By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
The aristocratic aura around her easily obscures the humble social worker in Dr. Taj Shaukath. She sits over governing bodies of many an academic body, speaks English in Oxbridge accent, may not even avoid company of socialites in the city, but still works among poor and the wretched of the
Dr. Taj Shaukath
society. Driving daily from her home in Bangalore’s ritzy core, Dr. Taj transforms herself into a social worker for the better part of the day. A decade of her work in the socially blighted areas of Bangalore is producing results.
Socialites and social workers are poles apart. Looking at Dr. Taj one is more likely to mistake her for the former. But scratch a little and you can take the lid off the bubbling fountains of concern for the society’s poor and the disadvantaged. For over a decade, Dr. Taj has been at their service in the slums of D.J. Halli, Kavalbyrasandra. Running a hospital and a school in the sprawling slums with its all attendant miseries and social ills may just be a small part of her services. A larger change that she has been able to bring about lies in affecting attitudes in-as-much-as the slum folk now appear more amenable to change. This is no mean achievement. Nor does it come from small effort. It requires mixing with the people, motivating them to rise above themselves and behave as a society.
So when her Al-Ameen Fathima Girls High School recently organised a painting competition on environment, the results were simply, breath-taking. The kids from the dingy hovels of the slums painted green blobs of trees along pathways and girls had drawn water filters in kitchens. This change in outlook does not come about by doling out free saris, uniforms, life’s essentials or by issuing Friday sermons or even by occasionally driving a mobile clinic through the slums. This essentially springs from living, working and eating with people of humble origin. Perhaps, it is where Dr. Taj and the clutch of Muslim women of the Al-Ameen’s Women’s Wing (AAWW) have made the difference.
She sits in the neat surroundings of the Al-Ameen Haji Lateef General Hospital. Just across the huge frothing drain is located her school in the Al-Ameen educational complex. The two institutions amid the malodorous slums are just the agents of change. Till they came up here around 1987, the slums were god-forsaken places steeped in ignorance,
Al-Ameen Education Complex in D.J.Halli Slums in Bangalore
poverty, disease, and exploitation of all kinds. The physical changes are not yet much in evidence. But the slum folk are facing the onslaught of a younger generation that is schooled, trained in social etiquettes and no longer ready to be dictated to by the slum-lords.
Says Dr. Taj Shaukath, the parents of her school children are now pressing for a college. They pay their wards tuition fee for the year in one go. Housewives discipline their intoxicated husbands. Uniforms are not as stained as before. There are fewer users of the school toilet than before. Absenteeism is less and fewer kids drop out before finishing S.S.L.C.
Muslim elite harbour a few myths about the Muslim society. But a chat with Dr. Taj dispels many a wishful assumption about the moral fibre of the society. Given the predominance of the Muslims in D.J. Halli slums, her portrayal of the community’s lower strata can only be an eye-opener and should wake up the Ulema who choose to be mere Muftis than Musleh (reformers). How would the Muslim society look at Muslim housewives who fall victims to flesh trade, appear at the hospitals for termination of illegitimate pregnancies but would not agree for tubectomy to restrict the family size, the very reason for poverty. How do the Ulema tolerate the unscrupulous marriage-makers who see no Shariah violation in marrying off two sisters to a single Arab groom? She has also been witness to the bizarre scene of some Muslim males spending their nights in Mosques away from their wives. But the imams invariably find them new wives rather than restoring the inharmonious marriage. But even more painful is the instance of that Muslim girl from the slums who was pledged to a moneylender from Rajasthan against a debt of mere Rs. 8000. The girl bore him a child after 11 months. She questions as to why the community fails to understand that poverty ultimately tells on integrity and spiritual concerns of a Muslim individual.
Today the Al-Ameen Education Complex hums with activity. It hosts over 600 children, the major chunk of whose tuition fee is subsidised through Zakath collected by members of the AAWW. The 50-bed hospital handles nearly 250 deliveries every year.
The two centres have been spreading education and health awareness in an area that earlier lacked basic facilities such as public conveniences, water taps and roads. She says it is not difficult to construct public latrines once the people get convinced that defecation in open is an act of not only immodesty but is dangerous for public health. So is the case with education and employment. Once women understand that it protects her self-respect to earn a livelihood through work, it becomes easy to persuade them to opt for education and training. Asifa, a former trainee at Dr. Taj’s Tailoring school says: “I was born in a family with six siblings and was unable to go to school. When I was 18, I joined the Tailoring school. Today I earn Rs. 50-60 a day. Al-Ameen Women’s Wing helped me take this first step towards self-reliance”.
