New Delhi: Recently, a lot has been written to mark the 40th anniversary of that scar on Indian democracy – the Emergency. One of the more notorious actions taken by the Indira Gandhi government between 1975 and 1977 was the demolition and rebuilding drive by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), mainly in the walled city area. And thanks to the recent spate of writings triggered by the anniversary, memories got refreshed in many about how some Muslim families were forced by that drive to leave the Turkman Gate area and resettle in Inderlok.
Not very far from Turkman Gate, in Sarai Khalil, a popular Urdu-medium government-aided school too faced the axe. The DDA zeroed in on the Qaumi Senior Secondary School – housed in the 23 rooms of a five-storey building near the Sadar Thana – as the spot where it wanted a set of Janta Flats to come up. Soon the day came when the school’s effects – its furniture, files, typewriters, bills, maps and the like – were cleared out of the building. Abdul Mallick Qureshi, a student of that school then, remembers seeing his “school things littered on the street” before the building came down in front of him on June 30, 1976.
“I remember seeing a woman in dark glasses and high wooden shoes directing the drive. Later, we learnt she was Rukshana Sultana. I also saw the then DDA Commissioner, B.R. Tamta standing in front of the Sadar Thana next door watching the drive. People of the area were in panic seeing so many policemen. I remember a man going through the crowd in a rickshaw announcing on behalf of the DDA that those whose children attend the school need not worry as it will be rebuilt on a piece of land in the vicinity within six months’ time,” recalls Qureshi.
After that demolition ended, the rains came. Qureshi says some school files were lost in the water. “There was a curfew-like situation; nobody came out to save the papers. After a few days, the management of the nearby Shahi Eidgah offered to store the remaining effects of the school. Since the DDA said it will give it an alternate land, the Eidgah management also allowed the school to continue classes from its premises till then. People put up tarpaulin sheets in one corner of the Eidgah and chairs and benches were put under the tents for the school to restart,” he recalls.
Thirty-nine summers have passed since that Emergency day. Qureshi has long graduated from that school. Some ten years ago, he got associated with the school yet again, as its manager appointed by Qaumi Education Society, the Trust that has been running the institution since its inception in 1948. Years have passed but the promise made by the DDA in his school days is yet to be delivered.
So the school has remained in its makeshift arrangement, in the same corner of the Shahi Eidgah in Quresh Nagar. From tarpaulin sheets and the barest of pedagogical infrastructure, it now has tin sheds with ceiling fans, iron almirahs, water coolers and a water purifier donated by some well wishers in the area. With only one more Urdu medium school in the vicinity, demand for places has only grown. The present student strength is 750, and classes take place in two shifts. All the students are boys from nearby families that make a living as daily wage earners.
Local residents say it is shocking that nothing has been done to give the school proper premises despite the high demand for admission. How has the Delhi government allowed one of its aided educational institutions to run from tin sheds for so many years, they ask. In biting cold and in sweltering heat?
Here, you have to appreciate its 31-member staff for not giving up. Mohabbat Ali, a teacher in the school for the last 33 years and now its principal since 2002, proudly states, “We run like any other good government-aided school. While 95% of the funds come from the city government, the remaining 5% has to be raised by the school. The classrooms may not have walls and doors but every attempt is made to maintain discipline and cleanliness. There is no compromise on the quality of education given to the students. We have a makeshift lab, also a library. We had a 97 pass percentage in the 12th standard last year.” He says teachers take personal interest in every child. “If a child doesn’t attend school for two days, they visit their families,” he adds.
The medals and awards won by the students are displayed in a glass showcase in Ali’s room. Due to lack of space, he says he has kept “some seals and medals in boxes.”
The tables and chairs are neatly lined in the sheds shaded by a bunch of neem trees. In front of each classroom, there is a waste bin. Potted plants have been lined along the classrooms. From the funds it raised, the mud floors of some classrooms have been concretised. At forenoon, the bell rings announcing the distribution of the mid-day meal to the students.
In one corner of the Eidgah, there is a plaque announcing that former Delhi Minister and the MLA of the area till recently, Haroon Yusuf, laid the stone slabs on the ground from his official funds to better facilitate the devout to offer namaz during the two Eids. Yusuf, however, left the corner that the school uses as it is. Is this a hint to the school that the Eidgah management is no more as accommodating as it once was?
Qureshi doesn’t comment on this but says, as the Society representative, that he has been knocking on the doors of local MPs and MLAs for a solution. “From Prime Ministers to ministers to local MPs and MLAs, we have seen many visiting us over the years. Governments of different parties came and went. We approached all of them. The promise to deliver typically happens during the election campaigns but nothing has happened so far,” he says.
Firoz Bakht Ahmad of Friends of Education, who has been working for the cause since 1984, shows a pile of letters and petitions written to Prime Ministers and Presidents, Delhi Chief Ministers and Lieutenant Governors and to the Minority Commission pleading for allotment of land to the school. “We have submitted petitions to Arvind Kejriwal and Najeeb Jung too,” he adds. In 2001, Bakht says the DDA agreed to allot it a piece of land provided the Society pays Rs. 1.25 crores. “It refused the offer. How can a school which caters to poor children pay such an amount? So in 2003, DDA withdrew the offer,” he says.
“There have also been suggestions to merge the school with some other Urdu medium school in Old Delhi, or give it a piece of land in Dwarka, which the Society refused. How can these students go so far every day?” asks Qureshi.
Both Qureshi and Bakht say there is vacant land in the vicinity which can be allotted to the school. “The Eidgah abattoir which comprises about 7 acres of land has been moved to Ghazipur. The land is lying vacant. Two acres of DDA land around the Eidgah telephone exchange is also lying vacant. I have mentioned these options in my petition to Jung in 2013 itself,” says Ahmed.
This week, Ahmed will file a PIL at the Delhi High Court seeking redress. “When in 2003, the DDA withdrew its offer of land to the school for not being able to pay the asked sum, there was no Right to Education Act. Today there is. The onus is on the government today to ensure that the students of the school get a building of theirs,” he says.