Dr. Rehana Sultana -- The Iron Lady of Hyderabad
TCN series on Muslim women empowerment
On International Women's Day on 8th March, TCN is bringing great stories of Muslim women empowerment from different states of India -- Editor
By Mohd. Ismail Khan, TwoCircles.net,
It is sometimes impossible to imagine a woman playing multi dynamic roles of educationist, reformist, feminist, and a human rights activist. That imagination will become vaguer if it is in context of Muslim women. But if someone likes to shrug off their imagination one has to meet Dr. Rehana Sultana, the iron lady of Hyderabad.
Dr. Rehana Sultana at present is the Director, Center for Women’s Studies at Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Chairperson, Deccan Education Society, and President of Civil liberties Monitoring Committee.
Dr. Sultana has done graduation several times in different subjects like linguistics, political science, history, sociology, and anthropology. She has also done M.Phil and Ph.D. in linguistics. She has also studied law. It will be interesting to know that this woman who is believed by many to be the most educated Muslim woman in Hyderabad had got married at the age of 15 without even completing her matriculation.
On Women’s Day today, she opened some pages of her life before TwoCircles.net.
She was born in a traditional Hyderabadi family and as the norms of that time she got married at the age of 15 when she was in 9th grade. But after the marriage she did not surrender to the barriers to her education and freedom. She got separated from her husband and started living with her parents. “From my childhood I was very fond of education, in those disturbed days of my life I decided to dedicate my life towards education and for utilizing it”, tells Dr. Sultana. She was living in a Muslim dominated area of old city of Hyderabad and observed that there were many women like her who are not getting fair opportunities for education, so in that scenario she with the help of other elders of the community in that locality started a tuition center for women with just five kids and slowly it developed into Deccan Education Society.
Dr Rehana being awarded by late AP CM YS Rajshekhara Reddy
“My sole aim was education for women but slowly many men also started insisting in joining the institution. I thought it is as important for men to get education as women, if women have to get a good place in the society, so I also allowed men to join but encouraged mainly women,” she says. She started first oriental education in old city area and soon attracted lots of people from every walk of life. She said even the rowdy sheeters also started coming to her institution in the evening classes to learn basic Urdu and English and she even being woman never hesitated in teaching them. Then she took a bold step and got her institution recognized with Aligarh Muslim University. “I find a need for the higher education among Muslim women as at that time Aligarh Muslim University was the only main university which was providing correspondence courses in higher education. I got my students enrolled for the graduation courses. Sometimes I used to take them all to Aligarh for the university practical exams,” says Dr. Sultana.
She did not restrict herself to the education field but she also started working for reforms in the very society which had restricted her. She said: “We use to educate women on their rights in property and whatever rights given to her in Islam. In Hyderabad Muslim households there is a perception that if a woman asks for her ‘Mehar’ it means she wants a divorce, so no woman dares to ask her right which is totally against the principles of Islam. So I started educating women about their rights in Islam and even persuaded religious scholars to give Fatwas against evils like dowry and triple Talaq”.
She adds: “In the beginning I was looked down by many even in my locality because they thought I was making their women folks rebel against them; even some tried to get fatwa against me for my campaign against triple talaq, but soon with the cooperation with many other like minded Muslim women from the locality we continued our work and the opposition soon died down.”
Dr Rehana interacting with women
While she was working as a reformist in the old city she got the attention of other human rights groups and NGOs. Many of them persuaded her to join them and she in fact joined many of them but was disillusioned by their outlook towards Muslim community. She says, “Majority of those groups used to work mainly on Dalits but what about those who are more depressed than Dalits, whenever there was a time to raise the voice for Muslims they showed their back. So I started observing that there was a need for a Muslim centric human rights group.”
When Gujarat 2002 occurred she along with many other Muslim human rights activists visited riot prone areas in Gujarat and spoke to many of the victims. She said “After coming back from Gujarat, I and other Muslim human rights activist had a discussion and then we started civil liberties monitoring committee in 2002, to dedicate our energy and time in resolving Muslim issues rather than relying on some other organizations.”
She was elected president of the organization and since 2002, Dr Rehana Sultana has been working tirelessly to resolve the issues of human rights violations of Muslims. She was in the forefront to criticize the state government for targeting Muslims after the Mecca Masjid blast and played an important role through her organization to get justice to the victims of the blast and police terror.
Sadly she is now having serious health problems. Her both kidneys have failed; she has to get dialysis two times a week, but still her determination to work for her community and especially its women keeps her busy. Now on the eve of Women’s Day, as a director for women’s studies in MANUU she is planning to form a separate wing of studies to educate men about the rights of their opposite sex.
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