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House-bound to Work Bound:
Lucknow’s Muslim Women Speak
|by Anjali Singh|
For Tehmina Kazmi, life has taken an interesting turn. Working as an usher for a small event management company in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh’s state capital, this 19-year-old has braved all odds to step out of the traditional confines of her orthodox Muslim home and carve a niche for herself as a career woman.
Living in Chowk, a locality nestled in the old part of the city, Kazmi faces ostracism at all levels when she leaves for work dressed in smart crisp executive trousers and shirt. But her determination to succeed is written all over her face.
Confident and in control, Kazmi may be seen to represent the new age Muslim woman. However, the reality is far more complex. The fact is that it is access to education that is key to employment and while Muslim women from the upper echelons of Lucknow society have been able to make meaningful careers for themselves precisely because they were educated, those who don’t have education either work in low paying, menial jobs or not at all.
A generation ago, Dr Qamar Rehman, presently the dean of Research Science & Technology at Amity University, Lucknow, as well as Adjunct Professor at Hamdard University, New Delhi, fought her own battle for independence. Says the 62-year-old,
Dr Rehman’s journey has witnessed many prestigious laurels coming her way, including the UP Ratna Award in 2003 and an honorary doctoral degree from Rostock University, Germany, in 2009. Today, she is among the few experts in the field of toxicology, owing to her path-breaking research into the toxicity of fibres, particles and nano particles and their impact on the environment and population. She has also published 150 papers in internationally reputed journals.
Another well-established professional is Fauzia Zareen Abbas, associate professor, Christian College, Lucknow. Better known in some circles as the mother of film personality Roshan Abbas, she has been a working woman all her life. Her life story also testifies to the centrality of education in a meaningful career. Although she married young, Abbas was fortunate that her husband’s family encouraged her to educate herself. “Once I got married and came to my husband’s home, the world opened up for me,” she says. There were already many role models of women’s empowerment at home, like Fatima Begum, her husband’s grandmother, who had come from Iran and was fiercely opposed to the ‘purdah’. “In fact, the only time she wore the ‘burqa’ (veil) was to go out in the dead of night to put up anti-British posters on the city walls,” recalls Abbas.
But the life experiences of Rehman and Abbas represent an entirely different universe to that of the average Muslim woman. In the book, ‘Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India’, based on the first ever national survey of 10,000 Muslim and Hindu women in India, Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon had pointed out that the constitutional goal of eight years of schooling remains a dream for Muslim girls in northern India. They get barely 2.7 years of schooling compared to 3.8 years of a Hindu girl. About 59 per cent never get into school and less than 10 per cent complete it. In higher education, according to their data, Muslim women in India have an abysmal share at 3.56 per cent, even lower than Dalit women (4.25).
Given this reality, Dr Shabistan Gaffar, Chairperson, Committee on Girls Education, Government of India, believes that for Muslim women to come into their own in the field of employment, they must first have access to education, “The social tradition and misunderstanding that prevailed within the community regarding education has prevented many girls from being educated. Poverty is a huge additional deterrent.”
Gaffar’s argument is borne out by the ‘Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India’ study, which noted that in conservative and patriarchal areas like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, only very poor women or those from high income groups go out to work. It also cited National Sample Survey data to show that while women’s employment went up through the 1990s, the figures for Muslim women remained stagnant.
So what is the way out?
The point to be noted here is that despite the occasional regressive fatwa against educating girls and women’s employment that comes from seminaries, Islam itself has always encouraged women’s education from time immemorial and progressive clerics have always argued in favour of women’s education. As the revered Lucknow-based Maulana Kalbe Sadiq puts it,
By arrangement with WFS
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08/27/2011 00:04 AM