Nepalgunj, March 8, 2017: When a daughter was born to a Muslim family in Eklaaini town of the district, Amanat Alisa, the baby’s father, surprised everyone in his community by naming her ‘Tamanna’, which means wish in English. The community, which believed that no one really wished for a daughter, was shocked at the father’s apparent excitement over having a daughter.
Four more daughters were born in the family. Father Amanat was only overwhelmed over this. He called them his precious gifts.
Amanat is no more alive. However, his love, respect and confidence over the girls continue to live on. All his daughters have established themselves by succeeding in their life. Their family is the only Muslim family in the town whose all daughters are well educated and socially active.
“We are five roses that blossomed in the darkness. Our society is dark and we are the light, as our father always told us,” said Tamanna. “He was always very proud of us. And that was not an understandable matter for the conservative society,” she added.
Tamanna’s formal name is Shahida Bano Shah. She is counted as one of the popular human rights activists in Nepalgunj. However, reaching to this level was never easy, reports Tamanna.
“My father was revolutionary. My mother was supportive, too. However, it’s hard to move ahead when the society is against you. The traditional society was my biggest hurdle,” she reminisced.
Tamanna’s father admitted her to a Madrasa when she was just three. Next year, he sent her to a government school. And this very action enraged the entire Muslim community. The locals said that he was setting a bad precedence. “People then strongly believed that daughters should not be educated. My going to Madrasa was not something that the community members approved of. Later, when I went to school, it was even more intolerable for them,” Tamanna narrated.
No matter what the people said, Amanat was adamant on educating his daughters. He wanted to see them crossing all barriers and becoming independent women one day.
“My birth was really his desire and fulfilling his dreams became my duty,” maintained Tamanna. “However, at every step, the society would try to block my way,” she added.
It would be very difficult for the family when the community would charge them of abusing or disrespecting their religion. Sending daughter to school was something only sinners would do, she said recollecting the conservative views that the Muslim community held around three decades back.
“Due to that kind of mindset, girls of my age would hardly go to school. Even if some did, they would quit before completing secondary level education and get married. However, due to my family’s encouragement and support, I was able to continue with my studies,” Tamanna, 28, said.
Tamanna is now an active member of the Fatima Foundation which works towards the empowerment of Muslim women. Very familiar with the patriarchal scenario in the Muslim community, Tamanna understands girls’ and women’s problems far easily when they come to seek the organization’s support. “We handle several kinds of cases. In all the cases, women are victimized by the social structure,” she said.
Her four younger sisters live a dignified life, thanks to their education. Her sisters, Hosna and Hasina have completed Bachelors levels, while Mumtaz and Khalida have recently completing their higher secondary school level education.
Early marriage is very common in the Muslim community. However, in the case of this particular family all other sisters are yet to marry, except for Hasina. Hasina had married due to the pressure from her grandmother. However, even that was after she completed her Bachelors degree.
“In our family, the biggest struggle was there for her, Tamanna. Since she was the eldest she had to break traditional barriers. The way was easier for us then,” Hasina notes. “It’s due to her dedication and vision, we all sisters have different life today. It’s very rare in the Muslim community here,” she added.
The society has, however, not stopped bothering the sisters. They keep asking the reason behind their not getting married. “Sometimes we give no answer as that looks wiser. Or else, we make every effort to make people understand that marriage is not the whole essence of life. Moreover, if it’s a girl, you should definitely educate her first,” said Hasina. She added that the sisters received the urge to change the society from their father. “We want to be the light that our society needs. We need a great deal of change to happen in the society, especially in its views towards girls and women and their treatment,” she added.
Amanat’s daughters, who are proud of themselves, believe that they are one of the strong agents of change in the traditional society. Both through the Fatima Foundation and through their personal efforts, the five sisters have been working towards empowering women. As Tamanna puts it, they have been able to think and act differently because as ‘darlings’ of their late father, they were inspired to be so.
By Kalendra Sajuwal