The Pune model: Mainstreaming Indian Muslims through quality education

Modern education, especially for girls, is the key to success for the marginalised Indian Muslims. A couple of Muslim organisations in Pune are showing the way

The Pune model: Mainstreaming Indian Muslims through quality education
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Nadeem Inamdar/Pune

At a time when Muslims across the country are facing one of the strongest onslaughts of right-wing persecution, a small group of Muslims in Pune is leading the charge -- peacefully and without much fanfare -- to overcome stereotypes, mainstream themselves and shrug off all the dated orthodoxy and break barriers that get in the way of their competitive progress.

Leading this charge are girls from the community to whom modern education and skill development are crucial in their attempt to shun the orthodoxy and rise above all the prejudices, from within the community and without, that hold them back.

Helping them on the path to modern education are two prominent educational institutions –Azam Campus and Anjuman-EKhairul Islam’s Poona College of Education -- which have emerged as important centres of higher learning.

Also, the community runs a string of private English medium educational institutions which too have in recent years contributed positively to the educational growth of Muslims. However, educationists believe that more steps need to be taken to bring another big chunk of the Muslim population under the ambit of higher and technical education.These neglected groups from slums and low-income neighbourhoods still lag behind their counterparts and are completely dependent on the madrasa education system.

Pune, known as the Oxford of India, has also been the platform for the all India launch of Udan Mobile Van education-based module for the educational empowerment of the community. Its head Syed Saeed Ahmed is an international motivational speaker who has coached more than 10 lakh students across 15 states in the country during the past one decade. Saeed has particularly focused on educating the lower rung amongst the community like auto drivers, welders, fitters, plumbers, cleaners, sweepers and those in other menial jobs to impart higher and professional education to their sons and daughters. The impact can already be felt as a number of children belonging to socio-economically poorer sections have enrolled for higher education in a big way, bringing in more literacy to the community in the past ten years.

The Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society (MCES) which runs Azam Campus was established in the year 1948 by Late Abdul Kadir Khan with the objective of providing education to the economically, educationally and all socially weaker sections of the society. The institute has been a popular destination for students from Muslim and other communities.

The girl students of Abeda Inamdar Senior College have been bagging gold medals and certificates of honour at the Pune University level for the last three decades. Since 1998, Muslim students especially have regularly topped the SSC and HSC merit list in Maharashtra.

The MCE Society is one of the oldest educational organisations of Pune and has played a transformational and long-lasting role in the field of Muslim education. From a humble beginning of four schools, it has transformed into a beehive of educational institutions of higher, medical, technical and professional academic institutions in the field of arts, science, commerce, computer science, law, education, pharmacy, management sciences, architecture, dental sciences, hospitality and information technology.

“Pune Muslims thus have had an advantage over their counterparts across the country. Pune has been the bedrock of various social movements and has a rich legacy of educationists like Fatima Shaikh, Savitribai Phule and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule. The social cohesion has always ensured that the Muslims of the city have always been at the forefront in acquiring education and have shunned issues related to communalism and right-wing propaganda,” said Munawwar Peerbhoy, former general secretary of MCE Society.

“Despite Azam Campus being a Muslim institute with a huge mosque on the 28-acre campus, there is no compulsion to wear hijab. Muslim girls wear hijab as a voluntary choice while the students from other religions wear their traditional dresses of choice. The bonding is smooth and it has existed for over three decades and more,” Peerbhoy added.

Sulochana Patil, a student of Rangoonwala Institute of Dental Sciences, said “Azam Campus offers one of the best cosmopolitan and secular institutes in Pune. I took admission here as I wanted to be part of a composite culture where there is no majoritarian effect. We celebrate all the festivals together and the rise of any political party has zero impact on our psyche as we believe that the institute stands for a united India.”

MCE Society Chairman P.A. Inamdar says, “Azam Campus is a modern educational institute which shapes a completely secular outlook amongst the students and teachers. Our staffers come from all faiths and religions including the heads of various departments. We have always followed the path of bringing students from all backgrounds together and have a rich secular legacy of decades.”


Another important Muslim educational institute which is influencing communal harmony in the city is Poona College of Arts, Commerce and Science which is run by the Anjuman E Khairul Islam Educational Trust. According to the administration, nearly 20% of the 6500-odd students have come from the Hindu community ever since the college was established in 1970.

Situated prominently in the heart of the Pune military cantonment, the institute has brought about a revolutionary change in the lives of Muslim students from the city and Western Maharashtra.The college is a recognized Research Centre of the Savitribai Phule Pune University in chemistry, commerce, economics and runs full-fledged degree courses and postgraduate centres in computer science, electronics, organic chemistry, zoology, economics, English, Urdu and commerce.

Its principal, Dr Anwar Shaikh who has been spearheading a number of national integration programmes in the city and the district, said, “Despite the strong majoritarian politics being played and marginalisation of Indian Muslims being observed in India these days, the Azam Campus and Poona College stand out as examples of communal harmony and are resistantto divisive ideologies. Parents from different communities feel proud to send their daughters and sons to our institute for the values we cherish and cultivate.”

Mayuresh Jadhav, another student of Poona College who is pursuing a Ph.Dsaid, “We as students need to become more aware and vigilant in making a strong India by defeating the communal forces and encouraging brotherhood amongst all the faiths. We learnt these values from our institute and will preserve them for a lifetime.”

This Pune pattern of integrating the population and mainstreaming Muslims could then just be the answer to the divisive rightwing propaganda.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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