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"There is nothing wrong with the teachings in madrasas and I am an example of that. We give the same teachings in a madrasa that you give in other schools. Our kids here wear a niqab, we recite a prayer or the kalma. Just like every school has its set of rules, our madrasa also has rules. What's different here?"Ram Khiladi, Principal, Madrasa Jamia Rashidia
Madrasa Jamia Rashidia in Ghaziabad's Loni in Uttar Pradesh was established in the year 1999 with only 59 students, with the aim to educate economically poor Muslim children.
Now, more than 800 students study at this madrasa, around 25 km from Delhi, with a staff of 22 teachers.
Ram Khiladi has been teaching Hindi at the madrasa for the past 15 years after being appointed under the Centre's Madrasa Modernisation Scheme.
Talking about Madrasa Jamia Rashidia's progressive journey from 1999, Nawab Ali, the Imam who heads the madrasa, said, ''Earlier, parents refused to send their children and asked me what a Mualana could teach? Now our classrooms are fully packed and we struggle to make space for new enrolments."
Ram Khiladi has been teaching at different schools for the last 25 years. Khiladi, who is fondly called 'Pandit Principal Sir' by the students of the madrasa, says he has never felt any religious difference or barrier. The madrasa and its staff are like a family, he says.
Ram Khiladi believes a focus on education is important to be able to practise your rights as it will help in making an informed choice between right and wrong.
"What we hear can be a lie, what we see can also be a lie. To probe is the right way."Ram Khiladi, Principal, Madrasa Jamia Rashidia
Besides Quranic teachings, languages like Hindi and English are also taught in the madrasa. The introduction of subjects like mathematics, social studies, and science under the modernisation scheme, introduced in 1994 by PV Narsimha Rao-led Union government, has also helped the students prepare for competitive entrance exams and jobs.
Right at the entrance of the school, there is a big poster with photos of the toppers of the year 2019 – all girls. Ram Khiladi and other teachers at the school very proudly speak of the students who are preparing for UPSC's civil services exam, students who have got into police services and those who have become doctors and are leading local hospitals.
For Muslim children from marginalised and poor backgrounds, with private schools out of reach, madrasas are often the only source of education. Students here have big dreams, from aiming to join the army, becoming a teacher, doctor, lawyer, IAS officer and so much more, teachers say.
The students also expressed their thoughts on the current scenario of the country and their approach towards it.
"Our society here is mixed. There are Muslims and non-Muslims here. There are no differences. Suddenly, big issues crop up all over the country. Then only one feels the difference."Laiba Ansari, 16, Arts Student
"The situation is such that one feels that there is a difference between Hindus and Muslims. How not to let these things impact you when your mind is crowded with misconceptions against each other?"Mizba Naaz, 16, Science Student
"We have to save ourselves and make the other person understand also. It shouldn't be like if he is rigid, I also become rigid. Then a fight is inevitable. We should make them understand with love."Mohd Bilal, 20, Science Student
At first sight, you see a merry story of communal harmony. But like most stories, here too, not all is well. Ram Khiladi and other teachers appointed under the Madrasa Modernisation Scheme have not been paid in the last five years by the central government.
He is surviving on a meagre Rs 3,000, paid by the state government of his total monthly salary of Rs 15,000. He is awaiting his dues of almost Rs 7 lakh from the central government.
Khiladi is a widower and has two kids – who studied at the same madrasa till 7th standard. Survival on this salary has been difficult, and sometimes even to provide for basic necessities becomes tough, Ram Khiladi laments.
But with a smile on his face, Ram Khiladi says that he is surviving on the love of the people around him.
"I get so much respect here in Loni. Wherever I go, they greet me. They take me to their homes. There is so much love. Now, you tell me, between all this love, if someone tries to sow the seed of hatred, how will we tolerate it? How do you expect us to accept it?"Ram Khiladi, Principal, Madrasa Jamia Rashidia
With India completing 75 years of Independence, The Quint is celebrating the soul of the country – its secularism. We are bringing stories of unity, love, and music from across India in our month-long campaign, SeculaRhythm.
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Send your stories, ideas, poems, and art at Hope@thequint.com, and celebrate India's SecluaRhythm with The Quint.