College that put poor Muslim girls in science labs turns 50


The institution located near Nagpada in central Mumbai, has shaped four generations of Muslims
The institution located near Nagpada in central Mumbai, has shaped four generations of Muslims

The first thing that strikes you after entering the arched gate of Maharashtra College of Arts, Science and Commerce is its happy ambience. Groups of girls, many of them in hijab, and boys animatedly chat at the ground floor hall while the seven-storey building’s two lifts are constantly busy. The well-stocked library is occupied. So are its several labs. In a nutshell, vibrancy oozes out of its every pore. So how is Maharashtra College different from so many educational institutions in the city? The difference lies in its location. In the vicinity of Kamathipura, the red-light area, and near Nagpada, the heart of Muslim neighbourhoods in the city, Maharashtra College at Central Mumbai has shaped the fortunes of four generations of Muslims, especially girls, in the area.

Started in 1968, the college will soon kick off its golden jubilee celebrations and has lined up a series of programmes aimed at debating how to further empower the locality’s youths educationally.

“But for this college, thousands in the area would have dropped out after 10th Std. Conservative parents were reluctant to send their daughters to colleges in south Mumbai and this college came as a godsend,” recalls businessman and community leader Ghulam Peshimam who graduated from here in the 1970s.

It was the sheer need of a college in the Muslim-dominated area that made its founding fathers move with a missionary zeal. Educationist and philanthropist Mohammed Ali Mitha, who had founded a series of schools, led the initiative to set up a college in the locality which had none before it. Muslim-managed colleges like Burhani and Akbar Peerbhoy came later. Mitha one day landed up at then urban development minister and Islamic scholar Dr Rafiq Zakaria’s office. “Zakaria sahab was initially reluctant to come on board but couldn’t say no once Mitha assured him of finding funds and also offered him to become the life-time president of Khairul Islam Higher Education Society which runs the college,” says septuagenarian Haji N Kalaniya, who studied and retired as a teacher from here before he was inducted as the society’s general secretary.

Kalaniya recalls that once he accompanied Mitha to Haji Ali Dargah where they saw a wealthy Good Samaritan handing out Rs 100 note to each of the beggars assembled there. “Mitha stood in the queue and asked me too to stand behind him. The Rs 200 that we received went to the college funds,” laughs Kalaniya.

Started with just 100 students, Kalania adds that many students had to be coaxed and virtually “lifted” from homes to join the college as the working class in Madanpura, Nagpada and Bhendi Bazaar then gave little importance to higher education. Today the college, its principal Dr Sirajuddin H Chougle proudly informs, has over 3,700 students in various courses, including PG and PhD, IT and journalism. It caters to mostly students from deprived families, wards of daily wagers, taxi drivers, factory workers. “Once while travelling in a taxi the driver told me that his three daughters had graduated from here. I was touched to hear that,” says M Z Shahid, who teaches political science here. “If it was not this college I don’t think I would have become a boxer,” says Hijabclad Shaikh Afifa, the college’s only woman boxer. Besides, the list of sportspersons it has produced is long: Shahid Qureishi and Zafar Ansari (basketball), Khalid Khan (boxing), Nadeem Khan (football)—to name a few.

If Mumbai has been a crucible of many Urdu poets and writers, Maharashtra College must share the credit. It is here that Urdu poets like Abduallah Kamal, Irteza Nishat, Shamim Abbas and Obaid Azam Azmi honed their skills.

“I once heard celebrated poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz here reciting his famous revolutionary poem which spoke of man’s urge for emancipation. The college has kept the city’s literary lamp alive,” says Urdu Markaz’s director Zubair Azmi. As it enters its 50thyear, the city expects the college to earn more laurels in future.

source: / The Times of India / News> City News> Mumbai News> Schools & Colleges / by Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN / July 30th, 2017

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