The inspirational teacher from Bhiwandi uses Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s formula of ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’, write Sujata Shirke and Alka Gadgil.
Deafening sounds of clicking and thudding coming from the power looms located in the dark, dingy bylanes define Bhiwandi — the loom town of Maharashtra. Several rows of shanties with overflowing drains dot the streets. The poor state of hygiene and sanitation is an evident characteristic of the region, yet, that’s not all that describes Bhiwandi; flowers often bloom amid the muck and the mire. Forty-three-year-old Javeriya Kazi, Principal of Momin Girls’ School, is one such example who is trying to change this image of the town by transforming its landscape.
This private school is surrounded by shanties and garbage heaps. At one point, instead of the filth, the school overlooked a beautiful lake. People of Javeriya’s age have fond memories of growing up playing around this lake. With an increase in the town’s population, the water body started turning into a garbage dump. Today, with no sign of the lake’s existence, the area has now become a foul-smelling garbage heap emanating toxic dust and fumes.
Moved by the thought of the toxic environment damaging the present and future of these young children, Javeriya started thinking about the need to act for reviving the water body. The task was not easy, it called for the engagement of many. A plan for the revival of the lake had to be devised and presented to the municipality. The issue of the garbage disposal also needed to be prioritized.
What went wrong?
Bhiwandi is located on the historical Mumbai-Agra Highway. A quiet and sleepy town till the 1980s, it witnessed sudden and haphazard development in the 1990s when the highway was widened and globalisation seeped in. Warehouses of Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and pharmaceutical companies were constructed in the town and its surrounding areas. These businesses, along with power looms, attracted both skilled and unskilled labourers to Bhiwandi, putting a lot of stress on the land and civic amenities of the town. The workers and labourers reclaimed the wastelands to build their makeshift houses. The unplanned development started impacting the health and sanitation of the town adversely.
The rapid urbanisation in the town caused several problems, and its first causality was the beautiful lake. The relentless and restless Javeriya thought of involving her students in purifying the water body and proposed the idea to the management committee of the school, which promptly discarded her proposal.
Undaunted, Javeriya was not ready to give up. She continued sensitising the students, fellow teachers and basically anyone she met. Using old pictures of the lake and videos of the cleaning process of a water body sourced from the internet, Javeriya and her students created a small documentary video.
Her plan was finally accepted by the Commissioner of the Bhiwandi Municipal Corporation and led to the beginning of the process of garbage removal. The plan aims to clean and rejuvenate the veins of the underground springs. The Municipal Corporation of the town has employed cleaners for the upkeep of the lake. A strict rule has been imposed to keep the lake and its surrounding areas clean.
Javeriya also conceived the idea of a community kitchen, wherein all participants are actively involved in planning, preparation and cooking. A science laboratory has also been set for students. “This way, girls have access to several books in the library, can carry scientific experiments in the laboratory, and learn how to cook in the kitchen – a holistic approach to make them independent,” shared Javeriya.
In addition to the school, Javeriya is equally worried about the working conditions of the labourers in the power looms. The malaise of Tuberculosis (TB) has afflicted not just the cotton mill workers in the town, but their family members as well. The brunt of the crushing poverty falls squarely on women; it’s difficult being a woman in Bhiwandi and TB has added another dimension to their difficult life. There’s an alarming rise in the cases of drug-resistant TB among loom workers because they are constantly inhaling cotton dust.
To address this issue, Javeriya has been consistently advocating the use of absorbers to control the cotton dust that emanates from the chimneys of cotton mills in the region. The fan in the absorber pulls cotton particles in the air surrounding the mill. After listening to Javeriya, a few of the mill owners have expressed their willingness to install the absorber.
Furthermore, trees are constantly being axed under the pretext of development. When her school received a notice informing them about the widening of the road, Javeriya got into action. The widening of road meant felling of the compound wall of the school and the trees it sheltered. She held meetings with students and decided to oppose the diktat. The students and teachers of Momin Girls School staged agitation for almost a fortnight, after which the Municipal Corporation had to put the project on hold.
In her pursuit to give the best to the students Javeria Kazi seems to be using Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s formula of ‘Educate, Agitate and Organise’, which prepares them to face the challenges ahead. Ambedkar considered teachers essential for the overall development of a student. He believed that if we have good teachers, we will be able to create good students. Javeria Kazi’s conduct as a teacher is not far off from the mark that Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar had set for teachers.