Some say life has been unfair to them while others deny all odds to make their life beautiful. And only a handful of them move a step ahead to make life of others, those around them beautiful too. Asad Ullah Khan Zaki says I have found a good reason to die. A 29 year old, father of 3 has sacrificed good salaried jobs at the initial stage of his career for the betterment of society he lives in. He hails from Basavakalyan, (Taluk of Bidar District in North Karnataka) which is witnessing a huge phase shift in its employment trends from lorry business to educational jobs and employment government sector. He is the secretary of IICA (Indian Institute of Commerce and Arts) which is an academy started by a group of youth. The foundations of the institute were laid for the students who are depressed in life either under family pressure for not having secured a seat in science streams or for losing seats in medical and engineering fields due to lack of interest. Asad and his like-minded friends thought of giving them right orientation, opportunities, exposure and direction in Arts to make a career for social change and excel in the same later on in their lives.
Asad and his friends have seen life a little closer than rest of the youth about their age, and have interpreted it better than many of the youth today. Without a second thought one can come to the conclusion, by considering the fact that these youth chose to start an institute in their very hometown than move out and join some company to earn enough to fill their bellies. The trustees of IICA are not together to make profit through education, but their primary source of motivation is to make education in Basavakalyan better, give an orientation to students towards Arts and Commerce, and help the people of Basavakalyan by contributing in structurally creating leaders for tomorrow’s society.
“We didn’t get permission in first year but we took in 130 students taught them made them write exam through another college. A Muslim girl scored 90% in her exams, which made the institute make a mark in the minds of people of Basavakalyan. We had the support of local people in this”, says Meer Mukaram Ali who is the former principal of the Academy.
Coming from humble backgrounds, the founding members have crossed all odds to shape their ideas and dreams into a reality. Asad who is now the secretary of IICA says he is extremely happy that 5 of their students qualified for CUCET. It is indeed a huge achievement for youngsters with high aspirations from their students.
But it hasn’t been a cake walk for Asad. His journey has been a very long one. He says that at a time when Karnataka had board exams for students studying in 7th standard, he had topped in his class. He topped again in 10th standard from Ghousiya School (Urdu medium). It must have been a great feat back then for him. He narrates that he joined Khoba College SSKB in his Hometown Basavakalyan. He recalls that it was in 12th standard that he realised; science was not his cup of tea and was confused as to why he had taken the decision of doing PUC. Later on he seems to have met a friend by name Imran, who was pursuing his Diploma and had changed his mind to switch over to Diploma in Civil Engineering. As his father owned a construction company, Asad was of the idea that he can assist his father in his business and later on take over the business. In a dilemma, he filled the form in Gulbarga but his father influenced him to prepare for his 12th exams. He says he wrote the papers without any proper preparation. When the results were out, he had failed in 4 subjects and had only managed to clear Urdu and English.
Being a part of Indian society, one can easily guess what an Indian father would have told his son. Yes, you guessed it right! His father had asked him if he wanted to study or join him in the office. Asad narrates how confused and depressed he was. Having had a meltdown and he joined private tuitions to clear all his subjects in the re-examination with 63%. He had set up his mind to take up Civil Engineering and support his father’s business. With a good score he had secured a rank of 23000 in CET and could have easily got into Dayanand Sagar College of Engineering, Bangalore. But conditions were laid, if he had to study further, then it would be at his hometown or else he would have to drop the idea of continuing. Having sought suggestions for options in Basavakalyan from many of his friends and well-wishers, he settled to either go with Electronics or Computer science in Engineering. At a time when IT companies were booming, Asad considered it to be a wise choice for his career in future ahead. He then finally took admission in an engineering college at Basavakalyan in the year 2008.
Life took a drastic turn when he came across a student organisation by the name SIO. He says his perspective about life and education changed as and when he got himself involved in discussions about education with students from SIO. Asad recollects that he decided to give most of his time for SIO and its activities in the field of education and campuses. He says he gave most of his time during college days for SIO, and considers the time given to be fruitful for himself and for reconstruction of society to make this world a beautiful place for everyone to live in. He says he would join tutorial classes by the name Aradhya tutorials in Bangalore during his vacations, where he would finish his portions for the next year and when the next academic year commences, he would be able to actively participate in every curricular and co-curricular activities in his college. Asad proudly says that it was due this company and organisational nurturing that he happened to get involved in campus activism in an apolitical campus. He says that he learned a lot through experience, having involved in organising various set of programs at college level, various welfare activities for the betterment of student community and awareness programs to help students get themselves ready to face the world outside. Bringing in innovation and creativity in all activities, giving something new to his college mates, Asad believes he grew in a healthy company of students and activists who later on became his companions for life.
