For seven-year-old Jaynal Abedin at Suwaguri village in Assam’s Biswanath district, staying at home or going to school makes little difference. Jaynal studies with his 60-odd siblings and cousins in the same school—the Ajalashuti New Primary School. “It’s almost like our home. All the students are my cousins and we all stay together,” says Jaynal who studies in class II. In fact, more than 95 per cent of the students at the Ajalashuti school, established in 2004, are from the family of Hamed Ali. The 65-year-old farmer had to drop out after lower primary school, but wants the next generation from the family to study further and get to live better lives.
The school, though named Ajalashuti, is located in Suwaguri, where Ali and others shifted after losing their land to erosion due to the Brahmaputra river. It is on the way from Biswanath Chariali to Biswanath Ghat. “After arriving here, when they realised there was no school nearby, Ali donated land for building one,” headmaster Naba Das tells Outlook.
“We are poor farmers,” says Ali. “Our land and property were washed away by the river a number of times. Finally, we ended up here, bought two bighas of land and started constructing houses. The children in our families and the neighbourhood had nowhere to go for studying, so I decided to donate one bigha for the school building.” In 2004, the state government appointed two teachers and the school started functioning.
A father of eight, including a daughter, Ali says most men of his generation are either farmers or engaged in odd jobs in the informal sector. There are around 500 members in his extended family, all of whom live near each other. Ali’s daughter-in-law Roushanara Begum says there are around 75 kids in their extended family and 65 of them go to the Ajalashuti school. “It’s nearby and convenient too,” she says. Once the kids complete their primary school education, they will have to go to Biswanath High School, which is around 1.5 km from their village.
Although the school has no restrictions on admission, it’s only Ali’s relatives who are enrolled there. The teachers say having one more colleague would be helpful. “It’s a little difficult for me to control the students,” says Das, who comes to the school every day from a nearby village.
Jaynal’s cousin Yasmina says she enjoys her stay at the school more than being at home. “To be at the school has always been great fun. We play games after our classes are over. We are very lucky to be studying together,” she says. This is indeed a rare, perhaps unique, example of a whole extended family not just staying together, but studying together as well.
- “The children had nowhere to go for studying, so I donated land for the school,” says Hamed Ali.
- “To be at the school has always been fun. We are very lucky to be studying together,” says Yasmina.
By Abdul Gani in Guwahati