Trainers and successful students at Haj Bhawan coaching centre in Patna. (Express Photo)
Even though Muslims account for 17 per cent of Bihar's population, according to a senior official, they make up only 2.5 per cent of the state's police and less than 4 per cent of the other services. A decade ago, these numbers were even lower. And it was to remedy this lack of representation that Bihar's Minority Welfare Department started a pilot programme to train Muslim students and help them clear different types of public services examinations.
Amir Subhani, Additional Chief Secretary of the Minority Welfare Department, said “As Haj Bhawan had been lying largely unused after pilgrimage season, we came up with the idea of utilising the vast space with a devoted coaching centre for minority boys and girls who needed some kind of motivation to do well in life. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar promptly approved the idea. It is very good to see girls not just coming out of their homes but also showing their increasing preferences for uniformed services. It is a success story under construction. We are trying to replicate it in maximum possible places”.
Since 2010, the Haj Bhawan Coaching and Guidance Cell has been providing almost free coaching to Muslim boys and girls in preparing for prelims, mains and interview stages of competitive examinations in Bihar.
For the first four years, until 2013, it provided coaching only for police services test. Later, it included coaching for BPSC examinations as well. Haj Bhawan Guidance and Coaching Cell, under the nodal agency of Maulana Mazharul Haque Arabic and Persian University, selects Muslims students for training and coaching them in two different ways. One, it screens students that seek its help. Two, it calls deserving students that have cleared one stage or the other in an examination and helps them realise their dream.
Over the past decade, the Haj Bhawan experiment has gone from strength to strength (see box). What's more, over the last couple of years, the Minority Welfare Department has been replicating the Haj Bhawan coaching model in other districts such as Darbhanga, Bhagalpur and Ara. Further, it plans to expand this initiative to at least 10 more districts in the coming 3-4 years to attract Muslims girls and boys from rural areas.
“While a candidate coming for physical training is given free residential, fully centralised air-conditioner set-up, a student coming for mains coaching, has to pay Rs 3,500 per month. The centre has a rich library, two big classrooms and separate prayer halls for boys and girls,” said Mohammed Rashid Hussain, coordinator of Haj Bhawan Coaching and Guidance Cell. He said that Bihar's Minority Welfare Minister Mohammed Khursheed (also known as Firoz Ahmad) contributes in his personal capacity as well by organising a lunch for students on special occasions.
Why was special training needed
Muslims, who account for 17% of Bihar's population, are grossly under-represented in police and administrative services. Since 2010, the state government has been trying to remedy this by providing coaching facilities to the poor yet deserving students and helping them achieve their dream of serving in the government
The public area of the entire Haj Bhawan centre is under CCTV surveillance. Estimated per capita government cost on a student in one season is about Rs 20,000. But there is no fixed cap on the expenditure as it is a demand-driven scheme.
Most of the students in Haj Bhawan come from economically weak backgrounds. Boys and girls coming to study here have similar tales of poverty, struggle and lack of opportunities. Take, for instance, Akbar Ali who hails from Ara where his father runs a small bicycle repair shop. “I am the first boy from my village to come to Patna,” said Ali.
Students who have benefitted describe the initiative as a slow but silent revolution. Shabana Aazmi from East Champaran, who qualified as a constable in 2016 after receiving coaching, said that since becoming the first policewoman from her village, she is regarded as a role model and, in the last four years, many more girls have started preparing for competitive examinations.