IT Education: Initiatives among Mumbai MuslimsIT Education: Initiatives among Mumbai Muslims

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IT Education

Initiatives among Mumbai Muslims

Rehana Ghadially
Rehana Ghadially
Farida Umrani
PhD Scholar
IIT, Mumbai

The marginalization of the Muslim minority from the mainstream development is well known. As IT and its role in growth and globalization are established, this may not only further marginalize Muslims from the national mainstream but also threaten their place in world development.


The role of new technologies and their potential to contribute to economic growth and human development has been debated at various national and international forums. Speaking of equity and social transformation, the marginalization of the Muslim minority from the mainstream development is well known. As IT and its role in growth and globalization are established, this may not only further marginalize Muslims from the national mainstream but also threaten their place in world development.

Like the ‘digital divide’, the North-South divide has been widely discussed in academic circles. In recent times, the divide within a society, especially across geographic location (rural/urban), class, and gender have received inordinate media and academic attention. A society is far more heterogeneous and characterized by divides besides these three. In India, other social structural dimensions worth a mention are caste, ethnicity, religion, language and state. These digital divides deserve our attention and await documentation. Another lacuna in the IT and development literature is the lack of focus on computer access and learning in urban areas. It is assumed that things are well there with the result attention directed to making IT available to villagers. This is not to say that IT development in rural areas is unimportant – it is to illustrate that the urban centres warrant scrutiny as well. Studies document government initiatives – state and centre – and NGOs thrust in IT education; what is left undocumented are the community cum government initiatives.

Ethnic groups within the Muslim community have responded to modern technology in diverse ways. The religious leadership of the Daudi Bohra has harnessed information and communication technologies to serve traditional purposes and set itself as a role model for embracing ICT for its people. The ownership of personal computers among the rich of this sect is 14.5% on par with Japan. The Memons on the other hand do not have a single computer in their jamatkhana. Secondly, in the bustling city of Mumbai, Muslim sects such as the Aga Khanis, Ishana Asharis, the Bohras, Memons, Konkani, etc, populate the area from Crawford Market to Byculla Station. This heterogeneity is compounded by diversity in education, class and language. In this stretch of seven bus stops there are no world-class computer training institutions such as APTECH, NIIT, or SSI.

The assumption that all is well in urban centres was challenged through a survey of women trainees enrolled for a “Women’s Special” basic course at a world class IT educational institution. Results from Mumbai city showed that only 3% were Muslim women. Given this state of affairs, the role of other players, in this field, if any, needs to be brought to light. The paper highlights some community and government cum community IT education initiatives addressed to the Muslims and describes the nature of the beneficiaries. Besides, it critically reviews these initiatives, share some observations and provide policy recommendations. For this purpose the senior author surveyed the geographical locality mentioned above and spent approximately twenty-two hours at various places where education was imparted. She collected pamphlets, brochures and spoke to the centre heads. In addition, information about the current batch of the beneficiaries was gathered from the application forms to provide a demographic profile of the beneficiaries. This entire activity has been described in three sections – the first describes the initiatives; the second discusses the nature of the beneficiaries and the third section offers critique and makes policy recommendations.

Nature of initiatives
A total of four initiatives were identified. These include a minority related Union Government scheme, efforts of a Muslim educational trust, a local mohalla committee and a cyber cafe. Information, wherever available, on their location, academic program, infrastructure, personnel, services offered and future plans is also provided.

National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) 
The NCPUL was constituted as an autonomous organization on 1st April, 1996 under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India. It was set up with the objective of promoting the Urdu language. Secondly, it aims to make available in the Urdu language knowledge of scientific and technological development and ideas evolved in the modern context. Three schemes in operation are a one-year course titled Diploma in Computer Applications and Multilingual DTP, Arabic-Urdu Calligraphy Training and Madrasa Modernization Scheme. The first scheme is describe in detail. The computerized Arabic-Urdu Calligraphy Training Scheme is implemented at more than hundred calligraphy and graphic design training centres set up in 20 states and 59 districts, with a centre each in Ranchi and Bangalore exclusively for girls. The objective is to equip students with the latest methodologies and these centres have produced more than 5000 experts to date. In Mumbai there is one calligraphy center located in the premises of the Anjuman Islam High School and two more are in the pipeline – one of which is at Ballard Pier and the other at Kandivali. The Madrasa Modernization Scheme has enabled approximately 11,000 poor Muslim students from various parts of the country to obtain diplomas. This scheme has yet to take off in Mumbai.

