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  • Writer's pictureGarima Raghuvanshy

#8 Rafiq sir

(Names have not been changed in this summary)

Rafiq sir was born and brought up in Malwani, a massive slum in the north western area of Mumbai. He wryly calls it Dharavi’s poor cousin. It is a densely populated area, and most of Malwani’s residents are migrant labour who have come from UP and Bihar and settled in Mumbai. There was no ATM in Malwani 7-8 years back, and no nationalised banks. There used to be two government hospitals, but they were pulled down. The only replacement so far has been one hospital 1.5 kms away with very meagre facilities. Here patients are usually referred to other, larger hospitals. Amidst all this, education has been a driver of change in Malwani.

P/North ward of Mumbai, of which Malwani is a part, has the largest number of private English Medium schools in Mumbai. Almost 65,000-70,000 kids go to school in the area. This has created continuous competition amongst schools, which has benefitted students. Mothers in Malwani has been instrumental in ensuring their children get educated.

Rafiq sir is physically handicapped, his left leg is afflicted with Polio. Some people say specially abled, but he goes with the old school of thought. He comes from a very, very poor family, and has experienced first-hand the transformative power of education. He continues to see how education is changing the lives of people in Malwani. Gradually, but consistently, the younger generation is educating and working its way out of poverty. With the belief that each person has something to give back to society, whether in terms of money, skills, or time, Rafiq sir started the Holy Mother English School in Malwani on the 4th of July 2005. He also created Meeting of Minds or MOM, a partnership of 11 schools with like-minded leadership catering to the same community and facing the same challenges. Today MOM schools educate 5000-6000 students and constantly share experiences and best practices. For instance, about how to solve the problem of school dropouts, and how to keep girls in school.

The lockdown has hit Malwani hard. Most of its population are daily wage workers who now have no source of income. Using school data from MOM schools Rafiq sir and his team identified students whose families were already in a dire situation before the lockdown, and who would now have been pushed to the verge of starvation. They created a campaign on social media and raised enough to buy 700 ration kits to be distributed amongst those who need it the most. Each kit costs around 350 rupees and contains 5 kg of rice, 1 kg of dal, and 1 lt. of cooking oil.

A ration kit with rice, dal, cooking oil, sugar, and spices

Several groups have cropped up in Malwani with the objective of providing ration to the needy. These groups now vie with each other and local residents for ration at local grocery stores. Ration has become increasingly difficult to get, which might be due to hoarding by shopkeepers in view of increased demand. This is Rafiq sir’s guess in any case, he is not sure why else ration supply would dry up. He is confident though that as people continue to contribute, his and his team’s efforts to ensure no one goes hungry in Malwani during this crisis will also go on. The local authorities are supporting Rafiq sir and his team by not harassing them. They let them do relief work, but do not issue any written permission. The police have told Rafiq sir they have not issued written permission to any organisation in the area. Fortunately, the migrants who have settled in Malwani did not head back home when the lockdown was announced. Rafiq sir is very happy that has not happened. And we will make sure it doesn’t happen, he says.

Rafiq sir has planned ahead. After the initial widespread enthusiasm to do good work and to be seen doing so dies, several groups might no longer be in the picture. But relief work must go on. This cannot be a one-time, cosmetic effort. The 11 MOM schools have decided that they will not quickly distribute what they have. They will actually ration it. The school data tells them the ground reality. People who can afford to buy ration will also stand in que if something is being given for free. The objective is to give it to those for whom it matters. To make sure these families can be supported until the crisis is over, they will continue raising funds from social media campaigns and through word of mouth.

Ration being distributed

Fortunately, so far Rafiq sir has been successful in raising funds for those who need it the most, but where does he go to talk about his teachers’ salaries for the month of March? The government has passed a notification asking schools not to seek money from parents for this period. But, schools like Rafiq sir’s do not have a corpus. We are keeping our noses above the water. Fees come in, we accumulate that and pay running costs and teachers’ salaries. Now there is no fees coming, and exams are getting postponed or cancelled. He doesn’t see schools reopening before June. In this situation he cannot face his teachers, who are the soldiers behind the education that is happening in his area. He cannot run a campaign for teacher’s salaries. He doesn’t know how it will look. Along with food scarcity, this also happens to be a major problem.

Rafiq sir has asked MOM schools not to insist on students coming to school in uniform next year. The children being in the classroom is more important. For many children this might not be an issue at all. But for some children this can be the only issue stopping them from coming to school.

A few days back a 65-year-old person from Malwani died. He was a dialysis patient and was being treated in Goregaon Hospital. On the 28thof March doctors said he needs to be tested for Covid-19. Until 30th the result had not come. On 30th he developed complications and was taken to the same hospital, where doctors said he had tested positive for Covid-19. It is not clear if he got infected in the hospital. No one in his area has gone to foreign countries, no one has come there from outside. It’s an isolated family. So far, Rafiq sir has not heard any news that healthcare workers have visited the area to track and test people.

