Aligarh surgeon Mohsin Raza ensures slum kids learn to read and write

Story by  Tripti Nath | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 02-02-2024
Dr. Mohsin Raza with children of Umeed center
Dr. Mohsin Raza with children of Umeed center


Tripti Nath/New Delhi

Eight years ago, a poor girl living in a slum in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, asked a kind-hearted and friendly surgeon to show her what a school looked like.

This doctor was the well-known philanthropist Dr Mohsin Raza, a resident of Civil Lines, Aligarh. Recalling that day August 12, 2016, Dr Raza says, “I was alighting from my car when this girl, Naheed who was barely three years old, held my hand and said that she wanted to see a school. I called up my daughter, Sumbul in Lucknow to narrate this meeting with the child.”

She told him to start teaching slum children. “I bought blackboards, chairs, and tables and began imparting education to 12 children in the center that I set up in my house the very next day. Now, this center is being run adjacent to my house. Gradually, I got 140 children. Then, we set up the second center in a slum on the Kawarsi bypass road.’’

He set up Umeed, a voluntary organization that imparts education to 1,500 children including ragpickers. Umeed runs 22 centers in the thickly populated slums of Aligarh. While some are being run from rented premises, others are in the premises spared by individuals who want to contribute to the mission.

Children studying at a Umeed centre

“I named my initiative;‘Show them a school’ as it was that innocent girl’s query – what a school looks like - that made me launch it. Unfortunately, I am not able to track her.”

Citing UNICEF figures, Dr Raza says that of the 300 million children in the world who do not go to school, 90 million are in India. “Of course, we cannot teach all the 90 million children. We are running Umeed Education and Welfare centers for children between 3 to 15 years of age. Some centers are in bamboo huts with thatched roofs. We persuade people to support our centers in the memory of their parents. We offer to name the centers after their loved ones for a modest fee of Rs 100 per student. One can pay Rs 5,000 a month towards the education of 50 students.”

As they say, charity begins at home, one Umeed center is named after Dr. Raza’s mother, Syeda Khatoon, and the other after his wife, Suhaila Mohsin.

Sewing classes at an Umeed centre in Aligarh

Dr Raza says he aims to start such centers in every corner of the country. “We started such centers in Prayagraj and Lucknow, but they closed down due to COVID. We also have people who inspect these schools from time to time. Our inspectors also shortlist good students for further admission in modest private and government schools. Some of our children are carrying on education till Class VIII. I admitted 500 children in schools but our efforts were undone by COVID. We persuade the parents to pay the school fee for their children and also convince others to sponsor the education of these children.’’

The surgeon says that he aims to ensure that children of housemaids do not end up doing the same work; they should make a mark in life.

He has been running a sewing centre for women for five years.

The 82-year-old Dr Mohsin Raza works 18 hours a day. He comes from a family of doctors of Seohara, Bijnor in western Uttar Pradesh. His father, Syed Raza was an allopathic doctor, his grandfather Hakim Hassan Raza and was very famous Unani healer.

He continues to perform general and reconstructive (non-cosmetic) plastic surgeries in Aligarh. He also examines patients in his clinic called the Citizen Clinic, where he offers free services to the poor.

Dr Mohsin Raza (In beige jacket) addressing children of Umeed school

A cancer survivour who has also suffered cardiac illness, Dr Raza has conducted 130 workshops for generating awareness about tobacco's cancer-causing properties. He underwent two surgeries at Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital in Mumbai. 

He was nearly attacked some years back in a village near Aligarh for speaking against tobacco.

His wife held a doctorate in Political Science. Ironically she died of breast cancer in 2012. 

Dr Raza has performed more than 500 breast cancer surgeries in India and abroad. “I began doing scarless operations for women who were suffering from benign breast cancer. I am still operating on women diagnosed with breast cancer. The problem that we face in India is that women hide their breast disease.

“They don’t even confide in their husbands. What is worrying is that women continue to suffer in silence till they reach a non-operable stage,’’ he says.

Dr Raza was among 90 Indian doctors sent by the Indian government on deputation to Iran, as a surgeon Specialist in January 1978. He had barely settled in Tehran when the Revolution began.

A classroom in a Umeed centre

He says that he worked day and night during the Revolution in Iran “I was called the surgeon of the Revolution (1978-’79) against the King. I have removed bullets from every part of the body of those who were shot by the police and the Army. I got my entire experience of treating trauma cases in Iran in the hospital in the three and a half years that I was there. After that, I resigned from AMU. After getting a No Objection Certificate from the Indian government, I moved to Oman where I worked as a Specialist from 1981 to 2011. 

In Buraimi, a small town in Oman, I did a lot of plastic surgeries for burn injuries in a 100-bed hospital. Professor Douglas Roy, an Englishman, who was in charge of surgeries in the entire country, noticed my work and took me to the Capital Muscat in 1985. The government in Oman gave me nine extensions. My main work was the non-operative management of solid organ trauma. Oman has the highest incidence of traffic injuries. Despite severe opposition from most of my colleagues, I proved that my patients were surviving because I was not operating on them.”

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Dr Raza can speak Arabic, Baluchi, Persian, Russian, Urdu, and Zanzibari apart from English. He also runs a society for breast cancer awareness among Indian women.