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Prof Shabina Nishat Omar: My biggest achievement is raising sons who respect women

Rita Farhat Mukand

Professor Shabina Nishat Omar’s hunger for learning which began with her love for reading books in her childhood has only grown with time. Even today when she enters a bookstore or a library, she feels drawn to a euphoric whirlwind of delight.  

Shabina Nishat Omar is a celebrity academician presently posted as Officer on Special Duty, Education Directorate, Dept. Of Higher Education, Government of WB. With nearly 25 years of teaching experience in English Language and Literature, she is also working as a Professor and Head of the department of English at Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose College affiliated with the University of Calcutta in Kolkata and is a visiting faculty to many colleges. 

Earlier she served as the head of the English Department in the Milli Al-Ameen College (for girls), during which she was also Principal-in-Charge. Shabina has been involved with online teaching and digital content much before the world was afflicted by the pandemic. She is a resource person for the Union government for development of teachers’ skills and academic curriculum in the English language.

In 2023 she received the Teaching Excellence Award for Global Educator in English. Shabina Omar is a change-maker through her educational and social entrepreneurship activities. She believes in being the change she wants to see. She mentors women across all levels of society to improve their level and standard of living through her myriad initiatives and philanthropic efforts.

Prof Shabina Nishat Omar in her office

Prof Shabina was nominated for the International Visitor Program by the U.S. Department of State and invited to visit many universities across the U.S.A. to participate in various academic programmes

An academician, trainer, and educational administrator, Prof. Omar remains a lifelong scholar committed to women’s empowerment through education. She is also the State President of, West Bengal Higher Education Council

Awaz-the Voice spoke with Professor Shabina Nishat Omar on the journey of her life. Excerpts:

Tell us about your early life…

I was born fifty years ago as the eldest and only daughter to highly educated parents who epitomized progressive thinking. My father is a renowned medical practitioner and my mother holds a doctorate in Urdu. My early life was very pampered as I was the only child, but my mother struck a fine balance between ravishing love and implementing discipline.  My earliest teacher, best friend, playmate, and mentor was my mother.

My formal education began in Pratt Memorial School in Lower Nursery and I was so good in my academic performance that the school gave me a double promotion I skipped the Upper Nursery class and went straight to Class I. I was always a very social and friendly child and had fun in school as well as at home. I was good at expressing myself, very articulate and eloquent, fluent in language, and analytical – quick to understand and quick to communicate, academics endorsed me as the best medium to excel in my strengths.  

Prof Shabina Nishat Omar with her family

Who made the biggest impact on your life?

No specific single person but a variety of teachers, mentors, and academicians. First and foremost of course always my parents. However, my husband is an entrepreneur by profession and has been the wind beneath my wings always.  I have two sons aged 23 and 17 both studying at the PG level and ISC level respectively. I am blessed to have my parents and a younger brother who is a Professor of Anatomy and teaches in a medical college outside the city.”

What are the colleges you work for like these days? What is the modern college culture?

There are two colleges that I would like to mention. The first is Milli Al Ameen College (for girls) where I worked for almost 20 years and it was my first substantive appointment on the recommendation of the West Bengal College Service Commission. Being the first appointment lecturer I was made the Principal in charge and served in that position for almost 15 years. The culture was academic and the results were excellent during my tenure but after a decade a few vicious staff members engaged with influential politicians and tarnished the reputation and image of the college.

Was there a particularly tough period in your life? If so, how did you overcome it?

The worst period of my life was the immense workplace harassment unleashed on me by a vicious female colleague in my previous workplace simply because she was toxic and very close to influential politicians. Her deep-rooted psychosis made her misuse her position for malafide intentions and her communal prejudice was targeted at me. What was most distressing was the silence of spineless colleagues who stood scared of taking the side of justice and thus were her silent and unwilling maybe but definite accomplices in the crime. The management of the college I had been the academic architect of stood mute in sheer terror of the influential people she would associate with. I was alone and badly harassed. I learned my biggest life lessons as I saw the true colours of people.