Life came in with a bigger surprise. He got married in 2012, when he was just 21, right before his final year exams. Interestingly he had invited his college principal for the wedding. He takes a small laugh as he remembers the funny encounter with his college principal during the reception, when his principal had incidentally asked “kaunsa sem” and he had answered “Final”. He had cleared the GATE exam in his 3rd year, so soon after his final year exams and having got his results, he then decided to go for his Masters. He got into BMS College Bangalore for his PG. During his second year in PG, he called his family to Bangalore and lived there together for a year. He narrates the sad turn of events during his final year of masters when he was supposed to complete his PG by 2014 and how he had lost his laptop in which he had been working on his project. Looks like it was not just him who had lost a laptop back then, but in those days people who were travelling by buses in and Gulbarga had a similar set of complain for having lost their laptops. Asad narrates his ordeal how he had searched everywhere for almost about 3 days and even written to PM’s office, wherein PM had redirected to Home Minister of Karnataka. He had even applied RTI’s but it turns out it was of no help. Then he had bought himself a new laptop. All of this turned out to be an Omen for him when he was successfully able to complete his project and to add on to happiness, his paper was published in IEEE. In his first year of PG he had heard of Teach for India from a friend Sheikh Shoeb, who hails from Goa. He had applied for TFI in his second year. It was after a long procedure which included assignments and interviews, that he was shortlisted. Then he says he was called to TFI’s assessment centre in Pune where he again went through a screening process of interviews, group discussions and teaching demo. His joy knew no bounds when after few days he had got a call from TFI notifying him that he had been selected. He along with other candidates who had been selected underwent intensive training for over a month at Flame University.
Asad recalls that he worked in Pune for few months, and later was placed in Hyderabad. He explains that classroom is a laboratory where there is a two way development of a child and teacher. He graduated from TFI after 2 years. The big question was what next? What should he be doing after such a job? Get back to Basavakalyan and do something on his own or to get a high profile job in a city and make a fortune for his family and kids. He then decided to give a little rest to his mind so he could sort things out. For the time being he had joined Horizon School in Basavakalyan and worked there for about six months. Within this short period of time, he had got an opportunity to serve many more deserving students through an NGO known by the name Chinar International to work in Kashmir as project coordinator in quality education. One of his friends, Ishan, from Kashmir who was working on sanitation projects had helped him with the leads. But Asad’s heart was not at peace when he was at Horizon school and his mind came up with many ideas that could be executed and built upon to help many children at Basavakalyan. So before leaving for Kashmir, while still at Horizon School, he and his friends started a college for Arts and Commerce in Basavakalyan. It was their opinion that these branches were orphaned, in comparison to science stream. They came up with a trust called Al Ikhlas and started an academy by the name Indian Institute of Arts and Commerce (IICA). IICA evolved in a short span from an idea for institute to a PUC and Degree college. In no time the word spread and they received an overwhelming response in the first year itself. IICA got 120 students in its first year. Back then Asad was teaching as a guest lecture in IICA while working in Horizon School.
In Kashmir Asad was part of an internship program with Directorate of School Education Kashmir (DSEK) where he has worked with Dr. Shah Faesal, an IAS officer then and trained about 110 teachers on grade wise minimum learning level. After having taught and learnt a lot more from students and teachers in Kashmir, Asad came back and wrote his PHD entrance for MANUU. Rest of his team mates were busy with their government jobs, while he was hustling what to do and yet to decide as to where to land. Finding no other primary option Asad couldn’t help but re-join IICA in Aug 2018.
Asad recalls that among the 120 students that had joined IICA, only a few of them had enrolled by choice, while some of them were forced by their parents. In either case, there were many students who were not even able to read and write back then. One year old and IICA was running around, changing schedules, doing over time, conducting remedial classes for students to do well in their exams. In total they had appointed 5 mentors, 2 for girls section and 3 for boys section, who designed syllabus for these students, helped them in study hours. After enough thought and planning, they started a preparatory exams series 3 months before the final exams which helped students in their final exams.
After many efforts and streamlining of ideas for the betterment of students in IICA, the institute got an overall result of 63% in their first batch. This kind of result, with this scrape of students was astounding and commendable in its own way.
IICA was a just a small step but with bigger aspirations to give back something big to the society that they live in. IICA also wanted to prepare students for CUCET (Central University Common Entrance Test). They wanted students to appear for central university exams, explore the bigger world outside their ill-informed bubbles. “A group of 20 students were given training for writing central university exams. There were 12 girls and 9 boys in the group”, says Asad. He notes that the students learnt very quickly, covering aptitude, reasoning, data interpretations, comprehensions and other patterns of solving a central university entrance paper.
Before enrolling students for this special coaching for CUCET, they had to convince the parents, especially those of female students. The orientation of the families towards higher education especially with respect to girls is negligible. They had to counsel parents, explain them the opportunities and exposure that a student gets during the stay in central universities. There still exists a taboo in Muslim families in regard to the higher education of girls, which is mainly due to security reasons or family traditions to marry off the girl in her early twenties. In a small town like Basavakalyan, it is a heavy task and an additional weight to carry, to persuade families to allow their children to appear for such exams. The topper in his college secured 89% but wasn’t allowed to undergo the coaching earlier but when her results were out; her father changed his mind and agreed to allow her to attend the coaching. A similar event happened in case of a boy who enrolled in CUCET coaching but didn’t attend the classes. When he scored first class in his exams, he happened to voluntarily attend the coaching classes and was determined to crack the exam.