She is setting her sight even higher. “I find the people of these slums, mostly Muslims, good in craftsmanship. Most of the city’s tailors, embroiders, carpenters and upholstery makers live here. A dress stitched for Rs.60 here, fetches Rs.700 in a commercial street shop. We can organise these poor folk to help them earn a better living”, she adds. All these required committed, voluntary workers, few of whom are found among Muslims, she rues. She plans to start classes in baking and vermiculture to train girls in these lucrative trades.
Dr. Taj says Muslim elite need to look into slums frequently. They need to produce more social workers who could roll up their sleeves and work rather than fund madrassas that churn out pontificating Ulema. Unless we interact with the slumfolk, we would wallow in our own world of ideal Islam that simply does not exist on the earth.
Dr. Taj’s endeavours are changing a small portion of Bangalore’s Muslim Society. But its ripples are bound to spread. By mobilising a section of Muslim women, she is knocking down several myths.
Her radiant face conceals the tumult within her. Her serene exterior does not give away any sign of the pain and agony she has withstood in leading a life as a paraplegic and devoting herself for the upliftment of the limbless.
Naseema Hurzuk, fondly called "Naseema Didi" in Kolhapur, is a monument of courage. Her dedication to serve the limbless and the disabled people springs from her own paraplegic existence. Her "Helpers of the Handicapped" established in Kolhapur in 1983 has so far provided help to 4500 persons in order to make them self-reliant and attain optimum
Naseema Hurzuk : Sage of courage
utilisation of their physical, intellectual and functional abilities. The help she has rendered in purely monetary terms by way of providing medical aid, surgical operations, aids and appliances and equipment, educational and vocational training, and encouragement in sports, fine arts
"Helpers of the Handicapped" Hostel and School
for Rehabilitation Uchgaon, Kolhapur
and other personality development ventures would itself come to Rs. 50 lakh and above. However, the psychological value of the succour is simply beyond calculation.
Recently, when she was awarded 'Mauli Anand Puraskar' by the Maharastra government, Shiv Sena Chief Balasaheb Thackeray was so moved by Naseema's services that he donated a bus with special facilities for transporting the handicapped. The government allotted a 2-acre plot in Uchgaon near Kolhapur to set up her hostel-cum-rehabilitation centre for persons with disabilities. First phase of the project costing Rs. 55 lakh was completed in 1996 and 50 disabled inmates, boys as well as girls, are availing themselves of the rehabilitation facilities. Construction of the second phase with financial aid of Manos Unidas, a Spanish organisation, is on and will provide hostel facilities for another 50 students. She has also established a vocational training centre at Kadamwadi in Kolhapur through her "Helpers of the Handicapped" society where various appliances for the handicapped persons are produced by their fellow disabled. It also runs a cooperative credit society named "Handyhelp Nagari Sahakari Pat-Sanstha Maryadit" to cater to financial needs of this section of people. "Helpers" also runs a gas agency totally manned by a disabled person.
What propels Naseema Hurzuk into the life-long Mission? Naseema had a normal childhood. At the age of 16, while playing Kabaddi, her back was hurt. For five years she was under treatment without proper diagnosis. She ultimately became a paraplegic. For sometime she was depressed. But a new turn came into her life when someone told her about the social work done by a former dewan of Kolhapur who was also handicapped. Then there was no looking back. She finished her B.A. (Economics) and took up a job in the Central Excise department. Now she intends to take voluntary retirement so as to devote all remaining years of her life to the service of the disabled.
A visit to her Uchgaon Hostel cum Rehabilitation Centre is an inspiring experience. Two handicapped girls cook food in the kitchen. One is welcomed by a receptionist who is also handicapped. Her auto-rickshaw driver is without the middle fingers in both his hands. Efficiency and precision is the watchword here in the premises which is maintained meticulously clean. The inmates brim with zest of life and learn skills and are psychologically trained to shed the crutches of dependence.
Naseema's energetic leadership has lent the institution a rare reputation. Her tremendous faith in God and cooperation from various associates have helped to achieve her goal in life. Though less than a quarter of the inmates are Muslims, she says the high incidence of poverty, ignorance and ill-health among Muslims aggravate the disability among them. She maintains separate account for Zakath donations keeping them for exclusively those people for whom they are meant. The Uchgaon Hostel and Rehabilitation Centre were inaugurated by Mohammad Sadaru Shaikh, a nine-year-old handicapped child of Kagvad near Kolhapur.
(Address : MS. Naseema Hurzuk, "Nasheman", 235/11, E, Tarabai Park, Kolhapur -413003. Tel: 0231-652075, 659326, 620314.)