Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Security of Choice

“Well, in any case, I will get married off in an year or so, and from then on, I will see how I can adjust my career according to the family I’ll have.” This was the response of a fellow female Indian student I met on campus when I asked her about her immediate future plans after graduate school. It wasn’t in the least a surprising answer for me: this is perhaps the way a vast majority of Indian girls would answer if asked about their career plans after their undergraduate degree. This particular student was already pursuing a graduate degree in the US, and even with an educated family background, she could only view her future as hanging on such fine balance: hoping earnestly that her future husband through an arranged marriage would be supportive of her career.

When I heard that statement, the response to the same question by an American friend of mine inevitably came to my mind: she had graduated in family studies, and was hoping to work for children with Developmental delays. Before she told me about her major, I never even knew someone could get a degree in such a field. And here she was, explaining how she and her boyfriend were planning to shift to another state within the US, so she can take up a great job offer there, and he would try to acquire a job in the city she would be in.

This is not a generalized picture of both societies, of course, but it is definitely a reality. When I heard my Indian friend talk about her ambitions as if they were a function of her luck in finding a complacent groom, I thought on how secure she might be feeling about her education and life ahead. And given the complexities of caste, astrology and age restrictions in India, what are the chances that she would find such a groom within the age window that society has judged acceptable for its women to marry?

My friend had simply followed her older siblings into choosing engineering studies as a career since that was a ‘natural choice’ in India. And although to her credit she indeed did very well, all the efforts that she might put into her research, her relentless pursuit for a scholarship, could all be a story of legend she would perhaps tell her children at bed time, ten years from now.

Looking at the Indian society from afar and comparing it with the West gives me the opportunity to see pros and cons in both. But one painful reality back home shames me most: our judgements and stubbornness to tame and domesticate our women. How women are judged based on their marital status and ‘homeliness’ rather than their ambition and merit.

But if this was just another grim example of all that is wrong with the arranged marriage system in India, why was she here in the first place spending thousands of dollars into a degree that would tax most of her youthful years and her parents’ financial savings?

The answer is the ray of hope that gives me reason to argue our case to the world about Indian women and our current society: our constant willingness to adapt and grow. It makes me proud whenever I see my Indian friend at a research meeting or make a smart move in class. She may not know how her future husband would value her education and her ambitions, but she surely knows how to make the best of what comes her way!

- Abhijit Sunil

@abhijit_sunil on Twitter

The writer is currently a Research Assistant at the Computer Science and Engineering at the Southern Methodist University of Dallas, TX, USA.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Knowledge or numbers?

“A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers” said the legendary Greek Philosopher Plato. But it is heart-breaking to see how when it comes to the statistics of children who are enrolled in schools for elementary education all over India, some people rely on numbers than knowledge.

Data released by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) revealed the statistics of children who are enrolled in schools for elementary education all over India. It was shocking to note that Goa has the lowest number of Muslim children in schools.

It has been reported that on a national level, with 10.49% enrolment in elementary schools, Muslims fare worse than the Other Backward Classes (42.26%) and the Scheduled Castes (19.72%). The comparison of enrolment at elementary level between the SCs, OBCs and Muslims shows that the OBCs and SCs are doing much better than Muslims in terms of elementary education. According to the recently released statistics of 2008-09, just 0.20% of Muslim children in the state are enrolled in schools, making Goa perhaps the worst state in educating children of the Muslim community. The figures put Goa below states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Harayana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and even Uttar Pradesh.

Disturbed by this statistic, I sought to find out why Muslims were poorly educated in the state. Educationist M K Shaikh disagrees with the statistic. “It is false!” he says, “To understand this problem, we will have to go back to pre-liberation times. During the Portuguese rule, very few Muslim families sent their children to schools because they could not afford to pay the fees as education was not free at the time. The economic conditions were such that they could hardly make both ends meet. The liberation of Goa in 1961 opened the doors for education to everybody, thanks to the first CM Dayanand Bandodkar’s vision and efforts of taking education to every nook and corner of Goa. Like any other community, Muslims in Goa also started sending their children to schools. The oil boom in the gulf in the early ‘70s enabled Muslims to migrate to those countries where they improved their economic conditions. Awareness among Muslims that education plays an important role in life coupled with improvement in economic conditions gave Muslims a boost t to educate their children.”

