Category Archives: human interest

Fight against corruption has to come from below

arasuHis latest effort has been to start an Academy of Honest Politicians in the city along with the Tamil Nadu Lanjam Kodathor Iyakkam . Having spent much of his retired life fighting corruption to make life easier for the lay man, S.M. Arasu of the Anti-Corruption Movement told Vidya Venkat that a proactive citizenry and a firm leadership could help erase this menace from society.

“My first tryst with corruption was in 1963, when a public works contractor slipped in a few hundred rupee notes inside a diary as a gesture of gratitude for awarding a contract. Though I have resisted attempts to bribe me all through my days of employment, I took to anti-corruption activism fulltime post-retirement,” says Mr. Arasu, who was formerly chief engineer of the Tamil Nadu Public Works Department.

Denying that government officers come out into the open about corruption in public office only after retirement, he says, a number of serving IPS officers and government functionaries from other departments are members of the movement now. “In fact, our association’s by-laws encourage public officials to join us,” he says.

Started in 2001, today the movement has 4,500 members all over the State. “Many of them are students. We have four to five branches in the State and also bring out a monthly journal named Nermai Neri,” he says. Quoting a study report brought out by Transparency International last year, he says Tamil Nadu figures among the most corrupt States in India. The study says the police, revenue and regional transport offices are among the most corrupt departments in the State.

“In any building or road repair project, up to 50-60 per cent of the project cost is siphoned off by contractors and lower-level officials,” he says. He says most local bodies such as municipalities are corrupt and utilise only half of the allotted money for project work.

While the Right to Information Act has empowered activists like him to question the authorities when a public project is incomplete or taxpayer’s money is squandered, he says most Public Information Officers are not adequately trained to handle queries under the RTI Act. Due to unsatisfactory responses or delays in sending replies, he says a number of cases are pending with the State Information Commission.

However, he credits the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption for trapping several bribe takers whenever a representation is made. But he says, this is not enough and that the leadership, at the end of the day, must show its resolve to fight corruption.

“When leaders at the top are firm about eradicating corruption, the system will become clean and efficient,” he stresses.

For, corruption is a practice that percolates from top. The fight, however, he says has to be waged from below.

(Originally published in The Hindu, Tamil Nadu edition, dated Sep 13, 2009)

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From a warrior’s withered memory

kuppusamyKuppusamy Andal is 84 and can no longer recollect the heady days of the Second World War when she and her husband dug trenches and hid in them while the Japanese hurled bombs targeting their house.

A native of Sivakasi, she migrated with her husband to Singapore soon after marriage in 1940. Along with thousands of other migrant Indians, the couple were caught in the crossfire when Japan occupied the country. In a bombing incident, they lost their first child Balakrishnan. In 1943, the couple joined the Indian National Army and fought the British for Indian independence, under the leadership of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Ms. Andal was a member of the INA’s Rani of Jhansi regiment. As a prisoner of war in the Bidadari camp, they suffered several atrocities at the hands of the British.

But, age has withered her memory. The freedom fighter now languishes in a tiny one-room apartment at Kolathur in north Chennai with her only son Sivadas. Mr. Sivadas narrated to this reporter the life of his parents, pieced together from the anecdotes he had heard from them. “There was a time when my father contributed $100 to the Indian Independence Movement Fund. Today, we need a government pension to make ends meet,” he said.

Fortune eluded the family after Kuppusamy returned to his birth place, Puliangudi in Tirunelveli district, in 1947. He died in 1981 without any recognition whatsoever for his role in the freedom struggle, Mr. Sivadas said.

In 1985 Ms. Andal was certified as a “genuine freedom fighter” by the All India INA Committee in Delhi. The oath she took as a member of the Azad Hind Sangh’s Syonan Shakh remains a testimony to this. In 1986, almost 10 years after Kuppusamy and Ms. Andal applied for the State government-sponsored freedom fighter’s pension, she received a call for interview from the screening committee at the Tirunelveli Collectorate. She was found eligible and has been receiving a State government pension since then.

However, 23 years have passed since she first applied for the Central government-sponsored Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension, which has not been cleared yet.

