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Educating the Muslim girl child - in a Mughal-era structure
Tuesday May 14, 2013 6:10 PM, Meha Mathur, IANS

Functioning in a Mughal-era structure near Jama Masjid in the capital's old quarters is the Balak Mata Centre of Jamia Millia Islamia, one of India's oldest universities. The centre, located in Matia Mahal, provides education and vocational training to deprived Muslim girls and women.

The centre runs from a two-storeyed structure, which, according to a DDA Urban Heritage Certificate Award given in 1993, was used by emperor Shah Jahan (1592-1666) as a "home" while the Red Fort was being built. At one point of time, a Mughal prince's begum used it as her residence. Later, the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, gave it to one of his grandsons.

The building, which has undergone many alterations, follows the traditional Indian architectural pattern of a courtyard surrounded by rooms on three sides.

The concept of Balak Mata Centre emerged in the late 1930s under the aegis of the torchbearers of Jamia - Zakir Husain, M. Mujeeb, Abid Hussain and Shafiqur Rehman Kidwai - who felt it was necessary to bring women and girls out of homes and provide them education. It originally started from Karol Bagh, from where Jamia was then functioning out of a few bungalows.

There are three branches of the centre - in Matia Mahal, Sadar Bazar and Pul Bangash - running today, providing schooling to girls till Class 5. The centre also provides skill-based programmes in computers, textile designing, cutting and tailoring and beauty therapy to women in the neighbourhood to make them employable.

A dark and narrow bylane leads to the nondescript entrance of the centre and but for a small signboard, it's easy to miss it. Inside, the classrooms are airy and have colourful furniture in accordance with modern tastes, a few small slides and a merry-go-round. There is a dedicated lab for the computer course and a sewing unit for the cutting-tailoring course.

Centre director Yasmeen Parveen says that her team has to make a great effort to convince people to let girls and women come out of their homes. "Even today, the situation is that they don't want to come out of their homes. We have had to do a door-to-door survey to identify the needy children and women," Parveen told IANS.

Parveen and her team also keep a tab of students' needs. In fact, she and her colleagues say that there are instances when a child does not get her first meal even when she returns home. In such situations, the teachers have often pooled in to help.

In addition to education and skill-development programmes, the Centre conducts health awareness drives, literacy melas, adolescent camps for young girls, and extension lectures on community needs, drawing experts from within Jamia Millia Islamia and outside.

(Meha Mathur can be contacted at mehamathur@gmail.com)

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