Once a village frozen in time and bound by patriarchy, Mijwan is where dreams are born, nurtured and take wing. That is why perhaps Class 12 student Pratima Yadav wants to join the Army and her classmate Zeenat Bano is working towards being a doctor.
The Kaifi Azmi Girls Inter College and Computer Training Centre has given them the impetus to break out of their sheltered upbringing and aim for the skies.
Named after the famous poet who made this village in Azamgarh district his home in the early 1980s, and founded by him, the school, about 45 km from Azamgarh town, has 300 students from Mijwan and other villages in the district. The computer training centre is the first in entire Azamgarh.
The parent community comprises mainly daily wage earners who sometimes find it difficult to pay even the Rs 90 a month fees and get a waiver so their daughters’ education can continue.
The school’s mantra is quite in keeping with the lines from one of Azmi’s poems painted on the wall: “Uth raha hai jahalat ka dera, aa gaya muskurata savera (Iliteracy is moving out and the dawn has arrived with a smile)”. As another Women’s Day comes around, a pointer that education is the path for prosperity and gender equality.
“I studied in other schools before this but the educational standard there was not as good as here,” said Zeenat, who believes the education she is getting here will equip her to pass a medical entrance exam.
Azmi, who had returned to his native village after acquiring fame as a celebrated poet and lyricist in the Hindi film industry, also set up an embroidery centre for women in 1993. He then established a computer training centre in 2000, followed by a school for Classes 9-12.
He passed away in 2002 but his legacy lives on.
From what started as a modest school with six students, the Kaifi Azmi Girls Inter College now has about 300 girls on its rolls. It has had its share of challenges, from mobilizing requisite funds to battling patriarchal roadblocks with many not wanting to send their girls to school.
Notwithstanding the hurdles, the school and the computer training centre, along with a ‘rozgar dhaba’ that facilitates connecting people with government facilities and job opportunities and a ‘chikankari’ centre for village women, make the initiative a one-stop centre to achieve self reliance.
Azmi’s daughter, noted actor Shabana Azmi, who looks after the Mijwan Welfare Society that runs all these institutions, said her father was a rare poet who practised what he preached.
“He believed if India is to make real progress she should focus on her villages, so he left Mumbai and settled in Mijwan which was a village frozen in time. He set up the Mijwan Welfare Society, an NGO that focussed on the girl child and women’s education, skill development and employment generation,” she told PTI.
She recalled her father’s celebrated poem ‘Aurat’ in which he exhorted women to stand shoulder to shoulder with men and march together.
“We have managed to remove the scourge of child marriage completely,” Shabana Azmi said.
Education, she stressed, is what gives young women the awareness to demand equal opportunity with men and make choices about their lives, careers, health and marriage.
And Kaifi Azmi’s initiative is the enabler for them to do so.
The school and the computer training centre have quietly transformed the lives of many girls in the villages in the nearby areas and continue to do so. The diverse stories of struggle are united by the platform that helps them dream big and provides the knowhow of how to achieve the goal.
So Sweta Yadav, a Class 12 science student of the school, wants to become a police officer. Her family also wants her to go to Allahabad for higher studies.
“This school has played a huge role in furthering my education prospects. We have all the facilities here, we have managed to learn computers and also have great teachers,” she told PTI.
For Pratima, who wants to join the Army, the fact that Mijwan is only two kilometres from her village makes it easier for her to pursue her studies. Her family doesn’t need to worry about her daily commute, she added.
Then there is Class 11 student Hina, who hopes to become a teacher. “I am very fortunate that I am getting an education here. I have learned to handle a computer. There is a library here and we come in our free time to read, it is wonderful.”
The computer training centre is playing its own role.
Neetu Yadav, who has a B.Com degree and is now pursuing a one-year computer course, described it as a blessing because her parents would never have allowed her to travel long distance.
“This will brighten my job prospects,” she told PTI talking about her objectives of doing the computer course.
Mijwan Welfare Society CEO Vinod Pandey said challenges keep cropping up but the institution has worked hard to overcome them. During the Covid pandemic, for instance, internet connection availability in the homes of many students was a problem.
“Online classes were taken up for those girls who had access to Internet and physical notes were delivered to students who do not,” Pandey told PTI.
Under a new initiative, he said, soon school will provide laptops or tablets to students as a pilot project and the gadgets will remain with them till Class 12 and then returned.
According to Pandey, a major challenge is to make children and their parents realise the education that they get here will brighten their prospects in life. He also hailed Kaifi Azmi as a visionary, saying he could think 50 years ahead as his initiative not only provides education and skill development but also employment opportunities in the same premises.
As education was reduced to a mere footnote in the Uttar Pradesh election campaign, Kaifi Azmi’s initiative is a reminder of what could actually transform India an educated generation-next.
Kaifi Azmi’s drive to make women self-reliant so that they are conscious of their own identity is probably best summed up in the lines of “Aurat”: “Teri hasti bhi hai ik cheez javaani hi nahin. Apni tarikh ka unvaan badalnaa hai tujhe. Uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalnaa hai tujhe (Your personality is something too, not just your youth. You’ve to change the title of your history. Arise, my love, for now you must march with me).”