(Originally published in The Hindu, From the South page, dated Jul 16, 2008)

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They turn rags into riches

ragpickerKantamma is up for work every morning before the sun. She treads barefoot the 12-km distance from home to her workplace, geared with a plastic sack and a long pointed metal rod. She stops on her way at every street corner, rummaging the piles of garbage for something worthwhile.

The woman is a rag picker at the Perungudi dumping yard. Like most of her workmates, she picks waste all the way to the yard. “There is enough garbage on the streets and the stuff I pick up would end up there anyway,” she says.

Rag pickers know it is easier to deal with garbage in small amounts than in mountainous piles. They segregate waste wherever they find it and sell them, reducing the load of waste reaching the yard. Once in the yard, the garbage is all mixed up and segregating them is a tough job.

The 60-year-old Kantamma, for one, only picks up plastic and paper. She says her vision is failing and she can no longer venture deep into the dump. But nonetheless she visits the yard as the plastic scrap dealer in Perungudi is familiar. He helps her with credit in times of need.

In the city, there are thousands of men, women and children who pick waste from streets or dumping yards or both. It is an informal trade and the more they pick the better they earn.

They know how to put waste to use. At a rag picker’s colony in Indira Nagar, Adyar, nearly everything they use is made from scrap collected the streets. When construction was on at the Tidel Park, some of them said they found some broken tiles near the site with which they patched up the floors of their dwelling units.

Unfortunately, most rag pickers are bonded to the scrap dealer to whom they regularly sell. Marimuthu (12) is one such rag picker in the Kodungaiyur dumping yard. The boy migrated from Athipattu with his parents a few years ago. They get an advance of Rs.1,000 from a nearby scrap-dealer and sell him whatever they manage to lay their hands on. Munusamy, who initiated the family into the trade, says, “The dump yard is our home, the waste is bread and butter.”

He points to a little boy who is  scraping the charred surface of the yard. His mother had set heaps of discarded wires on fire a while ago. The boy was pulling out thin strings of copper from it. “How much will it fetch,” Munusamy asks. The boy replies with a smile, “I am sure I’ll get Rs. 15.”

Munusamy says, in Kodungaiyur, rag pickers fight among each other for metal scrap like dogs over a piece of meat. He picks up a medicine bottle, removes the rim at its neck and says, “This is aluminium … fetches Rs.90 a kg.”

In Kodungaiyur, he says rag pickers have managed to pull out gold ornaments and silverwares sometimes. “You never know when someone would get lucky,” he says, but slowly adds: “But everything depends on the scrap dealer giving a good price. Once, a girl found a fat gold chain and the dealer only paid her Rs.5,000. Someone told me that he later made a fortune out of it.”

But rag pickers like him, who turn rag into riches for others, themselves remain poor.

(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition, dated Jun 01, 2008)

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Dealing with death, daily

gravediggerA gravedigger is to a corpse what a mother is to a child, says Sampath, who works at the Krishnampet burial ground behind the Light House. “You have to tend to the body with great care,” he says.

Besides digging graves , their job involves building stretchers for carrying the body, preparing the pyre and clearing the remains after the body is fully burnt. They also collect ashes from the gasifiers. “We handle all kinds of corpses like old men, children, AIDS victims, dog bite deaths, suicide cases…” he says nonchalantly.

So is the job depressing?

It only seems natural when the man, with his sturdy build and rugged face says he is used to it. But further probing shows he is not completely insensitive to the gravity of death or the pain of loss others feel. He confesses that handling the burnt body of a dowry harassment victim once disturbed him a lot.

Paulraj, who works in a cemetery in Kasimedu, says visitors often cry before the graves of their beloved ones. “Two days ago, a woman who had lost her son came here and was crying bitterly. I sat by her side and tried my best to console her,” he says.

Gravedigging is a family occupation for certain communities belonging to the Scheduled Castes. “My father did it, my grandfather did it, my great grandfather did it and now I do it…” says Jayaraman, an 50-year old, who has been in the job for four decades now. Ask him if he wants his son to follow the family line and without a second thought, he declares, “No.”

Traditionally known as ‘vettiyan,’ the gravediggers working for the Chennai Corporation are now referred to as ‘mayana udavialargal’ (crematorium assistants). This was after the civic body regularised their employment in July 2007. The step has brought a visible enhancement in their self-esteem.

