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English VS Urdu

Residents have battled for an Urdu medium school here for decades, but the EDMC ‘whimsically’ changed it to English medium last month

The gate of a new three-floored school in East Delhi’s Sri Ram Colony has a message scribbled on it with chalk— “Do not park your vehicles in front of this gate”—even though a handful of motorcycles remain lazily parked at an askew angle right outside it. The name of the school is emblazoned in big, bold letters on the building: “East Delhi Municipal Corporation M.C Primary School (Urdu) Sri Ram Colony.”

It’s taken the Muslim majority residents of this colony almost a decade of battling with the authorities to get an Urdu medium school constructed here for their children. The East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) had earlier acknowledged the importance and urgency of setting up an Urdu medium school here, given that the area is “densely populated with minority community”. But last month, the residents were informed that the plan for an Urdu medium school had been scrapped and that it would now be an English medium school.

Funnily enough, this sudden change of plan seems to have the “anticipatory approval” of the EDMC’s mayor, Anju Kamalkant, as well. In a letter dated June 4, EDMC informed the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) of the change in the primary language of the school. “I would like to inform you that under the anticipatory approval of the Hon’ble Mayor, EDMC, an English medium school at Shri Ram colony, Rajeev Nagar, has been opened, wherein Urdu and Hindi will be taught as a subject, so that every social group of the society may be benefitted.”

The tussle between the DMC and EDMC over the issue of language at this school isn’t new. Residents and local NGOs of Shri Ram Colony had approached the DMC a few months ago when rumours were afloat that the school’s primary medium of imparting education might be changed to English. On May 2, Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, chairman of the DMC, wrote to EDMC’s Director of Education, directing it to not allow any change in the original plan to establish an Urdu school in the area. The DMC even threatened to register a formal case against EDMC in case any change was made to the original plan.

Khan wrote: “An Urdu medium school was sanctioned for Rajeev Nagar, Delhi 110090, where a large number of people live who are delirious of educating their children in Urdu medium. This school is now ready in Ward No. 64, North East Shahdara, but there are attempts to convert it into an English-medium school which is not only against the original plan but also flouts in the face of the local residents’ legal right to educate their children in their mother tongue. You are hereby directed not to allow any change in the original plan to establish an Urdu-medium school in the area. You are further directed to reply within two weeks from the date of this letter, failing which a formal case will be registered against you and anyone responsible for the change of the original plans of the said school.”

After receiving the EDMC’s June 4 notice about the change of language, the DMC hand-delivered its order to the EDMC office, which was stamped by the latter upon being received. The order described how the Urdu medium school was “sanctioned and built after a long struggle spanning a decade,” and specifically asked the EDMC “not to change the medium of instruction of the said Urdu school and to start it in the forthcoming school year as an Urdu medium school only”.

It further read: “The area has a majority of people wishing to impart to their wards in Urdu medium. One thousand families of the area have represented to this Commission to retain this school as Urdu medium. The Commission has been seized of this matter for quite some time and understands the intricacies involved.”

Lastly, the DMC order took a dig at the EDMC’s mayor, whose “anticipatory approval” had been given for the change in language medium of the school. “Somehow, Hon’ble Mayor has ‘approved’ to change the medium of instruction of this school to English which is illegal and whimsical and has been taken without consulting the people of the area.”

Adjacent to the main gate, a smaller side door remains open for people to walk in and out of the school. Principal Harish Kumar sits on a bench in a near-empty classroom located on the ground floor on a hot Tuesday afternoon, engaged in conversation with three men sitting around him. “Admissions have begun—around 12-15 students have already taken admission in English,” he says. When asked about the decision to change the medium of instruction from Urdu to English, he says this was made by the “higher-ups” and that he wasn’t in the loop. “School term will begin next Monday. Urdu and Hindi will be taught as subjects.”

Shuja Ullah (46), a resident of C-block in Sri Ram Colony, has five children. “We have been demanding for an Urdu medium school here for the last 10 years. The school building was made three years back lekin abhi pata nahi kya ho raha hai yeh log zabardasti isko English medium banana chaahte hai (but now we don’t know what has happened but we have come to know that this is forcefully being made into an English medium school).”

He explains: “It is easier to teach the kids at home in Urdu. They’ll be spending four hours in school studying in English, but at home, none of us are well-versed in English. How are we supposed to teach the kids? I wanted to shift my younger children to this school once it opened and who knows, maybe they could have gone on to study at Aligarh University or Jamia.”

It’s a story repeated by Mohammad Younis Ali, who’s lived in Sri Ram Colony since 1990. He has six daughters, three of whom are studying in a public school in Shahdara’s Khazoori Khas. “I was going to shift my daughters to this school once it opened. The school they are studying in right now, wahaan un pe zabardasti Sanskrit thoka ja raha hai (Sanskrit is being forced upon them). In our neighbourhood, there isn’t a single Urdu medium school—only English and Hindi. We had a lot of hopes from this school…”

He adds: “Urdu jo hai hum Bhartiyon ki doosri zabaan hai, lekin jub humein humaari hi colony mein Urdu nahi milega, toh kahaan jaayenge (Urdu is the second language of us India, but when we don’t have access to it in our own colony, then where will we go)?”

DMC’s chairman, Dr Zafarul Islam Khan, tells Newslaundry the school building was constructed three years ago but the school has not officially started yet. He says it’s “wrong” that the EDMC mayor approved the starting of the school as an English medium one. “She has no right to change that. There are thousands of families in the area who want their children to be educated in Urdu.”

Referring to the DMC’s June 26 order, Khan says: “We have issued an order that it (EDMC) is to retain its original Urdu medium of imparting education. This order issued by DMC is a court order and that cannot defy it—they can only get a stay order from the High Court.”

Newslaundry reached out to multiple times to the EDMC over email and telephone but has not received a response yet. Newslaundry also tried to get in touch with Anju Kamalkant, mayor of EDMC, and was told that she would revert.

Anju Kamalkant’s husband Kamalkant spoke to Newslaundry on the telephone, saying he was “responding on her [the mayor’s] behalf”. He said: “There has been some confusion since the project department had called it as an ‘Urdu’ school in its name, but Urdu was never supposed to be the primary language of imparting education. Yeh shiksha ka kendra hai—hum yahaan dharam aur mazhab ki baatein nahi kar sakte (This is an educational institute—we cannot talk about religion here).”

He further said that “Urdu” would be removed from the school’s name. “English, Hindi, and Urdu, all three will be taught at the school. But the language used for imparting education will be in English.”

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