Special Reports

Burqa-clad Tamil woman shows the way

It was a gala day in Salem, a city in Tamil Nadu on November 27, 2010 to celebrate “a lady under veil”. In a marriage hall, a jam-packed lobby went with standing ovation when a fragile burqa-clad woman, looking austere and gracious marched 35 forsaken and forgotten destitutes as beneficiaries, and they all received gifts of sewing machines, scholarships, widows pension, important commodities for a few married couples. The recipients were gleaming with smile and the audience rose to spontaneous roar when the three IAS executives, a judge from Madras High Court, and a former principal of a women’s college, all witnessed this rare phenomena, and the veiled lady was full of accolade for her work, standing in great poise.

Umai Basha (left) with Justice Akbar Ali, Mrs.Qudsia Gandhi IAS, Mr.Mathivanan IAS

Umai Basha (left) with Justice Akbar Ali, Mrs.Qudsia Gandhi IAS, Mr.Mathivanan IAS
Umai Basha (left) with Justice Akbar Ali, Mrs.Qudsia Gandhi IAS, Mr.Mathivanan IAS

Justice Akbar Ali of Madras High Court,  Qudsia Gandhi IAS, Additional Secretary to the Tamil Nadu Government, Chandra Kumar IAS, Salem District Collector, Mathivanan IAS, Director, Minority Welfare Schemes, Government of Tamil Nadu, and Tashreef Jahan, former principal, Government Madurai Meenakshi Women’s College, were among the prominent dignitaries.

“We all are here, forgetting our tight schedule on a working day, just to witness this great feat of this woman, Umai,” said, Justice Akbar Ali.

The subject overtly swirled around as ripples on woes and sad status of Muslims. They  spoke about absurd triple divorce “talaq” in single sitting, coveted men exploiting marriage only to fracture it. Faulty marriages render unfortunate women into divorcees, deserted with a few children in their arms and no proper direction of life in sight, and thus haplessly becoming a parasite to their society.

The guests analysed the reasons for the poor state of the Muslim society. The penury,  extreme poverty or destitution, all were discussed at length. All agreed that the economic instability, educational depravity, incompatibility among spouses, male chauvinism, dowry tentacles, multiple girls in a single family, lack of physical and mental hygiene are stumbling blocks menacing the Muslim society.

All concluded that despite Holy Qur’an’s rich teachings, most Muslims have failed to follow Islam. Namaz and other practical prescriptions are well-understood though not followed or rendered into mere rituals. “Read the Holy Qur’an, word by word, don’t be content with its translation, but relate every word to the exact context to reference” said Qudsia Gandhi.

“The concept of Zakat is poorly understood. It’s not distributing cheap saris and clothes to professional beggars, but to establish “Baitul Mals” to pool the funds and to distribute them for major causes. The recipient of Zakath must not remain a repeat recipient, but he or she ought to become a giver of Zakat the very next year. Let not Muslims hoard money, and let it circulate among have-nots,” Professor Tashreef Jahan exhorted extolling the virtues of Zakat.

The distinguished guests said that, “The need of the hour is more and more tireless, dedicated, devoted social activists like Umai Basha”

Umai Basha, a post-graduate in sociology, mother of two girls, a prodigy in social activism, said, “I could not stomach this state of affairs and the perpetual extreme poverty in our society. The defiant manifest of indigence although is a common prevalence in all the faiths, what appealed me is that even the society looks down upon us as burqa-clad eyesores. So we become downtrodden among the downtrodden. I am an Indian Muslim, equally respectful of other faiths. How can I bear the same Indian despise me? We are greatly tortured by this attitude which we face at fair price shops, while enlisting  to get our voter I Ds, or buying a train ticket. Burqa women are looked down upon and perceived differently. Tormented with this state of affairs, I made a silent resolution along with my friends Habeeba Nasreen, Sabeeha Rafeeque and Sultana Rasheed to fight this menace.

My father-in-law, a former police officer, was of great help and understood our mission. He  not only donated Rs 20,000 but also allowed us to use his spacious shop to run a beauty parlour, exclusively for women in a posh and centrally located area in Salem. This was the first torch to light and dissipate the darkness among Muslim women since we trained a few deserving women. My husband supported the proposal and stood as a rock behind me, Umai said. Both her husband and father-in-law along with her friends spoke to officers to find out government schemes for “Self Help Groups.” In no time Umai became a popular entrepreneur. “The Muslim society never approved us as social activists, and we were often scoffed at and jeered rudely. This happened more than once,” recalls Umai adding that while seeking donations, “a pittance would be thrown at us with an advice to sit in our homes as woman are not supposed to come out seeking donations!”

Every step of Umai’s efforts was a failure in the beginning, but she continued. She found affluent lady customers visiting her beauty parlour. She never failed to discuss the pathetic condition of the burqa-clad Muslim women and these ladies became pillars of her mission. They along with their husbands knocked the doors of the government. What commenced as “Al Amanath Charitable Trust” in 2007 and with  hard work with indomitable will, it grew availing of all the benefits for minorities.

Umai proved true to her dedication, creating during the the past three years 80 Self Help Groups (SHGs), each group consisting of 20 members. Free tailoring classes are conducted regularly, and every successful candidate goes out with a free sewing machine. She has managed to procure government interest free loans for hundreds of women, and has conducted vocational training such as embroidery, beautician and computer classes.

She says, “I have secured nearly Rs. four crores, and disburse them among the needy and forsaken women who now have their own beauty parlours, tailoring, embroidering, Desktop printshops and Xerox centres, while men have availed funds for auto rickshaws.

Mrs. Umai Banu may be contacted at MWAS, 81-Periar Street, Mohammadpura, Salem-636601, Tamil Nadu and Phone: +91-(0)-99443-00296