The Inspirational Teacher from Bhiwandi uses Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar’s formula of ‘Educate, Agitate and Organize’ writes Sujata Shirke and Alka Gadgil
Deafening sounds of clicking and thudding coming from the power looms located in dark, dingy bylanes define Bhiwandi – the loom town of Maharashtra. There are several rows of shanties with overflowing drains dotting 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 do bloom amid the muck and the mire. 43-year-old Javeriya Kazi – the 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 increase in population, the water body had started turning into a garbage dump. Today, with no sign of lake’s existence, it has now become a foul-smelling garbage heap emanating toxic dust and fumes.
Javeriya, moved by the thought of a toxic environment damaging the present and future of these young children, started thinking about the need to act for reviving the water body. The task was not easy, it called for 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 80s, widening of the highway in the 90s led to sudden and haphazard development because of globalization. Warehouses of the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) and Pharma companies were constructed in Bhiwandi and 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 waste lands to build their makeshift houses. The unplanned development adversely impacted the health and sanitation of the town.
The rapid urbanization caused several problems, and its first causality was the beautiful lake. The relentless and restless Javeriya who thought of involving her students in purifying the water body proposed the idea to the management committee of the school which promptly discarded her proposal.
Reviving the Lake
Undaunted, Javeriya was not ready to give up. She continued to sensitize the students, other teachers, and anyone she met. Using the old pictures of the lake and videos of the process of cleaning a waterbody 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 leading to the beginning of the process of garbage removal. The plan aims to clean and rejuvenate the veins of the underground springs. Municipal Corporation 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’s Other Initiatives
Javeriya also conceived the idea of ‘Community Kitchen’ wherein all the participants are actively involved in the planning, preparation, and cooking. A science laboratory has also been set for the students. “This way girls have access to several books in the library, can carry scientific experiments in the laboratory and can 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 but their family members as well. The brunt of the crushing poverty falls squarely on women; it’s difficult being a woman in Bhiwandi. TB has been adding another dimension to their difficult life. There’s an alarming rise in the cases of drug-resistant TB among the loom workers because they are constantly inhaling cotton dust.
To address the issue, Javeriya has been consistently advocating the use of absorber for controlling the cotton dust that emanates from the chimneys of cotton mills in the region. The fan in the absorber pulls the cotton particles in the air surrounding the mill. After listening to Javeriya, few of the mill owners have expressed their willingness to install the absorber.
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. This activity – 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 the ‘Momin Girls’ School’ staged agitations for almost a fortnight after which the Municipal Corporation had to put on hold its road widening project.
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 Organize’ which prepares them for facing the challenges ahead. Dr. Ambedkar had considered the teacher essential for the overall development of the student. He believed that if we have good teachers, then we will be able to create good students. Javeria Kazi’s conduct as a teacher is not far off from the mark which Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar had set for teachers.