The one-year course “Diploma in Computer Applications and Multilingual DTP” is designed to promote of computer education at the grass root level of the Urdu speaking population. At par with the Department of Electronics Accredition of Computer Courses (DOEACC) ‘O’ level basic course, the content is enriched with programming techniques, database applications; accounting packages, web designing, Urdu and Hindi desktop publishing. The objective of this course is to produce medium level IT employable professionals such as DTP, data entry and accounting operators and visual designers. Reference material is provided in English language for each of these modules. In all, there are more than 150 computer centres across 22 states of which 16 are accredited. Of the 9,000 students who have enrolled for the courses from different parts of the country, almost 50% are girls.

While this course is targetted at high school pass individuals between 17 to 35 years preference is given to those with higher qualifications in science subjects. They have to pass a written test followed by an interview conducted by a selection committee. Working knowledge of Urdu language and script is necessary as they have to work on Urdu software. The trainees are expected to complete a NCPUL offered one-year diploma in Urdu language through distance education. For the computer course, they are required to pay a monthly fee of Rs. 500 if they are residing in a state capital and Rs. 250 for those in other places. Besides, an additional amount of Rs. 300 is charged for the language diploma.


It is assumed that things are well in the cities, with attention directed to making IT available to villagers. However, urban centres warrant scrutiny as well


In Mumbai, there are five NCPUL centres of which four are located in Muslim concentrated areas, one borders on a Muslim mohalla and one is in a suburb densely populated by Muslims. The Madni Computer Academy located in Byculla near the mohalla and which the senior author visited is the first centre of its kind and has been in operation since past five years. The centre has 15 computers out of which 12 were in operating condition. The ambience is pleasant with an air-conditioner and cushioned chairs for the students. There is also a white board to be used for theory classes. Internet access is limited to the teaching of the module. The centre has a prescribed 80 seats for the course, but has only 51 students in the July 2003- June 2004 batch. The centre head commented that the enrolment has gone down in recent years due to the opening of private centres, which do not require knowledge of Urdu language. At present, there are two male and two female trainers and one male system administrator. The centre offers a variety of services to its trainees. The toppers of the batch are absorbed as trainers at the centre and a few others are assisted in finding placement at community-managed schools/ training centres. The centre started English language classes this year to increase the competitiveness of its students. During and after completion of course, on a prior booking basis students are encouraged to come to the centre for practice. The centre plans to introduce advanced courses like web designing and hardware to cater to the demand of the computer savvy. It has also provisioned funds to purchase additional infrastructure.

Anjuman-I-Islam Computer Training Centres (AI)
The Muslims of Mumbai established the Anjuman-I-Islam on February 21, 1874 with the objective of equipping Muslims with modern education while safeguarding their cultural values. It is the largest minority educational institute in the country and has more than seventy educational institutions under its fold. The various institutions include engineering and medical degree colleges, science, commerce and liberal arts colleges, junior colleges, polytechnics, vocational training centres, research institutes and hostels. Of the 70,000 students studying under Anjuman institutions about 20,000 are girls.

The trust runs three computer-training centres housed in the premises of Anjuman-I-Islam managed colleges. Two are in South Mumbai while the third is in a central suburb at Vashi. The Homai Peerbhoy centre located in Anjuman-I-Islam campus was established in the year 2000 under the extension and continuing education program scheme of M.H. Saboo Siddik Polytechnic. The centre offers ten certificate courses of between one to three months duration with fees ranging from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 4,500. It also offers six diploma courses with duration between six months and two years and fees ranging between Rs.6, 000 to Rs.20, 000. Reference material in English is provided for each of these courses. The medium of instruction is English, though Urdu is used for explanation to facilitate better understanding. The centre is air-conditioned with a pleasant ambience and well cushioned chairs. Besides the nine computers all in operating condition, there is a scanner and two printers- DeskJet and laser. The ratio of two students to one computer is the norm and for practical sessions, the trainer gives demonstration to group of four or five students on one personal computer. The personnel include 15 trainers, a public relation personnel and a centre head; all of them are males. The centre offers its students services similar to that extended by NCPUL. The added advantage here is that the coordinator of the scheme and the centre head maintains networking with companies run by members of the community and others to facilitate student placement.