I battled it alone and persistently by keeping my faith in my Allah bigger than my fear of any human being, by persistently taking legal action although my finances were drained and my health drastically affected. I persisted in writing to all the concerned authorities and reporting every misdemeanor, using my pen as a sword to seek justice. I persisted in maintaining my dignity by countering her abuse and vile insults with stoicism and courage. Eventually, divine retribution was served and legal battles were won thus enabling me to move forward with my head held high. 

Since 2020, after an in-service transfer, I have been working as a Professor and Head Dept. of English at Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose College where the workplace and academic culture are both excellent. The English Department has the highest number of students and is reckoned as the best in the college.”

That is amazing, you pushed through and won a victory in this lonely battle. Can you share a personal highlight in your life where you feel you made a major landmark?

 

I made a major landmark when I raised both my sons to respect women, be non-judgemental in their opinions of people, and keep an open mind with an objective outlook while making a decision. I made a major landmark academically when I topped my class in M.A. at the University of Calcutta. I made a landmark when I was nominated at the age of only twenty-six to be invited by the US Dept of State to visit the universities of the USA on an International Visitor Programme. I believe I make a major landmark every day in my personal and professional capacity as I strive to develop and uplift myself and impact positively the lives of those around me.


Prof Shabina Nishat Omar at an event

This is remarkable, congratulations! Going forward, is there a need for more colleges, and more professors in India?

India is a populous country with a large percentage of youth and thus educational, vocational, and allied institutions are always needed. Many new colleges and universities have been created and begun and thus there will always be a vacancy for more teachers.  In a semester system, all professors face challenges of the paucity of time – syllabus completion within a short period is extremely difficult.

Second is the burden of excessive intensive evaluation as both internal and external examinations recurring within the system consume a huge chunk of time, energy, and resources thus subtracting from teaching.

Third, after COVID both the attitude and interest of students waned and it is challenging to sustain their engagement in physical classes.”

Once upon a time, ragging in colleges was a big tradition that led some students to take their lives.  Does this still go on in faculties?  What measures were taken to stop it?

Neither have I ever encountered ragging as a student in Loreto College nor ever allowed it as a college principal in Milli Al Ameen College ( for girls). However, ragging does exist and I keep reading about instances of ragging in various institutions. Ragging is a punishable offence and a few important measures that can be and are being taken are:

1. Strict punishment by the institutions.

2. Sensitization of the students towards this menace

3. Counselling of students who have suffered or perpetrated this.

What changes would you like to see in the system?

Modification and reduction of syllabi, ease on pressures of evaluation, better facilities for blended learning, better outreach to rural students, and collaborative initiatives by institutions to develop a common and symbiotic learning process.”

Would you like to share some joys of your profession with our readers?

I have devoted my life to marginalized sections of society, especially women learners from backward academic groups and impoverished sections of society mostly first-generation learners. Now, among them have emerged teachers, bureaucrats, air hostesses, designers, translators, researchers, academicians, and even entrepreneurs. My students have told me that my teaching has given them much more than bookish knowledge. It has given them courage, confidence, and hope. They say that they have been inspired to believe that they can strive and achieve.”

The lives I have touched, the people I have inspired, the memories I have made, and the life lessons I have learned brought me the greatest joys.”

Do you mind sharing the story of a particular person you helped and how it changed his life?

 

It is against my principles to publicize any kind of help or charity made for individual and social good. Since I have worked in an environment where students came from less privileged backgrounds and sometimes did not even have money to commute to classes that they earnestly wanted to attend, I have always helped them financially and after their degrees were completed I have tried to make humble efforts to connect them with NGOs and institutions where they may be able to earn through skill-based initiatives in case their academic prowess is not suitable for a formal job. I would not like to specify names or incidents as I believe we all should rise by lifting others.

ALSO READ: Prof Azurdah’s hard journey—from treating cows to becoming a literary giant

Any message you would like to give to aspiring teachers and students?

Education is the most important asset in human life and it should be pursued with sincerity and honesty if one is to achieve something. There is no shortcut to success. One has to work very hard to achieve anything. However,  achievements should not make you arrogant one must remain humble and helpful.

Rita Farhat Mukand is an independent writer.

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