Govandi murder: Teacher's institute saved us from becoming vagabonds, say students

Updated: Sep 22, 2019, 07:30 IST | Abhishek Mande Bhot | Mumbai

Students who turned their lives around, thanks to the Aisha-run Govandi educational trust's welcome-all policy, say they'll stay back to make a difference too

Al-Kausar Urdu High School run by Aisha Education Trust in Govandi
Al-Kausar Urdu High School run by Aisha Education Trust in Govandi

Shahrukh Shaikh, 25, arrived in the slums of Govandi from Lucknow in the late 1990s with his parents. He'd had some early education back in Uttar Pradesh, but in Mumbai he had to start afresh. All he had was a photocopy of his final marksheet from Class III. Armed with it, Shahrukh arrived at Al-Kausar Urdu High School with his parents, certain he would be turned away. "But we weren't," Shahrukh remembers. "They accepted the photocopy and asked us to submit the original a few weeks later. I joined school the very next day."

A stepping stone

This was just the first of many acts of kindness shown by the school, which is part of Aisha Education Trust in Govandi. Started by Aslam Quasar and his brother Asghar Ali in 1993, when children from the neighbourhood found it impossible to get admissions to good schools following the 1992 riots, the trust also runs Sufi English School. Quasar's 30-year-old daughter Aisha Husiyae taught at this school and managed it until last Monday, when one of her students, a 12-year-old, allegedly stabbed her to death.

Aisha Husiyae, 30, who taught at Sufi English School was allegedly stabbed by her 12-year-old student on Monday
Aisha Husiyae, 30, who taught at Sufi English School was allegedly stabbed by her 12-year-old student on Monday

The school has been shut since the incident. Quasar himself died of multiple stab wounds nine years ago, supposedly following a property dispute. But by then Aisha Education Trust had already found its feet and was affecting the lives of people in the neighbourhood, like that of Shahrukh, who landed here quite by chance and much after the last date for admission.

After completing schooling, Shahrukh did a diploma in computer studies from a local institute. He eventually got a Bachelor's degree in pharmacy from KCT College of Pharmacy, Gulbarga. "The school put me on the right path," he says. "I got my first lessons in computers here, and I realised why education was important. I knew that every time I answered a question correctly in class, I'd be rewarded. That's what made me go back, study more and return to class prepared."

Shahrukh Shaikh, who works as a medical representative for a local pharmaceutical company, outside his alma mater, Al-Kausar Urdu High School. Pic/Sameer Markande
Shahrukh Shaikh, who works as a medical representative for a local pharmaceutical company, outside his alma mater, Al-Kausar Urdu High School. Pic/Sameer Markande

Shahrukh says that the school took care of its flock. "We were supposed to wear white canvas shoes, but several of us couldn't afford a pair. So, the school would sell it to us at a reduced price. During lunch break, snacks would be served for free." Today, Shahrukh works as a medical representative for a local pharmaceutical company. His brother, Arbaaz, is also following in his footsteps. "Once he graduates, we could perhaps start a distributorship; there's more money in it," says Shahrukh.

'A safe space for us'

For someone like Shahrukh, the degree has become a window to what exists outside the narrow roads and shanties that surround him, and a ladder to reach that world. Not everyone is lucky. Sandeep Rai in his new book, Grey Sunshine: Stories from Teach for India, reveals that only 24 per cent of Indian students make it to college. The 2011 Census presents an even starker picture: just 8.15 per cent of all Indians are graduates.

Sufi English School, which is one of the two institutions run by the Aisha Education Trust in Govandi, was managed by Aisha Husiyae, who was stabbed on Monday. The school has been shut since the incident
Sufi English School, which is one of the two institutions run by the Aisha Education Trust in Govandi, was managed by Aisha Husiyae, who was stabbed on Monday. The school has been shut since the incident

"Most elders (from underprivileged communities) don't see the point of putting their children to school. They see a local goonda who has more power and they wonder about the purpose of it all," says Satyam Mishra, a former Fellow at Teach for India. "So, their children aren't as motivated either. Their attendance is poor, they have behavioural issues and they have almost no role models."

This is why Dr Gauhar Shaikh, 31, ensures he's available whenever his alma mater invites him to speak to the students. Like Shahrukh, Gauhar also completed his schooling from Al-Kausar Urdu High School in 2005. "My father worked for a scrap dealer. All he wanted was for me to study and lead a better life than he did." Gauhar was among the earliest students of the school, joining in 1994. He says he was too young to remember the riots and that he started at Al-Kausar because it was just across the street from his home.

Dr Gauhar Shaikh. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Dr Gauhar Shaikh. Pic/Suresh Karkera

"Growing up, things were quite bad. There were a lot of vagabonds and anti-social elements. Our teachers created a safe space for us in this environment. They took the effort to ensure all of us understood what was taught in class. For those who couldn't keep up, they held extra classes. If we missed school, they'd come home to check on us. It would have been easy to fall into bad company, but all of this made a big difference."

Gauhar could have easily moved out of his neighbourhood into a better one, after securing his medical degree. Yet, his clinic is exactly where he wants it—in a narrow lane not very far from the rough locality in which he was raised. "Why would I leave?" he asks, "The school made a difference to the community. Now I have the opportunity to do the same."

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