Mohalla Committee (MC)
After the 1992-’93 riots following demolition of Babri Masjid, the former police commissioner of Mumbai Julio Rebeiro along with activist Sushobha Barve started the Mohalla Ekta Committee Movement. The objective was confidence building among the minorities and computer classes were set up to bring the people and police together. Initially, there were two centres, one at Dongri, which is active and another at Nagpada, which has been converted to a career centre. The Imamwada Mohalla Committee Computer Centre at Dongri offers a two month long basic computer skills course which includes MS Office 2000, Word, Excel, Power Point, Internet and E-mail. Initially, this education was offered free of cost, later a sum of Rs. 300/- of which Rs. 150/- was refunded at the conclusion of the course was introduced. At present, a non-refundable fee of Rs. 300 is charged. The classes are held between 8.00 a.m. and 8.00 p.m. with girls preferring the afternoon period. Flyers are distributed to give popularity to the course. The personnel from the police stations frequent the center, to learn computer skills and interact with the trainees. Discussions on communal harmony are held after the classes or during the felicitation of students who have successfully completed the course.

There are 15 computers of which 11 are operational and one deskjet printer. The centre is on the ground floor of an Urdu medium municipal school. At present, there are two male trainers and there has been no demand for a female trainer from the students or their guardians. The medium of instruction is English, though Urdu and Hindi are used while explaining concepts to the students. No reference material is provided to the students. The centre does not offer assistance in securing placements for its trainees or any other service comparable to the NCPUL and AI centres.

Cybercafes cum training
Cybercafes have mushroomed across India. In the Muslim mohallas of Mumbai too, one sees a smattering of these cafes. There is variation across the different ethnic enclaves, with only one Cybercafe in the Memon mohalla, a dozen in the Bohra mohalla and the Khoja populated Pala Gali. These centres often double as training centres to impart basic education. The Al-Burhani Cybercafe at Nagpada, owned and managed by an individual from the Bohra community, offers a course, which includes Windows, Excel, Power Point and Internet at a cost of Rs. 250/-. Besides this, training in the Tally accounting package costs Rs. 750/-. The centre houses eight computers, placed in cubicles. The café as a training centre operates like private tutorials. Usually a single student is taught, but if there are more students they are taught together. The medium of instruction is attuned to the demand of the student, so also are the timings. The cafe employs a trainer to teach these computer skills. No attempt is made to popularize training at the café, as it is not its core activity.

Profile of the beneficiaries
In the following paragraphs is described the demographic profile—gender, age, educational qualification, occupational status and proximity to the centre— of the beneficiaries at three institutions. The intake forms of the applicants enrolled in the NCPUL run one-year diploma course (n*= 50) along with those enrolled in the basic skills program at Anjuman-Islam (n=61) and Mohalla Committee (n=56) were studied for the purpose. Of a total sample of 167, 48.50% (n= 81) were males and 51.50% (n=86) were females. The equal representation of Muslim girls in the sample challenges society’s stereotype of Muslim women. This can be explained by two reasons; one, Muslim families prefer to send their daughters to community managed institutions. Second, women seek certificate courses that cover basic operating skills, web designing and desktop publishing whereas males prefer diplomas that equip them with higher skills like hardware and networking. These explanations are drawn from comments of the centre heads. It is interesting to note that lack of female trainers at two of the centers has not deterred female enrolment. Young women are eager to familiarize themselves with the latest technology and join the modern sector of the economy. They see in it a possibility of working from home. This comes as no surprise as a survey showed that the top work aspiration of Muslim mothers for their daughters was computer related. It would be worth studying female representation at advanced courses and how they see themselves placed in the IT world of work.

As far as age and occupational status are concerned, the majority of the beneficiaries were young students. Their average age was 22.64 years (range = 41; 14-55) with 89.83% (n=150) in the age group 29 and below. A small percentage were in their 30s (2.99%, n=5), 40s (4.19%, n=7) or 50s (2.99%, n=5). The majority were students (80.24%, n=134), followed by the employed (16.77%, n=28) and homemakers (2.99%, n=5). The overrepresentation of students comes as no surprise as IT is identified with the young and educated. Secondly, it can be partly explained by location of one centre in the vicinity of community-managed colleges and special arrangements to adjust centre class timings to the college schedule. This makes it convenient for students to pursue computer education along with their regular studies. For the employed and homemakers, cybercafes offer more flexibility in terms of timing and course content. As one cybercafe owner remarked, “Not many students come to us for training. Instead we have more shop-keepers and homemakers.”