“With the construction boom in Goa in the early ‘70’s, people from other states migrated here and this filled the vacuum that was created by the migration of Goans to the gulf. These migrants were influenced by the original Goans and so they also started sending their children to schools of their choice. Today, every migrant who has settled in Goa ensures that his children are enrolled or admitted to the school of his choice and they continue their education in whatever field they choose. Not that every migrant child that joins school reaches college. There is the factor of dropouts in between but this factor is applicable to every other community. The original Muslim migrants who came to Goa and joined either the construction activity or started selling fruits or vegetables wherever he got the place, has ensured that his children are not following the same profession… they are educated. To say that only 0.20% of the Muslim children in Goa join schools is false and I think it is based on false data that is provided to the NUEPA.”

According to Shaikh Sulaiman Karol, president of All Goa Muslim Samaj, who incidentally also is the chairman/centre in charge of two schools in Goa, majority of the Muslim population in Goa is that of migrant Muslims, in comparison to which, the authentic Goan Muslim population is very less. “In Goa, Goan Muslims are quite less.” He says. “Most of the Muslims here are immigrants. These immigrant Muslims do not want to send their children to school, they want to send them to work since they are poor. Mostly, these kids sell polythene bags, groundnuts, etc. Our organisation is working very hard for these children. As far as Goan Muslims are concerned, they are all economically well off but the conditions of the migrant Muslims in Goa are not very good. They come to work here as labourers, get a ration card etc. and live here as Goans. Now, there is a population of more than two lakh Muslims in Goa. As far as education is concerned, awareness is a must. Most organisations like Goa Muslims Samaj, All Goa Muslim Association, Social and Cultural Association of Goa, All Goa Urdu Teachers Association are working for the upliftment of Muslims students in Goa. Most of these migrants do send their children to school, but they don’t get admission in higher secondary schools after SSCE. This is because people have various pre-conceived notions regarding Urdu medium students, especially since they come from Chimbel. Mostly, people consider the Chimbel crowd to be very rowdy so they don’t want children from Chimbel studying in their institutions. So, I have started a higher secondary school in English medium. It is open to students of all communities and social strata.”

According to the study, the socio-economic condition of the community was one of the chief causes for these children being denied basic education. Most parents preferred to engage their children in economically productive activities rather than educating them. Another problem was that of ghettoisation. The people in certain segments of Goa, in fact, live in closely-knit houses which are impoverished, most of them self-made with cheap and sub-standard components. I visited some of these ghettos and spoke to some migrants who have made home in Goa. The women mostly work as domestic help and the men work at construction sites. Some are in the business of selling fruits and/or vegetables. Almost all those who can afford to send their children to schools try to make ends meet. They choose to send their children to the best possible schools even if it burns a hole in their pocket; the most preferred schools being Ideal Primary school, Don Bosco High School and Government Schools. Though a few have not been able to pursue their higher education, most children have done their basic elementary schooling.

Ibrahim Khalilullah, happily skips about as he says, “I am in Std II and go to Ideal Primary School. There are 27 students altogether in my class. I like to go to school, it is very nice.” His other two siblings also go to school along with him and he has aspirations to become a big man one day.

Affrin Nawar, who has just answered her Std X board exams speaks fluently in English as she says, “I have just completed Std X in Auxilium High School. As a child I went to a Government Marathi medium school. After my SSCE results are out, I will study further. I want to pursue my studies in the Arts stream and after Std XII, I want to graduate in Travel and Tourism from Don Bosco College. My mother is a domestic helper and my father works on construction sites. My brother has completed his XII commerce from Lyceum HSS. He had passed his SSCE from Don Bosco High school. He wanted to study further but due to financial issues, we are forcing him to go overseas and earn.”

