My Leadership Journey - Shahina

Shahina is founder member of YRC Roshni
Read her earlier post
I live in the Rajabazar area of Kolkata in a Muslim community where the boys do small odd jobs here and there, and girls are housewives; the boys do not study much, but the girls study very hard as they need to get married into good families. At home, I live with my parents and three brothers.
I wanted to Fly
As a child, my whole day was spent playing with my brothers – cricket, hide and seek or flying kites together. My life also was like a kite – sometimes I would watch myself soar in the open sky flying freely; and sometimes I would withdraw, wound up like line around the reel.

My name is Shahina. It means a bird which flies in very high altitudes. I also wanted to fly. From a very young age, I used to be the leader of my group. When we went out to play, everyone came out and joined.
I am a Girl!
I remember the day I realized for the first time that I was a girl, and the freedom my brothers enjoyed could never be granted to me. My friends were outside my house, calling to me to come out and play. My mother said that if I went out, she would cut off my feet. “Now you have grown up. You cannot play outside anymore.” When I asked why my brothers were allowed to go out, my mother responded, “They are boys!” This one answer my mother gave me generated a thousand questions in my mind. This was the beginning of my life as a woman, and I was being stopped in my tracks at this initial juncture. There was so much left to do!

From that day on my family started, in earnest, their efforts to make me into a good girl; because the more of a good girl I became, the better match I would make. I had liked wearing jeans and skirts, but now I had to dress in salwar kameezs and keep my head covered with a dupatta. A good girl should speak softly, she should not laugh out loud. I started remaining at home most of the time, helping my mother with housework. Only one question kept coming to mind – there was no change in the way my brothers lived their lives, then why had my life changed?

Once my mother mentioning casually that when my father had heard that a daughter had been born to him, he had become very sad. He had wanted a son. Later he was alright again. A year after I was born, they had my brother. Perhaps with him, his wish was fulfilled. Everyone used to say that he loved me the most but we used to feel that he loved my brothers more. For him, I was that object which he must love and look after carefully till he got me married. I was that which he had to train properly so that when I went to live with my in-laws, I could be a good daughter-in-law. But I, I wanted to do so many things, say so many things. I wanted to fly…
A “Good Girl”
When I was in class VI, my tuition teacher used to sit me on his lap and start kissing me. I did not like this at all, but wasn’t able to tell anyone. This was because one day when I had been returning home from school with my father, some boys were ragging me. Before I could say something, Papa told me to keep shut and come home. Back home, I was blamed. You ought to have covered your head with your dupatta. And good girls do not speak back to boys. That day I came to understand that whatever wrong happened to me, only I would be responsible for it. So I wasn’t able to tell anyone what Sir was doing.

My studies took a toll. I started disliking the prospect of going for tuitions more and more. I had become very quiet and withdrawn. I had a lot of suppressed rage inside me. One day I decided I would die, but not go for tuitions any more. I don’t know from where I manifested all that anger and stubbornness. Ammi gave me a hard beating but I just stood there, saying, “You can kill me if you like, but I won’t go for tuitions any more. I will study at home.” At last my family members grew tired and gave up in the face of my stubbornness. I stopped taking that tuition; I studied at home and passed my exams. Everyone said that girls should not get angry. But thanks to my anger, I had taken the right decision. For my family members, however, I continued to become a bad girl. I was very angry at them and at society.
Questions for Allah
I had many questions which I asked of Allah. Why this? Why did you make boys better than girls? Why do girls have to be the responsibility of a father, a brother, a husband? Why can’t we take our own responsibility? Why are girls hidden away, just like we hide our wealth? Why is housework only a girls responsibility?

I also want to roam around and explore on my own, wear clothes I liked, to sit under the open night sky, travel to distant places – but I couldn’t do any of these things because I was a girl. So many questions, and not a single answer! Many people used to come home and try to explain things to me, but I couldn’t understand their point-of-view. They used to say, this is how things have been for all time. This is how Allah has made it!
I tried to concede that girls were objects created by Allah. They were objects because we couldn’t do anything that we wished to do, and had to take permission before moving, talking, and even eating!
A Gender Workshop
However, one day while attending a workshop, I met an organization who talked of the equality of women and men. Listening to them, I felt that they were saying precisely the very things I had always wanted to hear! One by one, I put my questions to them, and I started getting answers. For the first time, I realized that what I wanted to do was in fact my right. The existing difference between girls and boys was created by society; Allah had made no difference between us.

