It is 9am and the gong goes off. Children in red and black checks shuffle into the smart white building perched on a slope surrounded by deodars. Few minutes later a sing-song chorus of ‘Good morning sir’ wafts out of the two-storey building. That is the Haji Public School, Breswana.
Sabah Haji grew up in Dubai and later studied in Bangalore, but followed her heart to Breswana Nitin Kanotra/HT
The uniforms, the English greeting, the school routine, all seemingly ordinary activities assu-me extraordinary proportions given the history and geography of Breswana.
Situated at a height of 7,000ft above sea level in Jammu’s Doda district, Breswana has been known for all the wrong reasons — remoteness and terrorism. While the first continues to be a problem — the nearest road link is 8 km away, in Premnagar — the second problem has been stamped out, almost entirely.
“But when militancy was at its peak, between 1992 and 2002, about 50 terrorists were active here, making it impossible for even security forces to enter,” says Sonu Sharma, sub-inspector in Doda, who was involved in many anti-terrorist operations.
Sabah Haji, founder of the Haji Public School, concurs.
Haji, who grew up in Dubai followed by student years in Bangalore, of course, has not had to suffer from either. “But my parents are from here. And every summer when I came visiting, I couldn’t help but notice the stark difference between the two worlds. It disturbed me. I had this voice in my head telling me I must do something, contribute in some way,” says Haji.
The opportunity came when her family, which had already set up the Amin Trust financed by her Singapore-based uncle Haji Nisar, decided to open an English medium school in Breswana. “I immediately packed my bags and came down here,” says Haji.
She arrived here in August 2008. A year later, the Haji Public School became operational. To begin with, there were only lower and upper kindergarten classes, and the school functioned out of the Haji residence. Struggling to get good trained teachers, Sabah and her mother Tasneem Haji decided to identify potential teachers from the local population and train them accordingly.
“The idea of sending our wards to a private school and paying fees was alien. We were used to sending them to the government school, where even food is provided free,” says Ghulam Mohammad.
At Haji school, books and stationery are provided by the Trust, but the monthly tuition up to KG is Rs. 100 and from Class I to 4 it is Rs. 150.
“It was because of this mental block that we managed to get only 30 students in the first year,” says Haji.
Gradually, however, the number of students swelled. “I noticed that my daughter’s friends were speaking and writing in English, and she was beginning to feel left out. That’s when I decided to send her to Haji school,” says Musarrat Jan, whose daughter is now in Class 1. Ghulam Mohammad’s daughters are enrolled here, too.
Today, the school has 87 students and classes from kindergarten to Class IV. Two more branches have been opened in adjoining villages, taking the combined strength to 178. The number of teachers has also gone up. “I decided to come back after I heard about this school,” says Kuldeep Kumar, a teacher at the school and a native of the neighbouring Parhulla village, who was earlier working in Rajasthan. “Every year volunteers come to teach. This year students of IIT-Delhi are also expected to come,” says Haji.
Parents of students are also happy. Says Kuldeep Kumar Sharma of Perhulla, whose children have started attending the local branch of Haji school: “We were fed up with the government school. Teachers wouldn’t turn up. We spent a lot of time and energy complaining to zonal education officer, but nothing would move. Here, things function smoothly”
Outside the school building students are rehearsing Waka Waka for the annual day, which is round the corner. High-pitched voices chant in unison, “Today’s your day/I feel it/You paved the way/Believe it….”