An Auto Ethnographic Account of a School Functionary 

Azra Razzaq


A varying  perception of educational backwardness of Muslims has persisted over the last many decades. The Sachar Committee put to rest this issue by substantiating it with data. Ever since, the educational backwardness of the Muslim community is a matter that is being continuously debated. Yet as always, the response to Muslim educational backwardness has mostly lead to schemes for modernization of madrasas or else reiteration of the provision of Article 30 which allow the community to set up educational institutions of its choice. In the light of the Sachar Report the government this time round  also initiated a number of schemes and programmes for the benefit of the community. There was a blind scramble to announce scholarships,  remedial  teaching and free uniforms, etc.  as a panacea to address the issue of educational backwardness of the Muslim community in India. The response generated appeared to suggest that   the problems of schooling will now be over, especially for those who have been hitherto deprived of schooling and the opportunities it offers.

However, data alone does not allow us to see the inherent inconsistencies   facing the community while accessing education for their children.  Mere statistics cannot provide answers nor inform policy and more so educational policy. It is  therefore, imperative  to understand the finer nuances  if one wants to address the issue of Muslim educational backwardness. Mere existence of schools in a particular area or even the setting up of institutions under the provisions of Article 30 cannot be the answer.  Over the years  while physical access to schools has improved – yet many  children remain marginalized.  Despite  special initiatives  taken  yet there are many that continue to remain deprived or cannot fully benefit from the facilities. A number of events shape the life of the individual child who is excluded from the educational system. “Some of the events are located in the family, some in the community and the peer group, and many in the school where the child is supposed to be studying. Thus we must capture the many events that surround and affect the child’s life” ( Govinda and Bandhopadya). This holds very true for the Muslim community as well which is caught in myriad issues. 

The criticality of this is also to be recognized in the light of prevailing stereotypes concerning the   Muslim community and  of their lack of inclination to send their children for modern education.  The skewed information on Muslims contributes to the strengthening of such distortions resulting eventually in screening out their life experiences.. The lack of an informed leadership too has been problematic for the community which sees the issue of Muslims from the lens of identity  alone. Announcement of a “madarsa modernization scheme’ is sufficient to pacify them. Exercising  Article 30 and its provisions allow the community to believe that they have achieved success.  However, this too does not come without its problems. 

This paper presents a narrative of my journey as a  functionary of a Society which runs a number of  schools in the walled city of Delhi, an assignment I undertook in an honorary capacity. Through this  auto ethnographical account  I explore my engagement with this institution over a period of  seven years and try and make sense of the issues and complexities,  the idiosyncrasies and challenges that plague a Muslim educational institution as it goes about the business of providing education for children of its  community. What are the negotiations that are constantly  put in to place whereby there is some semblance of order? Through this reflective practice , I have tried to place  many critical happenings  and events, that occurred during my tenure,  in to perspective, by which one can gauge what ails Muslim education both from within the community and that from the external world. 

Having reached a situation where the educational backwardness of the community is jarring an in depth analysis  is desperately called for.  This auto ethnographical account ( located in the walled city  with a concentration of a substantial Muslim population), I hope will fill the  gap in our understanding of what ails the education of Muslims, in some  small measure..  Besides its historical significance and large concentration of Muslims, the walled city, is in its own way  also a bustling commercial hub of the city.  The walled city has also had its share of MLAs and Corporators from the community. The walled city of Delhi also represents a power centre of the community with the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, holding a place of prominence. In the context of Delhi, ‘walled city’  conjures up images of Muslims making it a fine segment to be studied. In some ways this auto ethnography  is also a narrative of the ‘intra world’ of the community and its implications for education.