Their words worked like a magic in my life. I had the weapon I needed to fight the prejudices in my home and in my community. Bringing about change is difficult, but possible. The fact that something has been going on since ages does not mean that it is okay for it to exist. Under no circumstances is violence acceptable. I drew a lot of power from these words. I started sharing these ideas with my friends.
Forming a Collective
Together, we created a group in our community, and named it Roshni. At first, the group had only girls. For us, the group was a space where we could share a lot of things, where we would be understood by each other. Through the medium of the group, we started talking to people about the rights of girls and women. Many people started joining us, and understanding what we were trying to communicate. But it was not all that easy either. We faced more challenges in making people at home understand our message than we faced with outsiders. The group used to sit at my home, and we would hold our discussions in a loud voice so that father could hear and understand.
Violence is Not Acceptable
There was a woman in our locality whose husband used to beat her every day and she would say nothing. One day he beat her so much that her nose broke and started bleeding. Everyone was looking on. Some were saying, it is their personal matter. Some said it was the woman’s fault – she had gone to her mother’s house without taking her husband’s permission. I did not ask anything. I just took her to the hospital. Then I made her lodge an FIR in the police station. Seeing the police, everyone was flustered. The next day the respected people of the area sat in a Panchayat meeting. Everyone was telling the woman, why do you go out of home without taking your husband’s permission? I said it was her right. She could go anywhere she pleased. And whatever the reason, no one had the right to beat her. It was wrong. The laws of the country and our culture do not permit this.

When I said this, everyone got angry with me. When I returned home, my father also scolded me. It was as if my home had become a battleground. Every day I would have to fight anew. Being a part of our patriarchal social system, my father was also of the opinion that a woman should not go anywhere without her husband’s permission. But I didn’t give up. I helped that woman in whatever way I could. I had her husband arrested. But the most frustrating thing was that the officer, an educated fellow, said that one shouldn’t go forward with the case. What would happen to the wife and the kids if the husband went to prison? So what if the husband beat her; he gave her food, didn’t he? Under no circumstances should a home be allowed to break.
Stand on my Own feet
If someone feeds you, does he have the right to beat you? That day I decided that I would never be dependent on anyone. I have to stand on my own feet. Once I had a big dream of becoming an air hostess. I had asked my mother for money for the training. She had said that I was a girl, and that I would get married and go away. On the other hand, if money was spent on the boys, that money would remain within the family only. Hearing this, I had felt very bad. Today I have an income and I help other girls to go forward in their lives. I also help my parents. Today my parents say that it would have been good if all three of their children were girls. This makes me happy!

My group helps me in making the people in my area understand our message. We have started working on many issues. Whenever inequality or injustice happens with someone, our group comes to help in all kinds of ways. Sometimes the group empathizes and talks things out, sometimes we provide legal information that would be of help in the situation. Today, everyone in the community knows that whenever a girl faces any kind of violence, the group will come to help. Gradually a number of young people are joining the group. Nowadays boys also come to the group and talk about the rights of girls.
We must involve boys
I always used to envy how my brothers got away doing no housework. I feel, when explained, boys understand that gender inequality exists, yet just like a bad habit they choose to ignore it for short term gains. It’s too inconvenient to give up their privileges. The benefits of gender equality need to be sold to them. In a way they too are victims of rigid gender roles – and they feel the pressure of earning, to be strong. They are not able to express their emotions – to cry when they are sad. When my husband and I share household chores and earning responsibilities our burdens our halved and our free time is doubled. I believe that we must involve boys in our struggle for gender equality.
Islam and Gender Equality
Some people have tried to scare me off my work, giving religious reasons. I did some research on what our religion says and started using examples. For example, I would say, our religion permits girls to work. So what is your problem? Or when I got a scootie and the community members objected – saying it was not okay for girls to ride astride on a scootie. I challenged them quoting how there were references in Islam on Muhammad’s wife Hazrat Ayesha sitting astride a horse – well in those days there were no scooties!