But not all is well. Paulraj says almost all crematorium workers are alcoholics. “They get drunk to become numb to the smell of rotting carcasses,” he says.

Also the work can be hazardous to health. Graveyard keeper Sasikumar recounts how once the body of a person with a pacemaker in his heart had burst while being burnt. He says bodies that undergo post-mortem are wrapped in thick plastic and don’t decompose when buried.

“When we dig those spots for use later, the body would not have decomposed and emits harmful gases.”

Several burial grounds in the city have vast spaces with plenty of green cover and none of their characteristic eeriness. Sampath says laughingly, “Many young people who visit the Citi Centre think the neighbouring ground is a garden and stray in. When we tell them that it is a graveyard, they get scared and run away.”

When asked if gravediggers are afraid themselves, they say no. But the Krishnampet burial ground, for one, has two dogs for protection, not from ghouls, but from miscreants.

Sampath says three months ago two men on a motorbike entered the ground and tried to bury a male baby alive.

The mouth of the baby had been stuffed with cotton, but it managed to cough and the workers were alerted. “We informed the police immediately and they took the boy away. The two men had meanwhile escaped on their bikes,” he says.

But be it day or night, gravediggers have to carry out their work. “We do have fixed working hours, but then who can predict when it is time to dig someone’s grave?” asks Sasikumar.

(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition, dated Aug 24, 2008)

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Imagining the world from his bed

udhaikumar

For someone who has been paralysed by a degenerative disease and confined to bed for nearly 18 years now, painter R. Udhaikumar has been astonishingly prolific, making nearly 700 paintings in the last 10 years. He told Vidya Venkat that persons with disability need to be recognised by their talent.

Art is a way of making one’s life meaningful for a person with disability. “I live through my paintings,” says Mr. Udhaikumar, who has to be propped up with pillows under his arms and limbs to stay steady. Surviving on a liquid diet, he takes up to a month to finish a painting.

“I get fatigued if I sit and paint for too long,” he says. Affected with spinal muscular atrophy, his muscles are wasted. He can move only two fingers in his left hand, with which he paints.

But what is it that prompts him to be at it despite the odds? “For me it’s therapy,” he explains. “It’s my way of expressing my innermost thoughts. It also helps let out frustrations,” he says.

Having picked up the nuances of painting by attending a workshop held by the abstract artist K.M. Adimoolam, Mr. Udhaikumar’s oeuvre comprises monotone sketches and acrylic paintings which include landscape and abstract work. “Making portraits of the self is the most challenging task,” he says.

His self-portraits are mostly monotone sketches that show him bending over a canvas from the behind. “Imagining myself while drawing is the hard part,” says the artist, who has reproduced even paintings of famous archaeological sites he has seen on television.

His work surprises with a splash of bright colours – a yellow horse on a red backdrop, a turquoise blue sky before the rain… They are partly inspired by fantasy and partly by observing daily life, he says.

He was 13 years old when his spinal cord got bent and he became immobile. He finished schooling but could not pursue education. “Television is my window to the world,” he says. “I watch channels such as Discovery and other history programmes from which I draw inspiration for my work.”

It has been three years since Mr. Udhaikumar exhibited his paintings, though he is eager to reach out to the world through his work. “Getting the paintings framed is difficult as it involves a lot of money and effort,” he says.

Living with aged parents who are pensioners, he says he sometimes cannot afford the kind of money needed to put together an exhibition. He is also eager to show his work to veteran Tamil actor Sivakumar, who is also a painter, and get feedback from him on his work.

“I want to be recognised by my work, not my disability,” he stresses. “My muscles may be weak, but I am keeping my mind firm.”

(Originally published in The Hindu, Chennai edition dated Jun 07, 2009)

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An Act of Faith

At Thandeeshwaram, a tiny village in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu, Sharifa Khanam is building her dreams brick by brick. The 42-year-old social worker has initiated the construction of a mosque here for Muslim women as a symbol of their struggle for equal rights in a male-dominated society.

sharifa_khanam

The first recipient of the Durgabai Deshmukh Award instituted by the Central Social Welfare Board in 1999, Sharifa found her calling in women’s rights activism when she attended an All-India Women’s Conference in Patna in 1988. “It was a turning point in my life. I realised it was possible for women to act together to negotiate a space for themselves in society,” she said.

