Mumbai, July 1: If a lady wears a burqa, chances are that her child will face a problem in getting admitted to a “decent” school in cosmopolitan Mumbai.
But for now, veteran educationist Shahzadi Hakim wants damage control. She wants to meet the authorities of St Andrews’ School, Bandra, over the school’s decision to expel about a 100 students — most of them Muslims — on academic and disciplinary grounds.
She wants to divert attention from the “communal” angle. St Andrews is a government-aided boys’ school where many of the students come from lower-income group families and the majority of the students are Muslims. “Eighty per cent of the school’s students are Muslims. So it is logical that most of the students facing expulsion will also be Muslims,” she reasons, the rationale offered by the school authorities also.
A clutch of women in black burqas, waiting for their sons to come out, does not say anything. But the discrimination seems to be there already, and it is there from the start on school premises.
“Certain Muslim localities, like Bhindi Bazaar, are crossed out when admission forms are accepted,” says Mubasshera, who stays in a Muslim locality in Mumbai Central. She said she faced the problem when she tried to admit her son into a reputed missionary school in Byculla.
“I was told that I live too far,” she said, pointing out that she lives quite close by Mumbai standards and many students travel that distance.
“Everyone knows that the school authorities don’t want to take in students from our community,” she says.
But not one to give up, she says she will try again next year for her son who is now studying at another missionary school, though not so reputed. She is part of the growing percentage of Muslims who feel that an education in English is essential for the community.
Another woman, who has now migrated to New Zealand, found that her son was being refused admission because of her choice of dress — the burqa.
Her son was rejected twice by a missionary school and the grounds were not convincing. “She knew it was the burqa,” says her friend. “Then she said, ‘I don’t want my son to suffer because of my religion’ and gave up the burqa. Her son got admitted,” her friend concludes.
“Many from the community face discrimination when it comes to admitting their children. It was always there and it’s no news,” says education counsellor Mubarak Kapdi.
At St Andrews, there reportedly is extra caution on the part of the authorities when it comes to admitting Muslim children.
A St Andrews insider — the school principal refused to speak on the matter — admits to a specially stringent screening process when a Muslim boy is brought for admission. “The authorities have to be very careful when they admit ‘them’,” he says, “because many of them lead to law and order problems.”
He says one of the boys had brought a knife with him to school — the incident that gave the push to the decision to expel so many students.
Despite all this, the Muslims prefer to put their children into missionary schools, the reason St Andrews’ has so many students from the community.
The community-wise break-up for Bandra is 40 per cent Hindus, 40 per cent Muslims and 20 per cent Christians. But all the missionary schools — and there is a handful of them — have almost 80 per cent Muslim students because they are thought of as shelters by the Muslims in a mainstream Hindu atmosphere.
“We feel much more secure sending our children to another minority-run place,” says Kapdi. Many Christians left Bandra over the years and the empty seats in the schools were filled up by the Muslim children.