“THEY TRIED TO OSTRACISE ME”
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.”