Published: 02nd October 2018
This Karnataka Govt College teacher is conducting an exam on Mahatma Gandhi for the inmates of a Bengaluru Jail
Dr Abida Begum is a college teacher who lives, speaks, breathes and even wears Gandhi — as an identity. She's spreading the message of the Mahatma from students to prison inmates using an exam
Plenty of people will tell you to 'Practice what you preach'. It's so common that it's even painted on school walls. If there's one person who lives by that dictum, it's got to be Dr Abida Begum — a Gandhian who lives a lot like the Mahatma did. Dressed in a light pink khadi kurta, white cotton trousers and with sling bag in tow, Abida has been working to spread the principles of Mahatma Gandhi among Karnataka's youth for more than 20 years.
Although Abida is 43 years old, her thoughts are fresh, genuine and relevant in this digital age. A lecturer at the Government First Grade College for Women in Ramanagar district, 54 km from Bengaluru, she wears only a khadi kurta to work every day. She says, "Ever since I was six years old, I felt like wearing a khadi kurta and becoming a Gandhian like my father, Aftab Ahmed Khan, who is now 83 years old." She adds about her father, "My father had been a Gandhian from his college days. My thoughts and lifestyle are influenced by him. Even today, my father wears a khadi kurta and pyjamas. After quitting teaching to join politics, he worked as a president of the Zilla Panchayat in Davanagere for a few years. Now, he chooses to stay at home and read books that interest him."
Leisure time: Abida spends her vacation mostly in the Vinoba Niketan at Thrissur in Kerala and Gandhi Sevagram Ashram in Maharashtra
Abida is a native of Sasvehalli, a village in Davanagere. While her father was a teacher at the Government High School there, her mother Muneera Khanum was a nurse in McGann hospital in Shivamogga. Initially, Abida studied Law at the National Law College in Shivamogga but she always wanted to be a Physical Education teacher. Hence, she pursued a Bachelors of Physical Education at Bengaluru University and in 2005, she pursued an MPhil from Annamalai University. Recently, in 2015, she has submitted her thesis on Physical Education and has received a doctorate from Singhania University in Rajasthan.
With a view to inculcate the Gandhian thought in youngsters, Abida helps conduct an exam called the Gandhi Vichar Sanskar Pariksha (GVSP), in collaboration with the Gandhi Research Foundation in Jalgaon and the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Bengaluru across the state every year. "These days, no one has the patience to listen if we give speeches about Gandhiji. This exam is a way to make people aware of how his thoughts lead the country in attaining freedom. It is conducted especially for school, undergraduate and postgraduate students. However, there is no age restriction. Even job goers and homemakers can write this exam. We collect Rs 20 from school students, Rs 35 from college students and Rs 45 from postgraduate and others as a fee. In return, we give a 130-page book on Mahatma Gandhi. The questions in the exam are set on the basis of the content available in this book. This exam takes place in the last week of December every year and it is only for an hour," she explains.
She further adds, "The registration for the exams starts in June. This year, they have received around 12,000 registrations across the state and it will continue till November. While the school students have to score 50 marks out of 100 to pass, for others it is 70 out of 100. Candidates who score the highest marks are invited on the Sarvodaya Day Celebration and we hand over a certificate and a memento."
Gandhi Vichar Sanskar Pariksha can be written in five languages including Hindi, English, Kannada, Urdu and Marathi. Since 2015, around two lakh students have appeared and passed this exam in India
This year, for the first time, Abida has plans to conduct this exam for the inmates of Parappana Agrahara, a jail just outside Bengaluru. She, along with her two other assistants, have even decided to play a movie on Gandhi's life and also lend a copy of his books to those who can read it. "I personally believe that Gandhi's principles and his life can change even the most cruel person into a compassionate one. The jail inmates who can read and write can take this exam. We will conduct these exams free of cost for them in November. We will also give them some days to prepare for the exam," she says.
Abida is also among 25 delegates selected to visit Bangladesh and conduct a peace march between September 25 and October 3. "A year before India's Independence in 1946, communal riots took place in Noakhali. There were massacres, rapes and also some religious conversions before Gandhiji visited people to spread the message of peace. This being the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji, it will be celebrated in memory of those who died and suffered during these communal riots," she concludes.
When Gandhians meet: Abida meets another Gandhian Anna Hazare and discusses solutions to social issues
I have sent the hard copy and soft copy of Gandhi Vichar Sanskar Pariksha (GVSP) form to 120 Government colleges and 120 aided private colleges. It costs some extra money when I post these forms and also books to different places in Karnataka, but I don't mind spending that extra money from my pocket.