In 1991, she set up STEPS Women’s Development Organisation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), in Pudukottai with the help of the then District Collector Sheela Rani Chunkath. STEPS started functioning near the Pudukottai bus stand as a community welfare centre for women, but eventually it began to handle cases on behalf of battered women. In 2003, Sharifa began to organise a monthly jamaat, or congregation, for Muslim women under the banner of Tamil Nadu Muslim Women’s Jamaat. This was meant to provide Muslim women a space for expressing themselves. And since a jamaat is traditionally attached to a mosque, Sharifa decided to erect a separate mosque for women. The mosque when complete will be fully managed by women, but will keep its door open for men, she said.

The women’s jamaat is an attempt to challenge the authority of the traditional “jamaat system” which by and large controls the social life of Muslims. Each mosque elects a group of influential men from within the community to form what is known as the pallivaasal jamaat. This group, besides managing the affairs of the mosque, would gather outside the mosque and arbitrate over community disputes. “The jamaat is more or less like a caste panchayat – functioning at the behest of powerful men,” said writer and gender rights activist V. Geetha, who has sided with Sharifa and her movement for the last two decades.

Sharifa says because the traditional jamaat has no woman representative, no one hears the woman’s version during a dispute. Often in cases like dowry harassment or domestic violence, she said, the male jamaat members refused to come to the women’s rescue.

The pallivaasal jamaat survives on chanda (commission) collected annually from the community members. Families are also expected to pay up separately for religious rituals on occasions of birth, death and marriage. Individuals and whole families could be declared outcast if they failed to pay up the commissions. According to Sharifa, jamaat members often thrust their decisions on women, threatening to “deny them a space even in the burial ground” if they failed to obey their decrees.

The women’s jamaat handles cases of marital disputes relating to dowry, divorce or domestic violence. Most women approaching Sharifa are those who have apparently been denied justice by the traditional jamaat. There are cases where women are given talaq through e-mails and telegrams and the jamaat would do nothing to condemn the man, said Sharifa. Petitions coming in occasionally from people of other communities and even men are not turned down here.

Sharifa said in the last 15 years she has handled about 10,000 petitions from Muslim women alone. Jamaat members interact with the police and lawyers to ensure speedy resolution of cases. “If the response is poor, we take to the streets,” said Sharifa.

In 2004, the intervention of women jamaat members led to the suspension of a few police officers in Annavasal town for “counselling” a rape victim rather than taking action in the case. A 12-year-old girl employed as a domestic help with a Muslim family in Chennai, Vennila was raped by her employer. The police dragged the investigation on and when repeated petitions to the police were ignored, Sharifa and other members of the jamaat staged a dharna in front of the office of the Superintendent of Police and saw to it that the culprit was brought to book.

The jamaat members are Amazonians in the real sense of the word. The 30,000 Muslim women who form her support base in Tamil Nadu today are an empowered lot. In the last 10 years, Sharifa has mobilised women in ten districts across Tamil Nadu – Trichy, Pudukottai, Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Madurai, Theni, Dindigul, Nagapattinam, Tuticorin and Perambalur.

Women jamaat leaders in these districts travel to the Muslim residential areas to spread word about the jamaat. They also mobilise women to oppose the three dominant social evils in Muslim communities – ex parte divorces (talaq), polygamy and dowry demands during weddings.

At a women’s jamaat meeting held at the Pudukottai office of STEPS on March 26, this reporter met 60 participants who had come from all over Tamil Nadu despite the sudden rain. With their heads covered with dupatta or clad in burqas, the women gathered in a tiny hall and began the jamaat with a rendition of the Quran. Prayers done, the first topic to be discussed was the model nikahnama released recently by the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board in Lucknow. Most jamaat members felt that the new nikahnama had nothing new to offer as such and only reiterated the rights of women, such as the right to demand khula (divorce), which has been guaranteed in the Quran already. But they welcomed the move as a positive development.

Next, the jamaat heard the case of a Boushiya Begum from a nearby village who was allegedly harassed by her husband for dowry during their three years of marriage. This despite 35 sovereigns of gold and a vehicle being reportedly given as dowry to the groom at the time of the wedding.


