The residents of Pahadganj are furious. In 2014, the Urdu-medium primary school in this neighbourhood in Jaipur city, Rajasthan, was merged with a Hindi-medium senior secondary school that operated out of the same premises in the morning shift. The language of instruction at the merged school with classes from 1 till 12 is now uniformly Hindi.

Since 2014, the Rajasthan government has merged over 17,000 public schools into other such institutions, with the promise that this pooling of teaching and other resources would improve the overall quality of education. Another lot is set to go this summer, with some activists estimating that the number could be over 3,700. In the process, schools that used minority languages as mediums of instruction have been subsumed within Hindi-medium institutions, leading to widespread resentment among their speakers, especially Muslims who form the largest section of Urdu speakers. There are also schools catering to Sindhi speakers, though their numbers are much lower.

In the restructuring of the staffing policy prompted by the mergers, Urdu language teaching posts have been the biggest casualty. At the primary level (Classes 1-5), posts for Urdu and other minority languages have been abolished altogether. Teachers have been accommodated elsewhere to teach general subjects.

Conspiracy theory

Community members and teachers believe that this is a deliberate attempt to erase their language in a state governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party. “This is a well thought out plan,” alleged Anwer Ali, an Urdu language teacher at a now-merged upper-primary school in Mohalla Mahawatan, Jaipur, which earlier taught nearly 200 children in that medium.

Ali is one of three Urdu language teachers in Mahawatan who were posted to teach general subjects in the revised system. Yet, they continued to teach in Urdu. However, their luck ran out in April when they discovered that question papers for the Class 5 board exams – introduced this year – would be solely in Hindi while Urdu versions would be provided only to madrassas. Ali has challenged this in court.

In response to’s request for comment, the Rajasthan government’s joint secretary, elementary education, Sunil Kumar Sharma, said, “The department has not merged any Urdu school.” He went on to explain, “The education department does not run separate schools for linguistic minorities, but teaching in and of these languages, as medium and subject, are available in schools. As for Urdu, the [state’s] Department of Minority Affairs runs madrassas where Urdu is taught.”

Ameen Kayamkhani, president of the Rajasthan Urdu Teachers’ Association, countered, “There are 32 Urdu-medium schools in Rajasthan, 13 of those in Jaipur.” Of these 13, he said, only nine were left after the mergers.

In these schools, general studies and mathematics – the two primary school subjects that are not languages – were taught in Urdu. In addition to Pahadganj and Mahawatan, Urdu-medium primary schools in Jaipur’s Mehran, Dawavkhana, Pano Ka Dariba, Silawatan and Pannigaran colonies have all been merged into Hindi-medium schools. Teachers estimate that this has affected over 1,000 students.

Language divide

With the sudden change in the medium of instruction and with most of the Urdu teachers having been transferred, the children of Pahadganj are struggling. “Since they cannot understand the lessons, our children are performing poorly,” said Abdul Rahim of the Pahadganj Welfare Association. The association has written to the state’s department of education and the education minister, Vasudev Devnani, numerous times, but received no response.

The lone Urdu language teacher left at the school said the number of students in Classes 1-5 has dropped from 250 at the time of the merger to under 200 now. “But I kept the Urdu language classes going,” he said.

Recalling the school’s history, an angry Rahim pointed out, “This [school] was established before Independence. Our elders provided the land on which it has stood for the last 40 years and kept the rent low. Now, our teachers have all been transferred.”

Apart from the building and administration, the Hindi-medium senior school and the Urdu-medium primary school in Pahadganj share few ties. Mohammad Ayyub, whose children attended the primary school, said that after completing Class 5, the girls typically moved to an Urdu-medium senior school at Ghat Gate and the boys to one at Muslim Musaffir Khana (travelers’ lodge) in Sanganeri Gate. Also, the senior school that now dominates is just a few years old.

“Our children are being pulled away from Urdu in this way,” said Ayyub. “I am sure this was deliberate, the government’s real policy.”

‘Violation of our rights’

In Mahawatan, Urdu language teacher Ali said the switch to Hindi as the medium of instruction is unconstitutional and illegal.

“Article 350A of the Constitution requires states to provide primary education in the mother tongue for linguistic minority groups,” he argued. “And the Right to Education Act too supports instruction in the mother tongue. What the government has done is a violation of our rights and a violation of the law.”

The hall at Muslim Musaffir Khana, where a government primary school ran. Photo credit: Shreya Roy Chowdhury.

Teachers in a fix

Before the mergers, in colonies with large Muslim populations that did not have Urdu-medium schools, Urdu was taught as an additional language in regular schools, in the same way Sanskrit is taught. Both sets of schools together employed around 3,000 Urdu teachers in Rajasthan, estimated Kayamkhani. After the mergers in 2014, a large section of them are now teaching general studies.

Under the new system, teachers for primary and upper-primary classes have been divided into two categories – Levels 1 and 2. Level 1 teachers, Kayamkhani explained, have done a “basic certificate course” after school and teach primary classes (1 to 5). Level 2 teachers are graduates with a BEd (Bachelor in Education) degree and teach upper-primary classes (6 to 8). At Level 2, there are teachers for specific subjects, replacing an older policy in which they taught all subjects.

But at Level 1, there are no posts for language teachers, including Urdu, anymore. Those who had been appointed have since been made general subject teachers while those with BEd degrees have been moved to teach Urdu as a third language in Classes 6-8. But this is not how it goes for everyone. “There were very few posts for Urdu at Level 2 and people like me, with BEd, have been retained in Level 1,” said Kayamkhani. He now teaches general studies to Classes 1-5 at the Government Upper Primary School in Indira Jyoti Nagar. “This, despite my being an Urdu language teacher in a school where most children are Urdu-speaking. There are 136 students in Classes 1 to 8. Only one is non-Muslim.”

The teacher from Pahadganj added: “My appointment letter from 1992, when Ameen [Kayamkhani] and I joined, said ‘Urdu teacher’.” The rest of his former colleagues were all transferred.

Some Urdu-language teachers, including one from the primary school at Muslim Musaffir Khana, found themselves in a fix when their schools were merged with institutions that did not have Urdu even as a third language in Classes 6-8. Pressure from the teachers’ association led to 11 such Level 1 Urdu teachers being accommodated at Level 2 in other schools.

There was no response from the government on the alleged change in service conditions for these teachers.

Systematic neglect

While the mergers have played havoc with Urdu studies in the state, teachers allege that the systematic neglect of Urdu schools began much before. “Since about 1998, we have had no new books for the general subjects,” said the teacher in Pahadganj. “When we made inquiries, we were instructed to teach the unchanged parts of the syllabus from the old books and use Hindi ones for the new chapters.”

The content of the textbooks, such as the number of states and districts in India, has not been updated for decades now. “Sometimes we would use the Hindi textbook and explain in Urdu,” added Kayamkhani.

Elementary education joint secretary Sunil Kumar Sharma said that the responsibility for writing textbooks and printing questions papers in Urdu did not lie with his department but with the Department of Minority Affairs.

Despite the upheavals, Urdu teachers don’t except the big decision to be reversed. Said Abdul Rahim: “We have accepted the merger now, that is over. But we will continue to fight for the restoration of Urdu-medium and Urdu-language teaching in our schools.”

This is the second part in a series on the impact of the Rajasthan government’s decision to merge schools in a bid to improve quality of education. You can read the first part here.