Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and Agha Ashraf Ali people were responsible for education-revolution among Muslims in Kashmir: Vijay Dhar
• Begum Zafar Ali was the first female matriculate of Kashmir valley who started her career as school teacher
• Begum Zafar Ali introduced mid-day meals concept
• Agha Ashraf Ali was appointed as Inspector of Schools at the age of 28
• In 1952, Agha Ashraf Ali went opened first girls’ primary school in Ladkah
• His tenure from 1955-1960 as the Principal Teachers’ College
• Agha Ashraf Ali never showed any favoritism while selecting student for foreign tours
• He introduced the concept that the university should function round the clock instead of working in any pre-fixed day timing
• As Chairman of BOSE, he introduced compulsory mathematics and science in schools for all girls
• He always advocated teaching in Kashmiri and repeatedly called for the introduction of the Kashmiri language at the elementary level
I still remember my interview date for the teacher post. July 04, 2008. The interviewer asked me a question about Agha Ashraf Ali and his contribution to the School Education Department. Since that date, my curiosity grew to know more about his life and contribution. While doing the self-search about his life I came to know that his entire family contributed a lot in spreading modern education in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir State.
Let us first take a glance at the contribution of her mother towards the school education. It is worth mentioning here that his mother Begum Zafar Ali, herself an educationist and legislator, was the first female matriculate of Kashmir valley who started her career as the school teacher and later the former Prime Minister of the Erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah promoted her as the Chief Inspector schools.
She introduced the mid-day meals concept in schools. For that matter, she was motivating her students to bring some pulses, potatoes, salt, firewood, and prepared them at school. All this had been done on voluntarily basis.
In order to develop the concept of social work and charity among the students, she encouraged them to set up the Child Banks at school. Her grand works that include the establishment of first Destitute Home for a woman in Srinagar, the establishment of the first handicraft center for women, the establishment of teachers and ladies club, the establishment of first woman Cooperative Society at Chatabal Srinagar with the support of his brother Agha Syed Ahmad.
She started a very unique project titled “Ramzan Project” in the Education Department. Under that project, special activities were conducted throughout the holy month of Ramadhan. Students were given practical knowledge by dramatizing the particular situation on stage.
On seeing this, K. G. Sydain the then Director School Education but Shri Vanigopala Ahangir acknowledged that particular initiative taken by her. It is because of her efforts that the first woman organization titled “All Indian Woman Conference” branch was set up here. She worked as the secretary for that particular organization. She also played a pivotal role in the prison reform. She shared her idea that those prisoners should be given stipend against their handcraft works at the time of his/her release and provide them basic teachings supported by morality and the principles of life.
This rich legacy was then promoted and sustained by his beloved son Agha Ashraf Ali, a renowned educationist of Kashmir. He was born on October 18, 1922 in NawaKadal in Downtown, Srinagar. He did his schooling through the reputed educational institution Tyndale Bisco Memorial School then for higher studies, he first joined the Sri Pratap College then Aligarh Muslim University and finally for the research work he joined the Ball State University, America.
It was an extraordinary achievement for him when he was appointed as the Inspector of Schools at the age of 28 in December 1951 by Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah. The young foreign-educated Aga Ashraf started to overhaul the education sector right from day one. His passion for education led him to take several initiatives. He took a keen interest in improving the quality of education and increasing its reach. Many schools were opened during this time. Not only in Kashmir, but Agha Ashraf also ensured that education reaches other parts of the state too.
In 1952, he went to Ladkah and opened first girls’ primary school in that region. He also rendered his duties as the principal Teachers Training College (TT College). His tenure from 1955-1960 as the Principal Teachers’ College has been regarded as the golden phase in the history of TT College. In 1960, Agha Ashraf got a Fulbright Fellowship and went to America for his Ph.D at Ball State University when he returned from there luckily, the university created a post-graduate department of education and he was the first Kashmiri who was selected directly as the professor said, Agha Ashraf. During that period he sent the best students to England and America to study new Mathematics skills.
While selecting the student for foreign for attending training courses or workshops, he never showed any favoritism. He also developed a good work culture. It was his concept that the university should function round the clock instead of working in any pre-fixed day timing. As the Chairman Board of School Education, Agha Ashraf introduced compulsory mathematics and science in schools for all girls. He was a member of Bagwan Sahai Committee report. From 1973-1975, he became Director of Training and Curricula. Agha Ashraf has always advocated teaching in Kashmiri and has repeatedly called for the introduction of the Kashmiri language at the elementary level in all schools. “The child who is not familiar with his mother tongue, often finds it hard to learn effectively other languages. Familiarity with mother tongue helps a child in learning other languages quickly,” he said.
Agha was widely known as a public speaker. He spoke widely on history, education, culture, and contemporary politics. Agha was an ardent advocate of the human rights of Kashmiris. It is because of his fame and outreach that the then Governor G C Saxena nominated him to the State Legislative Council as MLC, but his humble and calm nature, his quest for reading more and more literature did not allow him to accept that assignment. Vijay Dhar, who was an educationist himself, once famously said that two people were responsible for education-revolution among Muslims in Kashmir, one was Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, another Agha Ashraf Ali. This noble soul left this transient world for good on August 08, 2020 at 11:45 pm on Friday in Srinagar. May Almighty Allah bless his soul eternal peace and bestow patience, strength to bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss!