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March 2006
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Community Initiative

Jodhpur Muslims Build a Future for Themselves
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj


Seeking a hand of friendship with all, the visionary planners of Marwar Muslim Society are crafting a future for the community.


Marwaris could be Muslims too. Possibly everyone among us, without exception, knows Marwaris as intrepid businessmen. But few of us know that the term Marwari has more to do with ethnic identity of a people rather than their faith. So lo and behold, Marwar region of Rajasthan harbours a good number of Marwari Muslims who share their culture and language with Hindus and Jains. However, they live in anonymity, almost.


Jodhpur in Rajasthan was led by a dynasty of visionary Rajas. It was Raja Umaid Singhji who realising the weak status of Muslims, patronised the foundation of Marwar Muslim Educational Society in 1929. A school exclusively for Muslim students was set up under its aegis in the City of Jodhpur. But the Congress government after Independence, divested the Muslims of the ownership of the school, rechristened it as Mahatama Gandhi High School and turned its medium from Urdu to Hindi.


Consequent to this reversal of fortune of the only Muslim school in the region, number of Muslims plummeted in schools, and by 1959, there were few matriculates in the community. Things came to such a point that Muslim applicants were rejected for admission. Businessman, Shabbir Khilji says he was refused admission in the school in 1959. And all this happened under the secular dispensation of the Congress, then led by Jawaharlal Nehru.


But the desire for modern education kept burning. Dreams were realised in 1978 when the Marwar Muslim Educational and Welfare Society was set up and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad High school picked up the lost thread in the region. The Society has emerged as the principal body to challenge educational and social backwardness of the community in a major way. And to boot, the Society has made overall development of the community as its motto employing all the tools to combat backwardness. Led by a band of visionary and very pragmatic individuals, the Society’s institutions now have over 3,000 boys and girls studying under its various institutions. Curiously, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, now vice president of India, and a leading light of the Bhartiya Janata Party (twice chief minister of Rajasthan) allotted 5.5 acre of land for the Maulana Azad High School in 1978. The school in pleasing pink sandstone with wide arches came up in 1988.


Today the school is the beacon of hope for the city Muslims and nearly 2,200 students, including 800 girls study here and the society provides fee subsidy to as many as 500 students. The Society has meanwhile explored newer areas and started two Industrial Training Centres for boys and girls and imparts vocational skills in computer software and hardware, medical equipment repair and maintenance, AC and refrigeration etc. Girls learn fashion designing and tailoring. The Society has been sanctioned a B.Ed college also by the Jodhpur University. Looking at the demand for English medium education, it has also added an English medium school too to its array of institutions.


Health sector had long been the object of neglect among Rajasthan Muslims, women mainly bearing the brunt. The Society took due notice of it and set up a 50-bed Mai Khadijah Hospital which handles nearly 60 deliveries a month and treats about 110 out-patients on an average day.


The Society could not have achieved all this had it not been backed with a constant source of financial backing in the Takia Chand Shah Waqf Complex. The complex with 125 shops and four bank premises, yields almost Rs. 45 lakh a year. Although only one-tenth of the Waqf land has been utilised for building the complex, the Society has been appointed as the muthawalli (custodian) of the Waqf.


The people at the helms of the Society have not been oblivious of nurturing Hindu-Muslim harmony too. Though Jodhpur had always remained a cradle of social harmony, the Society got into the pro-active mode and set up the Adarsh Muslim Gaushala (asylum for cows) in the outskirts of the city. It now shelters about 100 heads of sick, old and invalid cows. While most cities in Rajasthan have a large army of roaming cows and ban on their slaughter being strictly implemented, Marwari Muslim Society has emerged as the protector of cows. They have even appointed a veterinary doctor and other staff to take good care of the cattle. The Gaushala even takes cow-care mobile clinics to surrounding villages too.


Secretary of the Society, Mohammed Ateeque, says the gaushala has enabled the community to build the bridges of understanding with non-Muslim brethren. It is being run on a portion of nearly 60 acres of land allotted by the Government in a place known as Bujhawar in Luni tehsil near Jodhpur.


Taking a step further, the group has also come up with Rahmatul Lil Alameen Blood Bank which began its operations a year ago. But the Society looks far ahead and has also come up with the Maulana Azad Central Library and Maulana Azad Coaching and Guidance Centre.


Says Dr. Ghulam Rabbani, vice president, “Muslims constitute nearly 20 per cent of Jodhpur’s 14 million population. Five years ago, there were only 150 Muslim students in the local senior secondary schools (Plus two classes), today the number has gone up to 400”. President Mohammad Abdullah informs that impressed by the non-communal approach of the Society, the local BJP Member of Parliament and the BJP MLA have contributed almost Rs. 50 lakh to the corpus of funds of these institutions from their MPLAD scheme. Local BJP MP, Dr. L. M. Singhvi has contributed Rs. 7 lakh for the Barkatullah Khan Hostel. Even Islamic Development Bank has contributed $ one lakh for the ITI buildings. The Union Government’s Maulana Azad Foundation too has granted Rs. 30 lakh for the projects. The Rajasthan Waqf Board has allocated Rs. 2 lakh for an ambulance for the hospital.


Interestingly, two leading lights of the RSS, Indiresh Kumar and Ram Prasad, who look after the Muslim affairs on a countrywide scale, visited the Jodhpur schools and appreciated the efforts, especially the gaushala.


The Society too has reciprocated the gesture in due measure. It has taken the scion of the Jodhpur princely family Maharaja Gaj Singh as the chief patron of the Society. Gaj Singh’s affiliation with the BJP has not deterred them from doing so. As an acknowledgement of his ancestors’ debt, it has also named the school auditorium after Maharaja Umaid Singh, the man who initiated it all in 1929.


For details: contact: Mohammad Ateeque, General Secretary, Marwar Muslim Educational and Welfare Society, Ashraf Manzil, Opp. Mertigate, Jodhpur - 342006, Ph. 0291-2752850, 0-94141-27387, email: marwarimuslim@gmail.com, website:www.marwarimuslim.org


The writer can be reached at maqbool_siraj@rediffmail.com