Changing Social Mindset the Most Challenging Task


Upliftment of a community is directly linked to the level of education in that community. In India, minority community is lagging in most socio economic parameters, including education. Even within minority community, education of girls is a big issue. Ritika Bisht and Farhan Khan spoke to Dr Shabistan Gaffar, President, All India Confederation for Women’s Empowerment Through Education (AICWETE) on various aspects of education among minorities, especially girls. Edited excerpts: Dr Shabistan Gaffar, President, All India Confederation for Women’s Empowerment Through Education (AICWETE) on various aspects of education among minorities, especially girls. Edited excerpts:
Dr Shabistan Gaffar
Dr Shabistan Gaffar, President, All India Confederation for Women’s Empowerment Through Education (AICWETE)

Can you elaborate on your work for minorities’ education?

During my tenure as Chairperson of Girls Education, NCMEI, I have travelled across different regions and communities in India. Based on my findings, I prepared a document in which I had recommended various steps to encourage imparting education among minority girls. That recommendation was accepted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of HRD, Ministry of Minority Affairs and many more.

Before preparing the recommendation document we had conducted more than 300 seminars and workshops. We then collaborated with local people including representatives of different institutions, field workers, institutions which are established for women education, especially minority education etc.

We just cannot rely on government to take action as this entire process is really slow. So, with the support of my team, we floated an organization that would focus on women empowerment through education. We also published many reports, especially on difficulties faced by women in all walks of life.

Even with the 100 percent literacy rate, Kerala too faced issues when it comes to imparting quality education. We started teachers’ orientation programs that would focus on upgradation of teaching skills. We recommended similar remedies to government to tackle the problem but as mentioned before, the overall process is slow.

According to Sachar Committee Report and few other reports, Muslim community has been lagging behind socially, economically and educationally. In order to improve the conditions among minorities, especially women, we worked with the state and the Central governments, and also with different philanthropists.

The most challenging aspect was to work towards empowerment of women folks in a minority community that is struggling with poverty.

You have been to different parts of India. What kind of problems did you confront and how were you able to tackle the issues.

We have found different problems in different states that range from political to social to economical. These problems need to be tackled differently. We need to identify the disease and work on the remedy accordingly.

Lack of awareness about constitutional rights is the most common phenomenon. For solving this, my team not only makes people aware about their rights but also guides them on how they can file the petition incase state government denies them a particular constitutional right.

School drop outs is another menace. NCMEI and NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) have worked in collaboration for imparting non-formal education for Madarsa community. Non-formal education was given importance to tackle the increasing drop-out rates among Muslim community in areas like Surat, Bengal, Assam and other parts of the country.

For strengthening the role of minority educational institutions we worked with Maulana Azad National Urdu University, IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) and NUEPA (National University of Educational Planning and Administration). We also planned an orientation program where we discuss how to strengthen the minority education for secondary and higher education.

Today, more than 20,000 institutions across the country are associated with our team. We have travelled across India and have organized seminars, workshops and conferences, which include seven regional conferences in Chennai, Lucknow, New Delhi, Mumbai, Guwahati, Madhya Pradesh and Kolkata.

What are the challenges faced by women community in the country.

In 2009-10, we conducted a survey wherein we found that enrolment in primary education is very high. In the same year, enrollment of minority, especially Muslim students was 1,04,75,000. Out of this figure, 49 percent enrolled were girls. However, after some time, especially after classed 8th, 9th and 10th massive dropouts were recorded. Far away location of the school prompted parents to not send their daughters. For this, Government of India introduced Kasturba Gandhi BalikaVidyalaya, the residential schools for girls.

With our efforts, parents have started to trust us and are now willing to send their girls to schools. We then suggested government that if people are willing to cooperate and give their land, why can’t the government invest and construct the buildings on the same.

Our team has also worked on the issue of women trafficking that is widely prevalent in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. These women are also facing the similar situation of poverty. They don’t have money to marry their daughters. To tackle this, our team organized mass marriage ceremony for all the communities. We involved the local community and arranged funds for ceremony. We also provided them with daily needful resources, higher education and job opportunities.

With or without government we are working for all the deprived and marginalized. Our work is not concentrated for only minorities; we serve all under-privileged communities as this part of the population is marginalized. Similarly, our work towards strengthening women’s education is not limited to minorities but it is for every woman in the country because women in India are minority within the minority. We need to empower her through education so that she becomes independent and in turn, empower the future generation.

What are the challenges in imparting education to girls coming from Muslim community?

There are two kinds of communities in Islam. One belongs to conservatives who follow Islamic Sharia law and try to suppress women at every front. On the other, we have people who abide by the constitution and Islamic rights that favor women empowerment.

For people to understand the women rights in an easy manner, I have compiled a book stating women’s rights in the constitution and in Islamic law. The book has been designed and published in pointers rather than an elaborative explanation that is easy for everyone to understand. The book has also been included in some Madarsa curriculum.

The major challenge among minorities is to make them think out of the box. Most families do not feel the need to educate their kids after certain grade. For them, higher education means nothing as they feel their kids would later involve in family business.

Secondly, when a girl gets higher education, her family finds it difficult to find a suitable partner. Therefore, parents do not wish to educate girls after a certain grade. So, changing the mindset of the society is one of the most challenging aspects as this issue is something that cannot be solved through financial help. It can only be eliminated once people realize the importance of imparting higher education to all the boys and girls among minorities.

People who are not fully aware of our community blame Islam for the problems that children face when it comes to education. However, Islam has stated no such objections against imparting education. Quran has specified that women have equal rights to everything. However, there are some leaders who are interpreting Quran in their own way.

Woman is the backbone of the society. She can transform and make the real changes in the society. We need to provide every woman with the equal opportunity. While our efforts are paying off but still our country has to go a long way.

What are the shortcomings that you have witnessed in the education system?

In India we need to have institutions that can provide secular education. Secular education is very important, it should not be pro. We need to learn from American and European education system. There is a reason why students who can afford to go abroad for higher education do not want to continue in here. In India we politicize our religion and thus we have religion based curriculum.

Even our leaders like Mahatma Gandhi chose western education even though majority over there are Christians. This is because they are focused upon secular and quality education that does not differ on the basis of religion. We need to bring in ‘education with research’ and ‘education with logic’.

If a Muslim goes abroad in a Christian institution, he will learn more about Islam than he would have known in a Muslim institution. This is because they focus on research work and are not taught within cocoon.

Apart from bringing in secular education, the system needs maximum support from the government. The present ruling government is doing some work but we cannot judge them right now as they have been on ruling seat for only one year. Even the Budget for 2015-16 has not stated anything for minority education and thus we are still waiting for some new things to come up.