Always in the press, Boys’ Madrasas are either labeled as a den of extremist ideology or seen condescendingly by high brow intellectuals. In contrast, thousands of women’s madrasas across the country remain unheard of. Thinking of filming a documentary in one such women madrasa fascinated our team members and at the same time appeared like sour grapes.
Denied access in most of the madrasas, partly due to the bad press they receive and partly because of conservative thinking of their trustees/owners, we had started thinking of another idea to make our semester-based documentary film. It is when we were in such a state that we got access to a woman Madrasa where the authorities allowed the sole girl member in our team to go inside the Madrasa and shoot the girls.
“There are very strict rules here. Offering namaz five times a day is a duty and you have to do it regardless of what you want,” told a 12-year old girl Shama on the first day of shoot.
Reconciled to her present life in a Madrasa away from her home Shama says, “We get both religious as well as worldly education here but in schools we only get worldly education. My Abbu wants me to become an Aalima (religious scholar).”
Myopically understood as a place where girls are imprisoned by their parents till the time they are married off, Madrasa often becomes a sight of camaraderie amongst women who prefer madrasa over their homes.
Recollecting an incident from her childhood, 15-year old Alisha who is from Agra says, “Often my father would vent frustration of his work at me and my mother. He once started a fight over as trivial an issue as hot chapattis not served to him in his food.”
Having initially blamed her parents for sending her off to a madrasa, Alisha now cannot imagine her life without her friends at the Madrasa.
Madrasa has also proved to be a stepping stone for many girls who eventually attend a university for formal education.
“After I pass out from here, I can go to a university also, but my cousins who neither went to school nor to Madrasa have nowhere to go,” says Alisha.
The place is also replete with girls who initially attended school but were later sent to schools for reasons including presence of boys in most of the schools.
“My Abbu always wants me to remain in veil. He does not even want to have any interaction with boys. That’s why he sent me here,” she adds.
Distant memory of their school days also pervades, as many girls fondly remember their initial years in school.
“I liked school better and used to play a lot. May be that’s why my father sent me here in madrasa,” says 14-year old madrasa student Sumaiya.
Ambitious to become a doctor, Sumaiya wanted to complete her studies from a school only but had to give in to her mother.
“I wanted to complete my 10th and 12th from a school but since my form has been filled, I have no other choice,” says Sumaiya. To the proposition of asking her mother about it, Sumaiya says, “I cannot, just afraid of her.”