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'Forced to Take Jobs': Afghan Kids in Delhi Still in Lurch After School Closure

The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan High School, the only one catering to Afghan refugees in Delhi, was shut down in October.

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“In my native country, girls are outright prohibited from accessing education, and my current circumstances in India don't appear to be any more promising,” 13-year-old Adibah Amiaq, one of the 180 students who studied at Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan High School until recently, told The Quint.

The Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan High School, which operated since 1994, in Jangpura Extension's Masjid Road in the heart of New Delhi, shut its door to students in October.

Earlier in 2022, the school was forced to shift from their larger campus to function within an underground apartment complex in Jangpura Extension. But after 29 years, and having seen hundreds of Afghan-origin students pass out, the school ceased operations.

Sources told The Quint that the management could no longer afford the operational costs, including the rent, leaving 180 students and about 15 teachers grappling with educational and financial challenges.
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'At Least I Had a School to Go to'

The Amiaq family arrived in India in 2015, when Adibah was an eight-year-old girl. She was soon enrolled at the Afghan School.

“I had my own room in Afghanistan and better facilities back in my country. My parents left our country for the safety and education of my sister and me. Even though my school did not function regularly in the past few years, at least I had a school to go to," Adibah, who was in class 8, told The Quint.

Adibah and her family live in a single-bedroom apartment near Kashmiri Park in Bhogal. For her father, Habibullah Amiaq (35), who was a travel agent in Afghanistan, sending his two daughters to a private school is not a financially viable option.

"I can't send my daughter to a private school because I don’t have a proper job to provide them with an education. My earlier job provided me nearly Rs 20,000 as salary, but now I don’t earn half of it."
Habibullah Amiaq

With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Habibullah's work as a travel agent facilitating flight bookings to the country became impossible. The family is now sustaining themselves by selling Afghani food in neighbourhood shops, and with Habibullah's wife Zinath taking odd-tailoring jobs.

The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan High School, the only one catering to Afghan refugees in Delhi, was shut down in October.

Habibullah with his younger daughter and wife at their home.

(Photo Credit: Alenjith K Johny)

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Admission at Indian Govt Schools a Tricky Road

The Right to Education Act (RTE) in India mandates the provision of admission without documents until the age of 14.

But the admission for older children in government-run schools in India is tricky due to the Afghanistan school certificate not being recognised, the barriers in the medium of instruction, and disparities in the syllabus.

According to the school authorities, half of its students are above the minimum age requirement of 14. For the students too, the challenge is adapting to the medium of instruction in Hindi/English after having studied in Dari/Farsi for years.

“My kids cannot study in Indian government schools because they do not know Hindi or English. The school administration told us two of my children are above a certain age, so they could not give admission,'" 45-year-old Mohammed Asif told The Quint.
The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan High School, the only one catering to Afghan refugees in Delhi, was shut down in October.

Asif in front of his second-hand shop in Bhogal.

(Photo Credit: Alenjith K Johny)

Mohammed Asif lives near Samman Bazar of Bhogal and has six children. Of them, one is employed and the rest of them used to attended the Afghan School.

His second elder son Waseem was in his 12th standard when the school shut, and is now in Jaipur working as a dry fruit supplier.

“After the school got shut, he was just running around the market doing nothing. That’s why I sent him to his brother, who does business, so at least he learns something.”

Zuhal Rahimi, a volunteer teacher at the school, said, “One student I know from class 9 is working in a restaurant. He wanted to continue studying but was forced to take up work due to financial constraint."

"I am worried for the children. This is not the time for them to work.”
Zuhal Rahimi

There are only two major schools in the nearby locality: one aided and the other a government school, namely Bhogal DAV Senior Secondary School and Sarvodaya Co-ed Vidyalaya.

Neither of these schools received any admissions after October. The Quint reached out to Kamala Nehru SKV, Jangpura, but they denied to comment on the matter.

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'We Are All Jobless': Afghan School Teacher

Mahbooba Noor, a teacher at the school since 2021, expressing her dire situation, said,

"We worked in the school until October with a pending salary of nearly seven months. Now, I give private tuition and earn just 8,000, as my husband has no work. My family is barely sustained by the meagre salary I earn, with some support from families outside India. Almost every teacher's situation is the same, with most of them now jobless."
The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan High School, the only one catering to Afghan refugees in Delhi, was shut down in October.

Afghan refugee children attending private tuition at the Anjam Knowledge House in Bhogal, New Delhi.

(Photo Credit: Alenjith K Johny)

After unsuccessful attempts to secure admission to government schools, Tamana Mukhlis and her sister have joined the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) under the UNHCR-BOSCO Refugee Assistance Programme.

"In my school, all subjects were taught in Dari. I have not studied or read about any of these (new) subjects before," 15-year-old Tamana, a former class 9 student, who is now enrolled in NIOS-BOSCO programme, said.

The Syed Jamaluddin Afghan High School, the only one catering to Afghan refugees in Delhi, was shut down in October.

Tamana posing with a portrait she drew. 

(Photo Credit: Alenjith K Johny)

Tamana who studied religion, cultural studies, science, social science, and math at the Afghan School, now studies only half of her subjects. She now studies Economics, Business, Data Entry, and Home Science, which are new to the syllabus.

With no school to attend, Asif's younger children and Adibah attend English language tuition by the UNHCR programme.

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'Hope Our School Opens Soon'

Mohammad Qais Malikzada, Chief of Afghan Solidarity Committee, an NGO that advocates on behalf of Afghan refugees in India, said, “We are hopeful that the school will reopen soon. The request has been placed by the officials of the Afghanistan Embassy to the government of India.”

The Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi shut down on 1 October and is now under the leadership of senior Afghan diplomats posted in other cities – Zakia Wardak, Consul General in Mumbai, and Sayed Mohammad Ibrahimkhil, who's the Acting Consul General in Hyderabad.

A meeting held on 28 November, facilitated by the Afghan Solidarity Committee, discussed various issues, including the reopening of the school, among others.

The school initially received support from the Afghan government and has been backed by the Ministry of External Affairs in India since August 2021, according to the school’s official platform on X.

However, the Indian government has allegedly stopped its support since beginning of 2023.

Addressing the fund crisis at the school, Raghav Sharma, the director of the Centre for Afghanistan Studies at OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat, said,

“It was never a big school. The closure at the end of the day, the rhetoric of supporting the school by the Indian government, the rhetoric of democracy – all that turns hollow with the closure of the school.”

The Quint has reached out to the Ministry of External Affairs in India. The article will be updated once they respond.

(The writer is a freelance journalist based in Delhi.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Delhi   Afghanistan   Education 

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