President of the board of the Anjuman Sunnat-ul-Jama’at Association (Asja), Yacoob Ali, yesterday expressed disgust that students of the Asja Primary School were thrown out of the Barrackpore Mosque, Rees Road, where they had been temporarily housed since April. “It is disgusting that people in the mosque did such a thing when their prayer services were not affected. Why deprive children of an education? We deplore that,” Ali said yesterday in a telephone interview. He was responding to a report that the furniture used by students in their makeshift classrooms in the annexe of the mosque was removed and put at the back of the primary school, which was condemned by the Ministry of Education earlier this year.
Students, accompanied by their parents, were met with a locked mosque and their desks, piled outside, when they arrived for school yesterday morning. School principal Fazila Cherie Ackbar-Ali told the children and their parents there would be no school and said a meeting had been arranged with the members of the Asja Board, the Ministry of Education and the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) for 7 pm today. Ali said an investigation has started into who ordered the eviction. “It is a matter of sanctity. You don’t lock out children,” he added. He said he also has sent a letter to the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education to find out about the status of the temporary building which was promised to make the childrn’s lives a little more comfortable while they awaited a new permanent building. The 58-year-old school building was condemned after the PTA protested over its deplorable condition.
Ali said after the school was condemned, the Asja board agreed to house the 167 students and teachers in the annexe. He said the ministry had upgraded the annexe to accommodate the students but no work was done during the August vacation period. PTA president, Sheba Baksh, said the children were cramped in an air-conditioned space which was breeding germs. She added: “Since school opened, my child has been getting the cold all the time. Teachers also are fed up and are hardly coming to school.” She said last week the PTA got information that the students would be thrown out of the mosque but the principal had promised that would not happen. “We are very disturbed by what has happened. Parents had to take their children back home. Our children are suffering, teachers too,” she added. She said while she did not agree with the decision to evict the students, she could understand the frustration of the mosque administrators with the delay by the Ministry of Education to make good on its promises and provide a new building for their children.