“THEY TRIED TO OSTRACISE ME”

India Today - - GOOD NEWS - —As told to Chi­tra Ahan­them

46 A grass­roots so­cial worker, Na­jma has over­come fam­ily pres­sures to ad­vance the cause of the women in her com­mu­nity.

Ibe­long to the Meitei Pan­gal com­mu­nity of Ma­nipur, a mi­nor­ity group where women are at a great disad­van­tage. By the time I was in Class 6, I was the only girl in class. I faced sex­u­ally of­fen­sive taunts and had to shift to an all-girls’ school. Even after that, my mother was con­vinced my mar­i­tal prospects would be ru­ined if I stud­ied be­yond Class 10. Due to pres­sure from my fam­ily and neigh­bours, I got mar­ried but it lasted less than a year. After I came back home to my par­ents, I started a marup (thrift fund) for women in our lo­cal­ity. They would con­trib­ute a hand­ful of rice ev­ery day, and twice a month we would draw lots to de­cide who would get the rice, which would then be sold and the money used to in­vest in live­stock. Very soon, pres­sure piled on me to re­marry. But I did so only on the con­di­tion that I could con­tinue my work. I formed 10 self-help groups (SHGs) with 12 women in each group, con­tribut­ing money on a weekly ba­sis to get a con­sol­i­dated amount to in­vest in a small busi­ness sell­ing veg­eta­bles and fish. The group also met to dis­cuss other is­sues, like do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. As our SHGs grew in strength, the maul­vis in my area tried to have me os­tracised. But the women, the Jamiat-ul­ulema, Ma­nipur, and the All Ma­nipur Mus­lim Students’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion, all came out in my sup­port. I am now con­test­ing the as­sem­bly elec­tions in Ma­nipur.

NA­JMA (LEFT) AT A WOMEN’S GROUP MEET­ING

NA­JMA PHUNDREIMAYUM, So­cial Worker IMPHAL

“I wanted a per­ma­nent in­sti­tu­tional struc­ture through which I could serve my con­stituency.”

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