Ascent through education lasts a lifetime. It was a realisation of this fact that guided Haji Ajmal Ali earn people’s goodwill through welfare measures like building schools, hospitals and providing scholarships to students in the communally-sensitive Nagaon district of Assam
Sixty six years since India got its independence, poverty, illiteracy, social inequalities, lack of proper health care and violence continue to plague India. Though true, many such observations are often brushed aside as a cynic’s cliché. The reason largely being urban In dia’s growing indifference against social, educational and geographical inequalities. Although this stands true for most of the country, the lack of access to basic and higher education in north-eastern states only spells out the failure of successive governments in addressing this issue.
Despite all odds, Assam-based Ajmal family, however, dreams of a state where education is accessible to all – irrespective of caste, creed and religion. Their dream is to take education to the students of rural India at an affordable cost, cutting across the barriers of expensive education in the metros and other cities of the country.
In 2006, the Ajmals established Maryam Ajmal Women’s college of Science & Technology, Hojai in Nagaon. The college offers higher secondary education in science stream and graduation degrees in science and humanities. The college was established by Ajmals (Mohammed Amiruddin Ajmal, Mohammed Fakhruddin Ajmal, Mohammed Badruddin Ajmal, Mohamed Sirajuddin Ajmal and Late Nazir Ajmal) in memory of late Maryam-un-Nessa Ajmal. The primary idea behind setting up these institutes was to perpetuate education by empowering women and enabling them to be equal participants in the rapidly changing scientific and technological scenario that has swept the world.
Locals say that Maryam-Un-Nessa had devoted her entire life for the empowerment of rural women by supporting girls for education, providing marriage aid for girls, working towards self-sufficiency of women and undertaking awareness initiatives for capacity building etc. In line with her efforts to encourage girl students towards getting educated, the foundation also provides financial support to girls from poor family backgrounds, scholarships for meritorious girls and special exemption for girls from remote areas and SC & STs.
“The will to happiness is universal but in most cases it remains a far cry due to the domination of the class with vested interests who reap undue and unearned benefits and largesses at the cost of the deprived, the marginalised, the destitute and the poor. Real social progress will remain a mirage if a large segment of our population remains uneducated, poor and sick. It is here that people and organisations with a zeal for public welfare play the most pivotal role at social transformation. The Ajmal family strongly believes in helping people know how to fish rather than giving them a fish,” says Mohamed Sirajuddin Ajmal, Director, Ajmal Group of Companies, who is also actively involved in community services.
The Ajmals today run multiple charitable programmes under Markazul Ma’arif, Haji Majid Memorial Public trust, Ajmal Foundation and the Ajmal Group of Colleges. Through these organisations, they have established relief and rehabilitation centers, orphanages, multispecialty charitable hospitals, schools and colleges across Assam.
Asked whether the college is able to attract students and quality faculty in the face of students from the north east flocking to bigger metropolis like Delhi, Mohamed Sirajuddin replies in the affirmative. An important reason behind this is their focus on safety and security of girls, a conducive academic enviroment, individual attention, personality development and crucially, the brilliant result of students. “We also conduct Ajmal National Talent Search Examination (ANTSE), which is a national level talent testing examination conducted every year for students from the third standard to degree levels. The intent is to inculcate a competitive mindset among the students, recognise their talents, provide scholarships and cash awards. This also helps us attract talent,” he says.
Despite the goodwill enjoyed by the Ajmals, setting up the colleges and operating them was no cakewalk. The foremost challenge that the Ajmals faced was lack of awareness among the guardians and students. Motivating students and parents towards higher studies in science was a tall ask. This was apart from tracking different verticals like higher education, school education, distance and open learning, vocational educational, skill training and leveraging the scope of ICT in education. Things, however, look promising today with students intake at the Maryam Ajmal Women’s college of Science & Technology rising from a mere 18 in 2006 to 457 in 2014.
Furthering their dream to take education to remote areas and to those who could not pursue higher studies for various reasons, the Ajmal Foundation provides them an opportunity through its study centre of Krishna Kanta Handique State Open University (KKHSOU). They also have smart classrooms and satellite audio-visual interactive classroom for civil service examinations besides other facilities.
Looking ahead, the foundation wants establishment of universities for minorities or the expansion of the campus of Aligarh Muslim University in minority concentrated states like Assam, West Bengal, UP, Bihar, Kerala etc. for improving the access and quality of education in the state. They also seek new Jawahar Navodaya Model Schools in minority concentrated districts, model colleges and ITIs in minority concentrated blocks, more placementlinked Ajeevika model projects for minorities through the Ministry of Minority Affairs and scholarship facilities for minority students for higher studies, especially for girls. In terms of improving infrastructure, the foundation also wants the government to look into construction of hostels for minority boys and girls in all cities, towns, subdivisions, municipalities and adjacent areas of major educational institutions. Allocation of land for minority educational institutions, etc also feature on their list of expectations.
Nagaon district in Assam is a hot bed for communal unrest. However, welfare activities by the Ajmal family in the area has not only helped them expand their business empire and increase their popularity among people, it has also propelled them into a political force. Maulana Badruddin Ajmal of the Ajmal clan who founded the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF), now the All India United Democratic Front, is currently a Member of Parliament from Dhubri constituency in Assam. He plans to set up a medical college in Hojai and a university in Guwahati. One hopes these measures and initiatives gain momentum and help the cause of promoting education in every nook and corner of the state.