Why wait for Ramadan to help the lesser privileged? The inspiring story of Nasir Shaikh, a young teacher from Mumbra, Mumbai

By Daisy Katta, TwoCircles.net

During the month of Ramadan, it is common to see acts of charity from Muslims across the world. But in a suburb of Mumbai, a youth has taken the idea of charity and turned it into a daily act ensuring that the lesser-privileged children and youth do not miss out on the importance of education.

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It is the first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan as I arrive in Mumbra, a largely Muslim settlement on the outskirts of Mumbai, amidst the afternoon prayers. Mumbra has a peculiar history; it largely came up after then 1992 Mumbai riots when a large number of Muslim families fled Mumbai and had to settle at the outskirts of mainland Mumbai. It has a history of being a refuge for threatened communities, especially Muslims. The present Mumbra-Kausa region has experienced a three-phase migration: first after Bhiwandi riots of 1984, the second after Mumbai riots of 1992-93 and the third phase during the twenty-first century especially after the year 2004-05, after governmental policies increasingly favouring vertical development under the world-class city rhetoric, pushing out marginalised communities to the fringes of the city.

TCN met with two residents: Mohammed Nasir Shaikh, 23, and senior resident Nuruddin Naik to understand the changes the community is witnessing especially within schooling and Higher Education. Mumbra has for ages suffered governmental neglect, but residents like Nasir and Naik realised that coming together as a community is the only way towards improvement.

A dismal education scenario and severe lack of government-funded education led to major dropout ratio with very few students making into higher education. Growing up in Mumbra, Nasir also faced the inevitable grim future possibilities. Nasir says, “In spite of doing well in my high school exam, I had only a few options: either become a mobile repairman or go to Dubai to work in a laundry, become a driver or a helper. This is the usual trajectory of young people here”.

He was one of few students from financially deprived backwards in Mumbra who was able to continue his education. And now, he has put his own ambitions on hold to ensure that he helps as many children as possible in continuing education. Nasir started his education initiative with just two students in his one-room kitchen house at the age of 18 where he stayed with his parents. “We would shift all the furniture to the kitchen to make room for the students and my parents would sit for the next seven hours in the kitchen so I could teach the students in the living room”.

Nasir also worked in a bakery to support his college education finally getting a degree in statistics. The major motivation for Nasir was the experience of overcoming his own hurdles, to achieve an education. Nasir says, “If I could come so far, I wanted to help other students like me to at least try”. Today, Nasir is the first person in his family to graduate. It has been five years and now Nasir has rented out a small shop floor and converted into a classroom so students can have a comfortable space to learn. To fund this project, he relied on his savings from bakery job along with the small amount he would make from giving tuitions.

The model adopted by Nasir is both simple and ingenious. Of the 40 students that study to prepare for the 10th standard exam, about half are able to pay for their course, which, true to the nature of Nasir’s initiative, is a small amount of Rs 500 per month. Thanks to this, students who can’t pay are able to study for free, thereby ensuring that everyone gets a chance to learn regardless of their income status.

This explains why students like Farid Mughal, 15, who sells clothes in the busy market area of Mumbra station, has managed to enrol at Nasir’s centre. Mughal dreams of becoming train loco pilot. Farid whose parents are illiterate and unemployed couldn’t support his education but thanks to Nasir, his dreams are still achievable. And Nasir can take pride in the fact that Ramadan or otherwise, his efforts will go a long way in addressing the lack of educational opportunities for the students of Mumbra.