Once when I was addressing a public gathering in my community, my brothers friend and some men objected saying it was un-Islamic. Islam required women to speak so softly that no men heard their voice. I challenged him saying how Koran refers to Hazrat Ayesha as a leader who influenced people – she could not have done so silently! Besides it was convenient how the rules of Islam were only enforced when they pertained to women. Islam does not permit men to wear tight clothing, yet all the boys wear jeans.

Today, everyone speaks well of our group. Earlier I did not have any answer, but now I have answers to many questions. Those I do not have, I manage to find out. I don’t want other girls in the community to face the same problems that I had.
Girls in Politics
Girls should devote themselves to study, not for getting married, but for the purpose of standing on their own two feet; not for lowering their gaze and blushing, but for looking up steadfastly, meeting the eyes of others, and seeing the world. Girls should have power in a way so that she can bring changes in the lives of a lot of others in one sweep. This is the reason why I joined politics, and even became the assembly youth congress president in my party. I am responsible for 10 wards in my area. Now many young people are with me, who want to work with me. In the coming days, we want to compete in the Councillor elections. Being a Councillor, I do not simply want to improve water supply, roads and garbage; I want to bring about a change in people’s attitudes, so that we can live in a place where everyone has equal rights, and everyone, irrespective of their gender, caste, religion and community, are treated as human beings.
Change is difficult, but Possible
Now my parents and husband too support me, and people in my community give my example – they want their daughters to become like me. I am not saying that I have changed everything. But certainly a change has come in the way some people used to think. My group and I believe that change is difficult, but possible. My journey of change is continuing, but now many others have joined me in my dream. Today I can take my own decisions in life, even within my marriage! I have always wanted to be a good human being; but others at one point of time tried their best to make me a Good Girl. Today I can say that I have become a good human being, who is fighting both for her own rights, as well as the rights of other women in her community. There will be new challenges at every juncture, but one shouldn’t give up!
My Message
Girls should be very stubborn, for the purpose of bringing about positive change, for equal relationships, and for reaching one’s goals. The goal is not to be a good girl, but to be a good human being!

Meri Leadership Journey

Mein Kalkata ke Rajabazar, ek muslim community mein rahti hoon jahan ladke chote mote kaam karte hai aur ladkiya ghar mey housewife; ladke zyada padhte nahi hai, aur ladkiya bahut padhti hai qui ke usey achi ghar pe shaadi karni hoti hai. Mere ghar pe ammi, papa, aur mere teen bhai rahte hai.

Mein Udna Chahti thi
Mera sara din bhaion ke saat khel kudh mai kathta tha, cricket khelna, chupa chupi aur phir patang udana. Meri zindagi bhi kuch patang ke jaise hi thi, kabhi khud ko khule aasmaan mein udte dekhti thi to kabhi latai mey simat jati thi. Kisi ke haat mey nahi hai woh azad hai. Mera naam Shahina; Shahina ka matlab chidiya jo bohot uchai mein udti hai mai bhi udhna chahti thi… Bahut chote mein mai apne group ka boss thi jab hum khelne jate the to sab log athe the.

Main Ladki hoon!
Mujhe aaj bhi yaad hai woh din jab muJkhe pahli baar pata chala ke mein ladki hoon. Aur mujhe woh azadi nahi mil sakti jo bhaiyon ko milta hai. Mere dost log ghar ke bahar aye mujhe khelne ke liye bulane. Ammi ne kaha ghar se bahar nikli toh pehr kaat doongi ab tum badi ho gayi ho ab bahar nahi khel sakti, maine pucha bhai quin jaa rahe hai? Ammi ne kaha woh lakde hai! Ammi ka ek jawab mere mann mey hazar sawal khade kar diye. Ek ladki hone ke naate yeh meri zindagi ki shuruat hai jahan mujhe kuch karne se roka gaya ab toh bahut kuch hona baaki tha, us din se mere ghar wale mujhe ek achi ladki banane ki taiyari mein lag gaye quin ke jitni achi ladki utna hi acha rishta.