At the Women’s jamaat, Mehr-un-Nisa, who is well-versed in the Quran and Arabic, reading out from the holy book. She helps other members to interpret the verses.

Boushiya’s brother Zakir Hussain told the jamaat that her husband “did not like her looks” and was demanding Rs.1 lakh to keep her. He said he had sought help from the Karambakudi jamaat, which presided over their wedding, but they refused to intervene saying it was “their family matter and they must solve it on their own”. The Karambakudi police did arrest Boushiya’s husband, but only on charges of simple hurt and criminal intimidation. No case was filed under the Dowry Prohibiton Act.

Boushiya pleaded for help as her husband had been released on bail and was threatening to separate their two-year-old son from her. Sharifa promised to take up the case with the police. This case sparked off a discussion among the women on the prevalence of dowry in Muslim communities.

Taj Begum, a jamaat member from Singampunari in Sivaganga district, said that traditional jamaats were getting a share of money from the “un-Islamic” practice. As per Islamic tradition, it is bride who is entitled to mehar (gift from the groom) and not the groom to dowry, she said. She said Muslim grooms demanded dowry ten times that of mehar offered to the girl. “And these exchanges are seldom recorded in the marriage contract or nikahnama though the rule says so,” she said.

The women’s jamaat is also demanding that women be allowed to pray in mosques, which they say is a Quranic right. Though some mosques have separate enclosures for women to pray, conservatism is keeping women from congregating in mosques for prayers. Subaitha Begum, a jamaat member from the fishing community in Tuticorin, narrated how she initiated a mosque inclusion movement for Muslim women in Thracepuram last September. On February 22, she assembled 300 women in a separate hall near the mosque for Friday prayers. She said she even managed to garner the support of a few Muslim men in the area who let their wives participate in the mass prayer meet.

“The local jamaat was furious with me for encouraging women to participate in the mass prayer. On jumma day, they even announced over mike from the mosque that Muslim women from ‘respectable families’ ought not to side with me,” said Subaitha. “But after the separate prayer meet for women was held successfully the Thracepuram mosque is considering giving space for women to pray inside the mosque.”

M. Janakam, district co-ordinator of the jamaat from Dindigul, said that when she took up the case of a Muslim woman who was being denied divorce by her husband, the traditional jamaat discouraged her saying, “Don’t go to the women’s jamaat, we will solve your problem.” She said it hurt the ego of traditional jamaat members when the women’s jamaat successfully intervened in a case.

Mehr-un-Nisa, who is well-versed in the Quran and Arabic, pointed out that not all decrees of the traditional jamaat enjoyed religious sanction. “Islam is a progressive religion that guarantees several rights to its women,” she said. “And because the Quran is taught in Arabic, most women do not understand its meaning despite knowing it by heart.” During jamaat meetings, Mehr-un-Nisa helps other women interpret the meaning of Quranic verses.

Quoting from the Quran, she listed the various rights guaranteed to women in it. These include rights to demand a share in ancestral property; demand mehar; seek khula (divorce); choose a husband; approve a groom before marriage; raise children; and speak and participate in community activities. But in practice, the traditional jamaat often denied these rights to women, she said. Mehr-un-Nisa is also compiling a half-yearly journal, Pengal Jamaat, on behalf of STEPS to propagate the message of women’s rights.

The story of Sharifa and the thousands of women who come seeking help at her doorstep is also the story of how Muslim women are marginalised in society. They are faced with the double jeopardy of being “Muslim” and “women”. “In India, political parties woo Muslim voters but when it comes to the welfare of the community, especially its women, they turn their backs,” said Sharifa.

As V. Geetha points out, pitching Muslim women’s issues around personal law has given the impression that issues to do with personal law are pertinent only to the minorities. “We assume that Hindus are default democratic citizens and all others are bound by their religious lives. The flip side of thinking this way is that we do not see Muslims as developmental subjects – as subjects of state policy to do with poverty, employment, malnutrition, housing concerns and so on,” she told Frontline.

Sharifa said such prejudice against Muslims reflected, for instance, in their difficulty to obtain loans. Though the State government had set apart funds for providing loans to the minorities, much of it remained unutilised, she said. To fill this gap, Sharifa is planning to start a jamaat bank, which will provide women with low-interest loans to help them start a small business or such like.