The educational qualification of the trainees ranged from senior secondary (31.14%; n= 52) and higher secondary (41.32%, n= 69), to graduation (23.95%, n=40) and post graduation (3.59%, n=6). Data about medium of instruction was available for 106 beneficiaries. Of these 45.28% (n=48) are educated in English medium and the rest are drawn from vernacular medium, mainly Urdu. Despite the additional demand on them, lack of competency in English is not perceived as a deterrent to acquiring computer skills. Besides, the centres’ attempt to improve the beneficiaries command over the English acts as a boost to face this challenge.

As far as the socio-economic background of the beneficiaries is concerned, data from 84 forms were available. Of these 72.62% (n=61) belonged to lower income group, 23.81% (n=20) to the middle-income group and 3.57% (n=3) to the upper income group. The sample is drawn predominantly from the weaker sections of the community because of subsidized rates. For example, a subsidized basic computer skills course at leading IT education institution costs anywhere from Rs. 500 to 800 whereas a similar course at the Mohalla Committee centre costs Rs. 300. Similarly, a one-year diploma course costs Rs.30, 000/- at NIIT while a comparable course at the Anjuman Islam centre costs Rs. 12,000 though the former assures job placement. Even world-class institutions run subsidized courses and offer scholarships. Their location in the geographical area mentioned above could attract and benefit the economically weak to get a branded education. Besides the middle and upper class youth would benefit if these institutes were more conveniently located. Regarding proximity of the centre, 39.52% (n=66) of the trainees were located within a 30 minute walk from the centre. For the economically disadvantaged, cost and convenient location are two major attractions to these community-based institutes. It is the established reputation of Anjuman Islam as an educational trust that attracts trainees from relatively distant places.


Profile of sampled students/beneficiaries
(a) Distribution by gender
(b) Distribution by age
(c) Distribution by occupation
(d) Distribution by educational qualifications
(e) Time spent per session training


Critique and observations
Looking at the initiatives and profile of the beneficiaries the following observations and critique are offered:
  • The initiatives do not promote IT for IT sake, but link it with other considerations like promotion of Urdu, communal harmony or part of a wider educational initiative. This may undermine the importance of computer education in its own right.
  • These courses are not sufficiently publicized. In cases where newspaper advertisements are inserted, they are in Urdu papers, thus limiting awareness to the Urdu speaking population. This overlooks Muslims with no Urdu language skills.
  • The centres equate basic computer education with skills in Microsoft-Windows. Open software like Linux that are likely to be more beneficial in the long run due to low cost and higher security is not considered.
  • The initiatives cater to the young students. The divide across age/education/occupation is bound to get worse and needs to be addressed. For instance, the various sects of Mumbai Muslims are petty traders and shop-keepers and by one count 53.4 % of urban Muslims are self-employed. Training them becomes relevant as Patrick Dixon, Chairman of Global Change Ltd. speaking of the future scenario at the ‘The Spirit of Success’ a seminar organized by the Economic Times’ Corporate Dossier and Federal Express, said that small businesses and multinationals will be driving the economy of the future. If small businessmen in India harness the Internet’s potential, in five years the country would see the birth of a million entrepreneurs selling their wares to the global market through the Internet.
  • The three initiatives enjoy national or local recognition but lack the prestige of world-class institutions. One center head said “these are charitable endeavours and not managed professionally. This has implications for the beneficiaries’ employment”.
  • To increase their competitiveness in the IT job market the beneficiaries have requested comprehensive package that includes English proficiency and personality development.
We make the following recommendations to facilitate penetration of computer education among urban Muslims of India:
  • Government, NGOs, community and private initiatives are needed to promote computer education among the poor and the marginalized in the urban centres. One fifth of Indians are extremely poor, and about half of them are Muslims.
  • Systematic surveys are needed on the state of IT education among minority groups to get insight into the nature of the digital divide in all its complexity.
  • The urban scenario favours students bypassing other sections of the community. Young adults, the middle aged, the illiterate and less educated, homemakers, petty shopkeepers and the employed need to be integrated in the information age.
What barriers operate on this section of the urban population and what factors facilitate adoption is worthy of scholarly attention. Increased access and hands on exposure would encourage them to become computer literate. One way of achieving this is to set up computers in places frequented by them such as mosques, madrasas, jamatkhanas, shrines, etc. This is drawn from the unsupervised approach to promote mass computer literacy, which emphasizes access through open, public internet kiosks to target disadvantaged learners.
n = sample size


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