Mujhe jeans, skirt, pehenna pasand tha par ab mujhe salwar kamiz aur sir pe dupatta dhak kar rahana padta tha. Ek achi ladki ko ayiste se baat karni chahiye, zor se hasna nahi chahiye. Ab mein ghar pe hi rahne lagi thi ghar ka kaam mein ammi kaa help karti thi. Mann mey ek hi sawaal tha, bhaiyon ki life mein toh koi badlaav nahi aya to mere quin? Ammi ne ek baar baaton baaton me bataya tha ke papa jab pahli baar sune the ke unko ladki hui hai toh woh dukhi ho gaye the quin ke unko ladka chahiye tha. Baad mein phir woh thik ho gaye. Mere hone ke ek saal baad hi mera bahi hua tha. Shayad papa ka wish pura ho gaya tha. Sab kehte the papa mujhe zyada pyaar karte hai par hum ko lagta tha bhaiyon se zyada pyar karte the quin ke hum unke liye woho samaan the jise shadi tak pyar se sambhal ke rakhna tha har kuch sikhana tha jisse mein dusre ghar pe jakar ek achi bahu ban sakun. Mein bohat kuch karna chahati thi bohat kuch kahna chahati thi. Mein udna chahati thi…

Ek achhi Ladki!
Jab mein class VI mein, mere tuition ke sir mujhe godi mein bitha kar mujhe bahut kiss karte the jo mujhe biklul bhi acha nahi lagta tha. Par hum kisi ko bol bhi nahi pate the. Kuin ke ek baar hum papa ke saath school se aa rahe they to kuch ladko ne mujhe cheda tha. Mein kuch kahti toh usse pehle papa ne mujse kaha chup se ghar chalo. Jab hum ghar aye toh bohat baat sune, tumhe dupatta sir se odhna chahihe tha, aur achi ladkiyan ladko ka muh nahi lagti. Us din mein samajh gayi thi mere saath jo bhi galat hoga us ke liye mein hi zimmedar hungi is liye main sir ke baat kisi ko nahi bata payi! Meri padai bhi kharab hone lagi mujhe padne jana bilkul acha nahi lagne laga. Maine khud ko jaise simat liya tha mera confidence ek dam khatam ho gaya tha aur hum chup chap rahne laga tha. Mere andar bohat gussa tha maine ek din faisla kiya mar jaungi par tuition padhne nahi jaungi. Pata nahi woh gussa aur zid us din mere andar kahan se aya ammi ne mujhe bohat mara aur mein seedhi khadi thi aur kaha “aap mere jaan le lo par hum tuition padh ne nahi jayenge hum ghar pe hi padenge”. Ammi log us din mere zid ke samne thak gayi aur maine tuition chod diya aur ghar pe hi pad kar pass hui. Sab ne kaha tha ladkiyo ko gussa nahi karna chahiye. Par maine apne gusse se ek sahi faisla liya tha. Ghar ke logon ke liye mein buri ladki bante chali gayi!

Allah se sawal
Mere andar bohat gussa tha ghar ke log ke liye, samaaj ke liye aur bohot sara sawal tha joh allah tala se puchti thi. Aisa quin apne aisa quin kiya ladko ko ladkiyon se bahtar quin banaya? Mera bhi man karta hai akele ghumne ko apne pasand ka dress pehenne ka, raat ko akele khule asmaan ke niche baithne ka aur door door jane ka, par meini aisa nahi kar sakti quin ke mein ladki thi. Itna sawal aur koi jawab nahi ghar pe bohot log atey the samjhate the par samaj nahi ata tha kahte the aisa hi chala araha hai allah ne aisa hi banaya hai. Tab man hi man khud ko samjhane lagi thi ke ladki naam ka yeh cheez allah ne hi banaya hai. Cheez is liye ke hum log apne marzi se kuch bhi nahi kar sakte chalna bolna yahan tak khane ke liye bhi hame permission ki zaroorat padhti hai.

