Many people talk about communal harmony, but rarely any take sincere steps to strengthen it. The only literate member in her family of 1,000 persons, Nazneen Ansari of Banaras not only translated Sri Hanuman Chalisa into Urdu and conducted Sri Ram Aarati on Deepawali, but also took extraordinary steps to socially, economically and educationally empower disadvantaged Muslim women. She has also started a tirade against oral triple talaq seeking justice to the women who are divorced through this unethical and illegal practice. She organises ‘women courts’ to redress their family issues, writes Pramod Kumar
She is first girl in her family of 1,000 members, mostly engaged in handloom, to get modern education. After completing post graduation in Conflict Management from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 2013, she decided to dedicate her life to the uplift of women, especially the underprivileged Muslim women, who are forced to languish due to various reasons. Because of her out of box and progressive thinking coupled with actions she is a household name in Banaras today.
She does not hesitate to even raise voice against the radical clerics who are blocking the progress of Muslims. When there was a terrorist attack on famous Sankat Mochan Mandir in March 2006 she while leading a group of Muslim women recited Sri Hanuman Chalisa there. The name of this bold and brave girl is Nazneen Ansari who lives in Lallapura locality of Banaras. Deeply influenced with the ideals of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose she writes herself as Nazneen Bharatwanshi and greets all with 'Jai Hind'.
A reformist to the core Nazneen has started multiple activities to empower Muslim women. Her fight against the practice of oral triple talaq, which she terms as anti-Islam, illegal, inhuman and unethical, has developed a hope among the Muslim women who are victims of this practice. Through her efforts she saved about a dozen families, as the husbands agreed not to divorce their wives. “We don’t want any clash. We want the men to look at women as a human being. How can one be allowed to break the decade long relations by just saying the word talaq thrice. This inhuman practice must go. We can follow the Constitutional and legal provisions for talaq, if the couples find impossible to live together. But in that case the rights of women have to be protected. We want that talaq should not be one sided. If the consent of both the parties is sought during niqah, why should it not be compulsory for talaq too,” asks Nazneen.
To educate Muslim women open up their mouth against injustice, Nazneen has been generating awareness through Muslim Mahila Foundation. “Oral talaq is unacceptable. Some people in our community talk about following the Shariat Law in such cases. But we do not live in any Islamic state. We live in a multi religious country where the Constitution is supreme. I have seen the lives of many innocent girls being ruined due to oral talaq. It is inhuman practice. I could not stop myself wiping out their tears. Need of the hour is that men should rise above the outdated religious conventions and think practically and humanly about the women also,” added Nazneen.
When asked about the reaction of Muslim clerics on her campaign she says, “Why would they accept it, as they are going to lose their empire? They call it anti-Islam and say our acts are anti-Islam. I say one sided talaq is anti-Islam, which they should accept and take corrective steps to curb it. Sometimes we have heated arguments. Rather, now the awakened Muslim women have started building pressure on religious leaders to protect their interests also.”
Apart from generating awareness Nazneen has started some concrete activities to economically empower the women. She insured 200 women, mostly the mothers of rag picking children. They have been provided bond papers free of cost. The amount needed for premium was paid by her Foundation. She is in the process of insuring 5,000 more women in the city. She also helped 500 women get loans from Punjab National Bank under her own guarantee. Most of these women were engaged in rag picking and now many of them have started respectable work to earn money for their families. The work began in 2008 and after the polls she plans to help 1,000 more women get loans.
Several cutting-tailoring centres have also been started in different colonies. She also aims to educate at least 3,000 Muslim women this year alone. “All such centres are basically the empowerment centres where apart from learning stitching and reading and writing they also learn how to use Right to Education, etc,” Nazneen says adding that their experiment of ‘Mahila Kachahari’ has proved to be a big hit as many cases were resolved amicably.
Nazneen’s contribution in strengthening communal harmony catched the attention of many. She translated Sri Hanuman Chalisa into Urdu. The translated version was released by former Union HRD Minister Dr Murli Manohar Joshi on January 5, 2009. She has also composed Sri Ram Aarati and Sri Ram Prarthana. Unlike many other Muslims, she recites Vande-matram and also conducts Sri Ram Aarati without hesitation. But while doing all such activities she does not compromise on her Islamic practices.
When asked who inspired her to take all these initiatives, she gives full credit to the Vishal Bharat Sansthan formed by Dr Rajiv Srivastava, a professor of History in BHU. “Formed in 1988 to materialise the ideals of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the Sansthan has reshaped the destiny of many helpless children like me. I am associated with the Sansthan since early age,” Nazneen says.
Vishal Bharat Sansthan is known for its campaign started in 2006 to liberate the weavers’ children, mainly girls, from the clutches of local money lenders who had kept them in lieu of the huge debts. The experiment of 'Akshar School' has also been a big hit. The teachers in such schools are the kids between the age 5 to 15 years and the students are between 40 to 90 years of age. Most of the children teach their grandparents. Today 70 children are involved in this campaign. The Sansthan also started 'School on Boat' in 2010 at the Ghats to impart education to the children of boatmen and fishermen. The Sansthan also started a unique experiment of promoting saving habit among children.
It formed a Children’s Bank in 2008, where the children especially those involved in rag picking deposit money. Today this has 1,000 account holders and is fully managed and operated by kids. All people associated with the Sansthan write Bharatwanshi with their name and greet each other with Jai Hind.
Nazneen’s efforts may raise eyebrows among radical Muslims today she wants people of her community, both men and women, to seriously think of changing certain practices like oral talaq which are against humanity.
-Nazneen Ansari, Chairperson, Muslim Mahila Foundation, Banaras