Faced with prejudices both within and outside the community, the emergence of the Muslim women’s jamaat is “one of the most creative things to have happened in Indian feminism,” Geetha said. “The jamaat takes the feminist battle away from these familiar forums to those that are not known to many of us: community lives and organisations. In doing so, it carries the struggle for gender justice to where it is often denied: the family, kin network, the larger community world…,” she added.

But as Frontline gathered the opinions of popular representatives of the Muslim community on the women’s jamaat, it emerged that the movement does not enjoy much support. Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) President M.H. Jawaharullah dismissed Sharifa and her women’s jamaat as being a “fringe group thriving on media hype”. “It is unfair for Sharifa and STEPS to take away credit for work that other Muslim organisations are doing as well,” he said, adding that the TMMK too runs a “reconciliation centre” for settling marital disputes between Muslim couples.

His party, now an ally of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led coalition government in Tamil Nadu, extended full support to the pallivaasal jamaat system because it provides an “alternative forum to settle disputes at a time when the courts and police stations are already overburdened”. He said the pallivaasal jamaat had an important role in making sure “discipline prevailed in society”.

Concerning women’s rights to pray within the mosque, he said while Islam gave equal rights to women to pray besides men, some Ulemas at home were “extra-conscious” about this. “I cannot use the word conservatism, but yes, some Ulemas fear that letting women pray in mosques may lead to untoward incidents,” he said.

Eminent lawyer Bader Sayeed and Member of the Legislative Assembly of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam concurred that the jamaat upheld patriarchal norms of living for Muslim women. Her personal experience in dealing with jamaat leaders during her tenure as Chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Wakf Board had sensitised her to the issue, she said.

She said a few months ago she filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court against members of the jamaat in Ammapettai, Thanjavur, on the charges of excommunicating a Muslim woman and torturing her. The jamaat had not satisfactorily settled a divorce case between the woman and her husband and when she approached the court the jamaat members took offence. They retaliated by treating her like an outcast, said Bader Sayeed. “When her husband died, the jamaat did not send a priest to perform the funeral and it forcefully separated her daughter from her,” she said. “In such cases confrontation is necessary.”

Bader Sayeed said she supported the view that women leaders should be appointed in traditional jamaats. She prefers judicial settlement of Muslim divorces and registration of marriages, and is also for codifying Muslim law so that the judiciary can resolve disputes easily. “But I disapprove of the idea of a separate women’s jamaat as that would mean alienating women from the mainstream,” she said. Her argument was that if Sharifa built a mosque for women, men in the community would only be too happy to exclude women, asking them to go and pray there.

Leading Muslim scholar Asghar Ali Engineer, however, extended full support to the women’s jamaat. He said Islam allowed its followers to interpret the Quran and live their life accordingly. “So, if women wish to build a mosque for themselves, religion gives them the right to do so,” he said. He also sought speedy implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Rajinder Sachar Committee submitted to the Indian government in 2006 so that socio-economic conditions of Muslims in India could improve.

As of today, Sharifa’s dream mosque stands incomplete – only a few bricks have been put together and the iron rods jutting out of the concrete base rust among wild bushes at the construction site. But Sharifa is hopeful. “I will erect the structure in another two years,” she said.

There has been no dearth of media coverage for the mosque project and in the last four years Sharifa’s work has drawn attention from India and abroad. But as Sharifa points out, “This has brought much appreciation, but little in terms of support.” Global Fund for Women, a United States-based non-profit organisation, offered Sharifa help initially but later shied away from supporting a “Muslim religious cause”.

What Sharifa and her women need now is support, both moral and financial. “I need at least Rs.40 lakh to finish the mosque and a steady flow of funds is necessary to keep the movement alive.” But fund-raising has been difficult. “I have already put in all my money in buying the land for the mosque and setting up a foundation,” she said. “The last thing I want to do is squeeze the poor Muslim women coming to me to donate for the cause.”

“So how are you going to manage to build the mosque for women?” I ask. Sharifa does not answer. She only turns to the women attending the jamaat meeting and says, “The cause of the women’s jamaat and women’s mosque should not die with me. You, my women, must keep it alive.” And the women nod their heads in unison.

(Originally published in Frontline in Apr, 2008)

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