Ek gender workshop
Tab meri mulakat ek workshop mai ek organization se hui jahan woh ladka aur ladki ka barabari ka haq hai is bare mein bata rahe the unki baat sunkar mujhe laga woh wahi kah rahi thi jo mein aaj tak sunna chahati thi. Ek ek kar ke maine sawal puch aur jawab milne laga, pahli baar mukhe pata chala jo mai karna chahati hu wo mera adhikar hai, ladka aur ladki mai jo fark hai wo samaj ka banaya hua allah ne koi fark nahi kiya. Unki batein meri zindagi mei mantar ke jaisa kaam kiya mujhe ghar aur samaj se ladne ke liye hatyaar mil gaya tha. Jaise badlaw mushkil hai par mumkin hai, chala ara hai uska matlab yeh nahi ke okay hai, aur kisi bhi halat mein hinsa acceptable nahi hai. Yeh sab batein mujhe power dete the. Mein apne doston se yeh sab share karna start ki.

Ek Group Banaya
Hum logon ne milkar community mein ek group banaya jis ka naam diya Roshni group jahan sirf shuru mein ladkiya hi judi thi. Group hum logon ke liye who jagah tha jahan hum log bohot kuch share kar pate the ek dusre ko samaj pathe the. Hum log group ke madhyam se logon ko ladkiyo ke adhikar ke bare mein batane lage bahot koi hum logon se judne lage hamari baat samajne lage. Par yeh sab itna asaan bhi nahi tha jitna challenge bahar mein that usse zyada ghar ke logon ko samjhana. Hum ghar pe hi group ko lekar beit the they aur zor zor se batate the they take papa sun sake aur samaj sake.

Kisi bhi halat mein Hinsa asweekar hai
Mere area mai ek aurat ko uska husband roz hi marta tha koi kuch nahi kahta tha. Ek din aisa mara ke uske naak fath gaya khun nikal raha tha. Sab kade dekh rahe they kuch kaha rahe they unka gharelu mamla hai, kuch bole aurat ka hi galti hai apne husband ka permission ke bina apne maa ke ghar gahi thi. Maine kuch bhi nahi pucha aur use hospital le gayi. Phir thana main ek FIR karwayi. Police ko dekh kar sab ghabra gaye. Dusre hi din area ke respected person log baithe panchayat karne sab us aurat ko hi bol rahe the tum apne husband ke bina izaazat bahar jati kyun ho. Maine kaha wo uska adhikaar hai kahin bhi aa jaa sakti hai. Aur koi bhi kisi bhi wajah se kisin ke upar haath nahi utha sakta hai yeh galat hai aur desh ka kanoon aur hamara mazab iska izaazat nahi deta. Jab maine yeh kaha sab mere upar gussa ho gaye. Ghar pe aye to papa ne bhi mujhe bohot data mera ghar jaise jung ka maidan ban gaya that ur mujhe har roz ek naya jung karna padta tha. Papa ko bhi laga husband ke permission ke bina nahi jana chahiye quin ke wo bhi toh is purush tantric samaj ke hi hissa the. Par maine haar nahi maana maine har tarah se us aurat ki madat ki uske husband ko arrest karwaya lekin sabse zyada hairat ki baat yeh thi ke officer jo pada likha inssan usne kaha case nahi karne. Usne kaha wife aur bachon ka kya hoga agar husband jail gaya; husband marta hai to kya hua khana to deta hai. Kisi bhi halat mein uske ghar nahi tutne chahiye.

Apne pairon par khada hona zarrori hai
Koi khilata hai to kya use marne ka haq mil jata hai? Us din maine socha mai kabhi bhi kisi ke upar depend karke nahi rahungi mukhe apne peher mein khada hona hai. Ek waqt mujhe air hostress banne ka bohot shauk tha ammi ko bhi training ke liye paisa mangithi. Ammi ne us waqt kaha tha tum to ladki ho shadi ho kar chale jaogi ladke ke peeche karch karenge to who paisa ghar pe aya ga who baat mukhe bohot bura laga tha. Aaz mein income karti hoon aur dusre ladkiyon ko bhi aage badne mein madat karti hoon ammi papa ka bhi help karti hoon. Aaj ammi papa kehte hai hamare teen ladkiyan hoti toh accha hota. Ab mujhe kushi hoti hai! Mujhe ab group ko lekar area mein logon ko samjhane mein madat hoti hai.
Hamare group aise hi bohot saare cheezon mein kaam karne laga jab bhi kisi ke saat gair barabari kota hai hamara group madat ke liye pauch jata hai use har tarah ke madat karne ke liye. Kabhi samjha te hain to kabhi law ka information dete hai. Aaj hamare community mein sab jante hai ki kisi bhi tarah ka hinsa ladkiyon par hone se yeh group unka madat karta hai. Aiste aiste kafi youth group mein jud rahe hai. ab toh ladke bhi group mein ate hair aur ladkiyo ke adhikaar ke baare mein baat karte hein.