Basha Shaikh says, “My mother is originally from Haveri District in Karnataka and my father is a Keralite. My parents came to Goa in search of employment about 20-21 years ago. I got my basic education in school. As a child, I went to a Government Primary school where I studied till Std IV. After that I was admitted in Progress High School, I studied there for two years but had to leave as my mother could not afford the fees there. Due to this, I joined Don Bosco’s night school and I would work in the day time. But because of financial problems, I had to discontinue my education after Std VII. I worked in a garage for five years as a mechanic of four wheelers. Then I learned to drive and now work as a driver. I would like to complete my studies but if I leave work and study then it will create a lot of financial issues in my home.”

Such a scenario thus begs the question whether reservation in jobs and in higher educational institutions will be a solution to bring the community into the mainstream. “That is not enough,” avers Shaikh Sulaiman Karol. “There are many problems that Muslims face. I hope Manohar Parrikar will spare some time for the Goa Muslim Samaj, so that we can place our difficulties and grievances with him. We have really high expectations from him. We hope that Manohar Parrikar’s government solves the problems of educating Muslims.”

“Now we are implementing the Right to Education Act,” added M K Shaikh. “According to that act, a child must be educated till the age of 14. I think the government should notify it and implement it in letter and spirit. There is no question of giving compensation; then they’ll have to give it to all communities.”

Parvin Nawar says, “We are originally from Raniminnur, a village in Karnataka. I studied till Std V in my village in an Urdu medium school. We were six children, so my father could not afford to send us all to school due to our financial conditions. I was married at seventeen and now I have three children. My husband and I didn’t get to study but we are doing whatever we can to make ends meet and send them to school. I want my children to study well and get a good job somewhere. Inshah Allah, this will happen. Manohar Parrikar has said that he will provide us help. Many of our children from the basti who have completed their BA and BCom went to see him but the CM was inaccessible. No one allows us to meet him. The government had made many promises to us before coming to power and we are looking forward to what happens. We have been staying in Goa from almost forty years. We pay all our taxes, water and electricity bills etc. Despite this, we have got a notice from the Municipal Department to vacate the place. How shall we live if we get thrown out? The notice has come as a nightmare to us. How will the poor children study? Because of this, we have to force our sons to discontinue their studies after HSSCE and send them overseas.” Is the current ruling party listening to the woes of these people?

Speaking about the number of students enrolled in his schools, Sulaiman Shaikh said, “Our newly started pre-primary has 80 students and 20 students have enrolled in Std I. This is in Chimbel. In Valpoi, from the Std I to Std X, we have more than 700 students. Majority of these students are Muslim. In the past 2-3 years, 100% of the students have pursued higher education after passing out of my schools. Some years ago, it was 0%. Earlier they would get admissions because they were from Chimbel and came from Urdu medium schools. Now some students are in Government HSS, Lyceum HSS and People’s HSS.”

In M K Shaikh’s Jawaharlal Nehru HSS, “50% of Muslims are enrolled. There is a mixture of authentic Muslim Goans and migrant population. Sometimes we get students from Anjuman Urdu Medium School, Margao. Everyone who passes Std XII joins the first year in college maybe in different streams. Very few, maybe 5%, of them dropout, especially when it is a girl. Migrant Muslims in Goa like to arrange the marriage of their daughters soon and won’t wait till she completes her education. So most of the girls drop out after Std XII. Otherwise, most students pursue their higher education.”

Dr. Yasmin Mudassir, Principal of Dhempe College of Arts and Science reveals the statistics of Muslim students enrolled in the college for the Academic year 2011-2012, according to which approximately 7-8% students enrolled in BA/BSc are Muslim students. “As far as the college is concerned,” says Dr. Yasmin Mudassir, “it welcomes minority students and there is no discrimination. Approximately, 7-8% Muslim students are enrolled in BA/BSc for the academic year 2011-2012. In these, there is a mixture of Goan Muslims, migrant Muslims and students sponsored by the ICCR.”

Plato founded one of the earliest known organised schools in Western Civilisation, Academus or the Academy to cater to the intellectual thirst of the scholars of his time. Similarly, there are organisations in Goa that are trying their best to uplift school children at the grassroots level. Also there are rational Muslim families sending their kids to pursue higher education in some of the finest institutes of Goa/ India and even overseas. This picture is vividly present before all, yet it appears that numbers weigh more than knowledge.

Nida Sayed 

The writer is a Reporter at The Goan Observer Newspaper.