There was no stooping to welfare and educational activities of IICA. Along with these regular academic activities of IICA the founding Trustees wanted to change the pace and direction of the educational winds in the town. Knowledge aptitude test was conducted in our college in collaboration with KAT academy, Hyderabad, who sponsored an educational tour for qualifying students. About 500 Students from 12 schools had written the exam under one umbrella, exchanged their views and were part of varied discussions. Asad says that such an assembly of students from different schools was an achievement in itself for them. Out of the participating students one of them was selected for national tour, 5 of them were sent to Hyderabad Birla Planetarium and 8 students went to Bangalore ISRO and HAL.
Robot camp was introduced to give orientation to electronic devices and micro controllers for the students. IICA is planning to start entrepreneurship awareness programs for youth in Basavakalyan. They have been successful in having associated 40 people with the idea of entrepreneurship, for making people self-employed and independent. Moving a step closer, they have started a pilot project to experiment with the idea and it feels like it has been giving fruitful results.
While this struggle in the field of education will continue, they have recently been granted permission for the college. Now IICA will be running as a registered college under government of Karnataka and their dream to see students studying in prestigious institutions shall be a reality soon. IICA shall one day bridge the gap between classroom and society.
Asad is a man with a vision that encompasses education in many dimensions. He has been part of many parallel projects and activities to create awareness and at the same time uplift the Muslim dominated society of Basavakalyan. Asad has been the convener of Bidar Educational Upliftment Project which is a five member team that has been trying to bring in changes in the approach and methodology of teaching so as to eventually evolve the students and their thinking ways. Currently serving as its President, he intends to change the education system to accommodate and uplift the Minority Concentrated District. The project has been successful in establishing a Student’s study centre at Basavakalyan, which is a free access to many students to come and learn, utilise the resources there and at the same time help other students with their studies. The Centre provides a healthy environment for the free flow of knowledge and information among the marginalised students.
Asad has worked with All India Ideal Teacher’s Association (AIITA) and has trained many qualified and deserving candidates for KPSC exams for recruitment in Maulana Azad Minority Schools. He has also been part of Knowledge Aptitude Test Academy (KAT) which conducts exams to identify the hidden talents of students belonging to financially backward families and then to enhance their talents and horn their skills. Having reached out to almost 500 students of about 11 schools, Asad has been doing his best in reaching out to students and doing his bit for the upliftment of financially weak students through KAT. Noticing his work and dedication as a coordinator, KAT has made him the Honorary Director of KAT Academy, Basavakalyan in the year 2019. Asad has also been part of Human Welfare and Charitable Trust, Basavakalyan that had taken the weight of helping unemployed youth to find a job in KSRPC by training them and proving them necessary resources to get through the exams through crowd funding.
There was no stopping with all such projects at hand. Asad has also been part of small time projects where responsible youth had joined hands to help failed students to clear their 10th supplementary exams by arranging coaching classes for them. The most fabulous part is to take notice of the innovative idea that they have come up with. The team initially collected data of failed students, met them and their families to motivate them to reappear for exams. Thinking way ahead of the situation they were in, they came up with the idea of part-time interns, wherein the interns lead the coaching team and also coach the students, thereby creating income for the interns. Eventually they succeeded in not only helping those students pass in their exams but also providing part time employment for youth who were in need of financial assistance.
Asad has got many feathers in his cap. Asad even completed his B.Ed in the time that he could make for himself. Asad got selected as a member trustee for an organisation called Centre for Educational Research and Analysis (CERA – http://www.ceraindia.in/). He even received the Best Teacher Award in the year 2017, at an age when many are at the start of their careers. Asad has also worked as an awareness activist for civil rights, communal harmony, social justice, women’s rights and women empowerment. This is not the end. He has delivered more than 50 career guidance lectures for the awareness and upliftment of students in Basavakalyan, especially the girls. Asad is also a Right to Information and Right to education Activist. To add to this, he has qualified in CTET exam. Asad was also one among the 100 selected alumni of Teach for All networks across 12 countries for participation in Teach for All Asia Pacific Alumni Gathering in Malaysia.
With so much at hand, it couldn’t be resisted to ask about his source of inspiration and motivation. Asad says that all of it is a by-product of his father, Sardar Khan’s parenting. The approach towards life and different circumstances in life, that Asad was taught during his childhood have led him to become who he is now. All the instances where his father had pushed him to become independent and self-relying paved ways for him to take initiatives in every walk of life. Asad brings to his mind how his father made him and his siblings complete their daily chores by themselves, without assistance, and later on how events in life turned out to be in his favour due that independence. Asad is self-motivated and is keen on carrying forward the work that he has been doing, on the path that he has chosen for himself.
Currently he is working as a Program Success Manager for Classklap – IMAX program in Kalaburgi Division. He intends to use this platform to gain as much as information on teacher student approach and later on use this experience to build better platforms in Bidar for students to grow. He has been visiting about 34 schools and training almost 900 teachers. Asad and his ideas shall one day change society’s approach towards education so as to not only bring in a revolution in Indian Education System but also may be in our civilization itself.