Wasiya, 28, runs a boutique in a posh Bangalore residential extension. The Fashion Designing course that she did six years ago, is helping her draw an elite, money-is-not-the-problem type of female clientele. But for the timely help, Wasiya could have been just another girl or a housewife.
The common thread running through the lives of Naseema, Farida, Nafeesa and Wasiya (names changed for the sake of privacy) is Bazm e Niswan, a voluntary organisation of Muslim women in Bangalore. But for the timely help from the Bazm-e-Niswan, these girls would have been just a few faces in the crowd, lost in their daily household chores, shorn of any above-the-self view of life and totally unconcerned with the plight of the Muslim women. But Alhamdulillah, these and hundreds of such girls today not merely feel indebted towards the society, but are eager to carry the flame of consciousness forward.
For over a quarter of a century, Niswan had been instrumental in helping over 2000 Muslim girls in acquiring education and skills to lay the foundation of a purposeful life of self-reliance. Operating quietly from a narrow lane in Bangalore's Tasker Town locality, Bazm-e-Niswan is not the typical club of urban, elite women with high hair-dos. They are women of substance, to whom their own education and social status appears a God-send amid the surging sea of poverty-ridden and illiterate Muslim community. Some of them were simply moved by the daily onrush of discarded, divorced and deserted women at their doorsteps, battered victims of their husbands who took the easy course to talaq to banish them away from homes rather than fulfilling their needs. Yet all this did not drive Bazm members into the lap of feminism, the ideology of confrontation coined by the West and aped by its cohorts in the East. They made a silent resolve to help the women stand on their feet, make them aware of their rights in the law as well as the shariat and equip them with useful skill.
Beginning in 1971 with a donation of Rs. 5,000, then a fabulous sum, by a philanthropist, the Bazm-e-Niswan has been continuing with its mission to elevate the women in general and Muslim women in particular. Today, it can boast of producing an army of 2,000 graduates in medicine, engineering, nursing, architecture, media studies, and pharmacy sciences through its scholarship programme. The number has grown over the years. Even today nearly 150 girls are on its scholarship rolls. Almost the entire money comes through collection of zakath.
But that is not the only area where Bazm-e-Niswan has been at work. Says Ms. Farukh Qaiser, Bazm's secretary, awareness is the key to development. And when it comes to Muslims, they are least aware of the rights, privileges, official schemes, subsidies, facilities and opportunities that exist for socio-economic development. For instance, how many of us know that the hepatitis-B is a major modern killer and that the government and NGOs have evolved inoculation schemes on a vast scale to combat the spreading menace. How many of us know that the government offers Rs. 5,000 to every family marrying off their first daughter if they happen to belong to the Other Backward Class( OBC) category.ö
Says Husna Z. Shariff, joint secretary of the Bazm-e-Niswan, once the organisation stepped into the arena of social service, a host of problems greeted them. Unless tackled on its level, each posed serious obstacles. Marriage of the Muslim girls was one of the issues. They set up Bibi Fathima Shadi Committee to help the marriageable girls to tie the knot. So far nearly 2,000 girls have been helped to set up homes with essentials provided by the organisation. Similarly, self-employment programmes were initiated in collaboration with the Central Social Welfare Board. Plight of the aged moved some of the members to bring succour to them in league with the Helpage India.
Last year, the Bazm-e-Niswan launched its most ambitious project christened Basera, a centre for sheltering and rehabilitation of destitute Muslim women and battered wives. Located in Beniganahalli in the outskirts of the city, it is being constructed with an estimated cost of Rs. One crore. Basera will be a gift to the Bazm from Bangalore-based builder Mr. Ziaullah Shariff . It will have 60 rooms for Muslim girls, prayer hall, library and audio-video facilities. Informs Farukh Qaiser, a hostel for Muslim working women will also come up alongside, on a site donated by philanthropist Dayananda Pai. Need for such a centre in Bangalore has been a long-felt one as single Muslim working women have been feeling the necessity for a place where they could lead a secure life in keeping with the ethos of their culture and religion.
Though on a much lower key the Bazm has been campaigning for the facilities for Muslim women to pray in the mosques and arrange Islamic lectures for women. It intends to set up Islamic counselling for marrying couples in order to create awareness of rights and duties of spouses after marriage. Ms. Qaiser feels that lack of awareness on this score has led to denial of Mehr (dower) and demand for dowry, rendering the marriage into an insecure institution for the girls.
Saga of Bazm-e-Niswan's work in Bangalore is inspiring. Some lessons are there to be learnt by all. Women, unlike men, are more focussed, understand the human sufferings, value the family's integrity and therefore more willing to lend a helping hand to banish pain and misery from the society. In the early Islamic society, female nurses attended the wounded soldiers on the battlefields. The West borrowed the idea of employing women for social service and tapped their energies. No wonder then why the educational and medical services in the current West are so dominated by the women. Iran, after the Islamic revolution, has mobilised women in large numbers, of course within hijab, to put them to use in media, education, research and social work. It has even trained a women's force to tackle emergencies. How long can we ignore this vast reservoir of energy and consign them to merely world of fashions, glamour and cosmetics?