers or street hawkers. The houses are cramped, daily incomes are low and hopes of a good future, bleak.
But, then an UGC directive to the colleges, to strengthen their outreach and extension programmes, set the ball rolling for Basti Khwaja Mir Dard. Dr Vijay reminisces: “I have always believed that colleges should be at the forefront of societal change. They have enough energy, time and talent to benefit the society, especially in their neighbourhood communities. There are always good people who want to do the social good. The UGC directive just gave me and my colleagues the right impulse to start our programme for the Basti.”
On a sultry July afternoon, Dr Vijay, his colleagues and some of the students from ZHDC visited the basti. They realised that problems were too many to start with – poor health and hygiene, unemployment, lack of educational support, etc. As they say, right intentions always attracts right individuals. In Babloo Pradhan, a 40 something Pradhan of the basti, the ZHDC team found their man Friday. He took them to the local madarsa, where some 100 odd children come for their after-school classes and proposed to take remedial classes for the kids. He also promised the team full support from the community. Very soon, the parents were persuaded, logistics were procured (old cupboards from the college, books and stationery) and the remedial classes began.
Masti ki Pathshaala
There were initial hiccups and what-ifs, primary one being the consistency and affection of the students. Mozammil, one of the student volunteer, recalls, “I was very hesitant in my first few classes. But, as the ice broke, the kids showered so much love and started valuing our instructions. Now, I have become so close with the kids that I come here whenever I find time. I don’t miss my home much.” He is from West Bengal and is pursuing his graduation in Bengali (Hons.)
The programme runs daily classes in the madarsa. Every day, the professors and the student volunteers take turns and teach English, Science, Geography, etc to the kids. The kids absolutely love their new sirs and madams. “Suman ma’am is the best. Her classes are so entertaining and she never shouts or scolds us”, both Nazia and Hida say in unison. Gulapsa silently points to Ajay, who was giving some instructions to another student. Girls in the madarsa outnumber the boys with a large margin, which might be a surprise to many.
The kids eagerly wait for Saturdays, as it is the fun day for them. The team has taken permission from the college administration to allow the kids to use the college facilities for their learning and entertainment. On Saturdays, kids are brought to college campus and different movies are shown to the kids. The movies like Neel Battey Sannata, I am Kalam, etc are showcased in the college auditorium to inculcate the qualities of grit, ambition and hard work in the kids. Dr Vijay calls it ‘aesthetic approach to ethics’, where the values are built through the medium of art. Every movie show is followed by discussion, where kids present their thoughts and opinions about the movie.
The physical spaces we live in, morph our mental space and bandwidth too, albeit in a nuanced way. The cramped rooms and narrow lanes can crumple the mental faculties and won’t allow for the unfettered cognitive growth of children. ZHDC team decided to take the children to visits around the city. Science museum was their first outing. Every single kid a first-hand experience of the magical world of science. The next on list was Select City Walk mall in Saket. The kids had time of their life in the mall. Abdullah says with unbridled excitement, “I felt like, I have reached another world.”
The bumps and the jumps
For the ZHDC team, support from the community was a primary concern. But, in Babloo Pradhan, the team found a very cooperative and genuine individual. He ensured that all the logistical needs of the team was met. He encouraged the local youth to assist the professors and students of ZHDC in taking the classes. Naseem Ahmad and Sania Parveen are the regular ones at the madarsa. Naseem has spent his entire childhood in basti and rues the fact that low awareness has led to premature death of many dreams. “There has been one doctor and one engineer from our basti. With this programme, I am very hopeful that dozens of children will find the right way to achieve their dreams”. Naseem is currently pursuing his Masters in history through distance learning.
There was some resistance from certain quarters of college too, as they were apprehensive that allowing the kids to use the college facilities would affect its ‘security’. The apprehensions were misplaced and for more than six months the kids have been using the sports ground and auditorium of college, without any issues. In fact, Dr Vijay sees this as a better utilisation of the resources. “Anyway, the sports ground and the auditorium are not used during the weekends. I see this more as a trust issue of certain people. We ensure that no damage is done to the property, as there are always student volunteers and local youth accompanying the children.”
Back in the community, finances are becoming an issue for the madarsa. The new head of the madrasa, Shamsuddin, laments, “Ours is a very poor community. We can’t charge from the parents. Our only source is the rentals we get from renting the space for marriages and functions. But, it is irregular and insufficient. If we have enough money, we can provide nutritious meals and uniforms to the students. We can also buy good books for them.” He expects that government agencies and well-intentioned individuals will come forward for their help.
The efforts of the ZHDC team highlights a completely unexplored angle of university education. University space is a fertile ground for the youth of our country to develop sensibility towards society building. But, its full potential has never been tapped. Students pass out of the universities and aspire to become good professionals. But, in this rat race, somewhere they forget to become good individuals. A lot of answers to our societal problems can be found, if more such initiatives are taken up and encouraged.
Ajay is pursuing his B.Sc (Hons.) in Chemistry and wants to become an IAS officer. He has been a regular volunteer and enjoys his time there. “Earlier my ambition was to become an IAS officer. I had no idea what I will do after becoming the IAS officer. Here, I have learned different new skills, especially problem solving and communication skills, which is going to help me in the long run. Above everything, I have learned that love is very powerful”.
As the session was about to end, kids were told about the importance of hard work in nation building. To this, Sufia raises her hand and takes permission to sing a song. In her sweet, melodious voice, she starts singing ‘Saare jahaan se achha, Hindustan hamara’, and other kids follow her lead. As the kids walk out of madarsa, chirping and laughing, voice of a new India was distinctly audible in the background.
© 2016 Sulabh Swachh Bharat. All Right Reserved