Jun 11, 2012 - published work, Sindh, women    11 Comments

The real Qaum ki Betiyan

Courage is not confined to people with college education living in fancy houses, it resides within every person but very few are brave enough call upon that reserve and make a difference – to their lives and to the communities they live in. Shabana and Nazira are those who not only have oodles of courage but they challenge others to call upon their reserves as well.
Shabana is a social mobilizer working with rural communities in Mirpur Khas (For Takhleeq Foundation) and give them basic training on a number of issues ranging from health, hygiene to start up businesses and gender rights. Once she was holding a meeting in the house of a Muslim woman and a few Hindu women also came in to attend it. One came with her toddler who was thirsty and asked for water. The host initially tried to ignore the child’s request for water because she did not want a low caste Hindu boy to drink from her glass but when the child repeatedly asked for it and other people also asked her to get him water, she brought him some in a dirty broken cup. The child refused to drink from the dirty broken cup and started crying. The mother of the crying child was frustrated and slapped her child to discipline him while crying herself at the humiliation.
Shabana was quietly viewing the whole incident but did not say anything. She asked the hostess to get her some water and when she brought it – in a fancy glass – both Shabana and the child drank water from it. Some women were scandalized but most just watched Shabana sharing the glass with a Hindu boy and then cradling him in her arms during the discussion with the group. After working for 16 months in the community Shabana’s perseverance, patience and courage has made such differences that the women eat and drink from the same plates and glass and some have even saved up enough to start their collective businesses.
Nazira – another woman of courage – is a low caste Hindu from a village in Southern Sindh; married off at 15,  and like all women from poor disadvantaged families, she too grew up malnourished and without education. Her husband was another poor man who has never been to school and had no ambition in life. He would only work when he feels like it and would expect Nazira to provide food for the two of them by earning wages as a farm worker. By the time she turned 16, Nazira has had her first child, a boy, and she was bewildered with the ever increasing responsibility that she had to shoulder – as a wife, a mother and the sole bread earner of the family. She has had two more children – another boy and a girl – in next five years while working full time as a daily wage worker in farms and other people’s home. When she has had her daughter, she told her husband that she is not going to have any more children. Her husband, a lazy man who worked sporadically and that too to just support his personal whims,  refused to agree to it and tried everything – from coaxing her to beating her black and blue but she remained steadfast in her determination and sought medical measures to ensure that she does not procreate any more. The husband just upped and left afterwards, leaving her to fend for herself and her three children.
Nazira is 27 today and is working as a labuorer for a community infrastructure development programme run by an NGO (Care International) with regular income, medical insurance and a saving plan which helps her save money for future investment. She has lost her home in rains last year but she is happy and content. Her oldest son goes to school and the second one will start it later this year. She has some livestock and looked up by the women in her community as a courageous woman who has worked hard in changing her life. Many other women – both Hindu and Muslim – adopted family planning measures emulating Nazira.
Shabana and Nazira may not be called heroes by many but what they are doing is amazing at many levels because it not only challenges unhealthy practices in our society but also give the communities much needed role models. They are the real quam ki betiyan, who are quietly working, contributing to the GDP, contributing to the society and bringing about the real and much desired change.
Nazira and her two younger children in front of her shack, the eldest was in school when we met

Originally written for The Express Tribune, this is the unedited version

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11 Comments

  • So hindu women have to / commonly do take arabic / persian names?

  • A very well-written account. These women stand tall above the rest. I hope the kids realize their potential fully.

  • Wonderful article, Tazeen. A couple of things stood out; Nazira is described as “happy and content” despite losing her home in the rains. That tells volumes about her inner strength, she copes and thrives, an excellent role model by anyone’s standards. Also your last paragraph about how Shabana and Nazira’s work contributes to society is important. I was listening to a documentary about rice in Bangladesh and a representative of the World Food Program there calls the malnutrition problems a ‘silent tsunami’… This is working toward a healthier future. Children growing strong, able to gain an education, being self sufficient, all of this starts with healthier mothers and these two ladies are showing the way. Brilliant.

  • anon,
    Its not just Hindu women, a lot of people take on names that are native, Nazira is no exception.

    Shahab Riazi and Demon Lily,

    Thanks a lot 🙂

  • These are real issues and courageous stories of life in our society which needs to be addressed in our media but our so-called National Media is only raising or making no-issues. Very nice Miss Tazeen. I really liked your post. By traveling little more to southern part of Sindh, one can see those tragedies and heart breaking stories at every mile of distance. Virtually zero education to girls and limited education to boys created a vast gap in society that large proportion of generation is only struggling for two times of a meal. Clean water, hygienic food, an annual dress or education is a luxury which can only be dreamed. A huge population of Hindus and Muslim only eat non-veg food once in a year and even this generosity is rapidly decreasing.

  • These are real issues and courageous stories of life in our society which needs to be addressed in our media but our so-called National Media is only raising or making no-issues. Very nice Miss Tazeen. I really liked your post. By traveling little more to southern part of Sindh, one can see those tragedies and heart breaking stories at every mile of distance. Virtually zero education to girls and limited education to boys created a vast gap in society that large proportion of generation is only struggling for two times of a meal. Clean water, hygienic food, an annual dress or education is a luxury which can only be dreamed. A huge population of Hindus and Muslim only eat non-veg food once in a year and even this generosity is rapidly decreasing.

  • nice written

  • Dear Tazeen,

    I am hereby contacting you, following a visit of your blog, which I find very appropriate for a publication.

    I am an employee of Bloggingbooks publishing house, which is the new publishing brand of the well-established scientific publishing house, known as SVH Verlag. We are currently actively looking for new authors.

    Bloggingbooks would like to broaden its publication’s portfolio and in this respect, comes my question: would you have any interest in publishing your blog posts into book format?

    You will find information about bloggingbooks on our homepage (bloggingbooks.net). The best way to get in touch with me will be per e-mail.

    I am looking forward to hearing from you.

    contact email: m [dot] gorbulea [at] bloggingbooks [dot] de

  • Hey Tazeen,

    I work at Random House India and came across your blog.

    I was wondering if you’d be interested in reviewing books from Random House that would synergize well with your blog.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  • Write to me VV ir send me your email addy. Would love to work with you guys.

  • This was an eyeopener. I mean I did know that India and Pakistan have similar stories of dispossession but it’s always a revelation to hear actual stories, to imagine the sobs of a discriminated family or the mindlessness of never ending hard labour. Please do keep writing.

    Thanks,
    Anjali

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