Ladkon ko saath rakhna hai
Bhaiyon ko dekhte thhey to lagta tha, unki life kitne achchi hai - unhe ghar ka koi kaam nahi karna padta hai. Mujha lagta hai ki ladkon sab samajhte hai - ki gender inequality kya hai. Par ek buri aadat ke tarah woh us waqt ke phayde ke liye apne ko badal nahi paate. Unko gender equality ke benefit samjhana padega. Ek tarah se woh bhi to victim hai - samaj ke tayyar kiye gaye gender roles ko lekar. Un par bhi toh bojh hai kamaney ka, strong hone ka. Woh bhi toh khud ke feelings nahi dikhla paate hai - rohna chahte huye bhi nahi ro paate. Jab mere husband aur main ghar ka kaam aur kamane ki zimmedari baant te hain tab hamare bojh aadhe ho jaate hain aur hamara khaali samay double ho jaata hai. Mera vishwas hai ki hamein ladkon ko hamari yeh gender equality ki ladai mein zaroon shamil karna chahiye.

Islam aur barabari
Kuch log mujhe dharm ka darr dikha kar rokhne ki kosish karte the. Maine bhi sahi dharm ko lekar research kiya aur bohot information collect kiya aur example de kar baat karne lagi jaise dharm ne to ladkiyon ko kaam karne ka adhikar diya hai to aap logon ko kya problem hai. Aaz sab log mere group ke baare mein achha baat karte hain. Pahle mere paas kisi sawal ka jawab nahi hota tha ab mere paas har sawal ka jawab hair aur jis ka nahi hota main doond leti hun, main nahi chahati ke maine jo taqlif ka samna kiya hai who community ke doosre ladkiyo ko face karna pade. Ladkiyan khub paden shaadi karne ke liye nahi apni pair par khade hone ke liye sir jhuka kar sharmane ke liye nahi sir utha kar nazar milakar duniya dekhne ke liye.

Ladkiyo aur Politics
Ladkiyon ko power eke jagah mein ana chahiye jahan ek saat kafi logon ki zindagi main badlaw laa sake is liye maine politics join kiya aur under party election ladke assembly president bhi bangayi; ab mere saat kaafi sare youth jud gaye jo mere saat kaam karna chahate hai aane wale dinon mein hum Councillor ka election ladna chahate hai; hum Councillor banke sirf paani rasta aur kachra saaf karna nahi chahate hum logon ke soch mein badlaw lana chahate hai. Jahan sab ko barabari ka haq mile, gender, caste, religion, community ko lekar nahin jahan sab ko inssan samjha jaye.

Badlav mushkil hai par sambhav hai
Ab mere ammi papa aur mere husband bhi mere support karte hai community ke log mere example deta hai ke who mere jaise apne beti ko banana chahte hai. Main yeh nahi kahti ke maine sab kuch badal diya. Par kuch logo ke soch mein badlaw to aya hai. Hum aur humare group yeh mante hai badlaw mushkil hai par mumkin hai. Mere badlaw ka safar abhi jaari hai lekin mere swapnon ke saat ab bohot koi jud gaye hai. Aaj mai apni zindagi ka faisla khud kar sakti hoon, apni shaadi ke relationship mein bhi! Main to achi insaan banna chahti thi sab ne mujhe achi ladki banana chaha. Par aaj mein kahti hoon main achi insaan ban paayi hun. Jo apne saat apne community ke ladkiyon ke haq ke liye lad rahi hoon. Life mein har par naya challenge ka samna karna padega bas haar nahi manna chayiye!

Mera Message
Ladkiyo ko bohot ziddi hona chahiye wo zid ek positive badlaw ke liye. Bara bari ke rishtey ke liye aur apne goal mein pounch ne ke liye.Hame achi ladki nahi acha insaan banna hai!