In Malwani the community is very well connected within itself. If a rumour related to Covid-19 starts doing the rounds, people approach each other and clarify that it’s not the case. It’s not a very highly educated area, but people are wise. Rafiq sir has been able to bring ISKCON to Malwani as well, and they have been distributing food packets in the area. He is happy that Malwani has risen to the present challenge and it has done so beyond expectation.

Rafiq sir thinks the lockdown is a wonderful decision, no two ways about it. But you cannot give 4 hours to the entire nation. People were given more notice for Janta Curfew than for the actual lockdown. Our PM is blessed to have such command in his voice that what he says people follow, across economic classes and regardless of whether they are educated or not. I am not pro or against anyone, but when you have that kind of power in your voice, what stops you from sitting and breaking down the details and then going ahead.

The authorities have been very good, thankfully. Right from the CM. When he comes on TV he means business, he talks sense. There is no drama. He speaks as someone who cares. He also has a sense of humour. Last time he came on TV, he began by saying, now you all will say, once again he has come to give us problems. That was such a wonderful thing to see coming from a leader. Rafiq sir would call him a leader, not a politician. Teachers and headmasters are also blessed with this power of words. When he goes to the road and asks people to practice social distancing, he don’t need a microphone. Not many people are blessed with that kind of power.

The police have also done a great job. In Malwani itself people have been irritating the police, but they have caught hold of those people and calmly made them understand. Rafiq is not scared of coming out on the road because he knows for sure that the police will talk to him first before raising their lathis. The police happen to be the only visible arm of the government machinery. For Rafiq sir they are a measure of the government.

Rafiq sir believes that within chawls and small societies people should take the responsibility to ensure everyone is fed rather than waiting for help to come from outside. If they create a small ecosystem in their area, at least they can take that to people from outside and help can be brought in. We are not blessed with abundance resources. We have sufficient, so we have to ensure it reaches the right people. More planning, and more planning from the heart is required. We need people who have a vision.

Rafiq sir has been flooded with messages, people from the teaching fraternity sharing this app, that app. These are two worlds. India and Bharat. Children of India might have the problem of getting bored. Children of Bharat, children of Hindustan are more worried about getting food on their plate. So, education can wait. It should wait. As an educator he is sorry to say this, but education should not become a priority, it should not become a talking point at all right now. Rafiq sir is getting irritated with these people; they are showing him IB board syllabus which can be taught to kids. It’s like promising fine clothes to a starving man. People say you live only once. During this period, Rafiq sir has realised, you die only once. You live every day. If I live today, I’ll think about tomorrow, he says. Today survival is the goal. We can always cover up syllabus later.

PC: Rafiq sir

Link to the social media campaign raising funds for Malwani:

Update 15/04/2020:

Rafiq sir shared this wonderful news;

I’m infinitely grateful to Garima for penning this blog on my humble efforts to run the Ration Relief campaign at Holy Mother English School. I’m so ecstatic to share that midday has got in touch with me to do a story on my campaign after reading this blog. The goodness of the blog doesn’t stop here, a few kind hearted and benevolent donors have spoken to me about doing their bit in continuing our campaign in the next rounds of Ration distribution.I remain utterly and eternally grateful to Garima for her efforts in reaching out to me and putting it in public domain in such a meaningful and impacting way. Taken from Rafiq sir’s kind comment on this post, scroll down to see his comment.

Update 28/04/2020:

As Rafiq sir had feared, after the initial euphoria, donations for relief work have dried up. His ration relief initiative to help the poorest in Malwani has come to a standstill for lack of funds. All the while, the lockdown has entered its fifth week, and families who had received much-needed ration a few weeks ago are on the verge of starvation again. Rafiq sir appeals to all to spread the word about relief work being done in Malwani so that help can be given where it is desperately needed.

Update 2/05/2020:

Rafiq sir is happy to share that his ration relief initiative distributed 50 Ration kits to the most needy teachers from MOM schools. This was was possible because of contributions from Arpan, an NGO working on Child Sexual Abuse and Personal Safety Education. They were also able to make direct online bank transfers to 60 teachers from 10 MOM schools between 20th April to 27th April thanks to contributions from Mr. Omar Momin of Nisaba Godrej Foundation. Rafiq sir and his team have also procured 2 tons of wheat flour and chana daal which is being distributed to 300 families from Rafiq sir’s Holy Mother English School. These contributions have made Rafiq sir’s relief work easier, but as the lockdown has been extended, they will need support for this period as well. He hopes for the best and continues the work at hand.


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