Rahima Khatun: Exemplary work in the field of Muslim women empowerment and children’s welfare in West Bengal

Changing the socio-economic status of Muslim women by mobilising them into Self-Help Groups and building their skills and capacities is the singular goal of ‘Rajya Mahila Samman 2014’ awardee

By Zaidul Haque, TwoCircles.net,

Kolkata/Howrah: Her mission is to self-help, empower and to protect the minority women, girls and children, especially in the rural society. Rahima Khatun has devoted herself for spreading awareness and upliftment of women, eliminate poverty and help tide over poor health and illiteracy. Her weapons in this fight are skill development programmes and self help groups focusing on Muslims.

Khatun, a PG degree holder from Calcutta University, works for women and children across five district of the state through her NGO ‘Nari-O-Shishu Kalyan Kendra’ (Women and Children Welfare Centre) at her native village Khaskhamar under the Bauria police station of Howrah district of West Bengal.

Rahima Khatun, Secretary of Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra  in front of the office at Khaskhamar, Howrah
Rahima Khatun, Secretary of Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra in front of the office at Khaskhamar, Howrah

Secretary of the ‘Nari-O-Shishu Kalyan Kendra’ (NOSKK), Khatun, 47, started her social work from Khaskhamar village of Howrah and later expanded it to neighboring districts of Uttar Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Dakshin Dinajpur and South 24 Parganas. The single-minded goal was towards changing the socio-economic status of Muslim women by mobilising them into Self-Help Groups and building their skills and capacities.

NOSKK’s focus areas and programmes include child welfare, education, women upliftment, women leadership training, women participation, resolving health issues, rural awareness programme, unemployment, poverty alleviation, illiteracy, and tiding over lack of basic facilities of livelihood to resolve these issues.

The long list of programmes include Zari training (hand embroidery), vocational training, computer training, counseling centre, legal cell for women, Freedom Group Napkin Centre, adolescent friendly service, English-tutoring through Skype and Micro-Finance (SHG) etc.

Rahima Khatun, Secretary of Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra in her office at Khaskhamar, Howrah
Rahima Khatun, Secretary of Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra in her office at Khaskhamar, Howrah

‘Nari-O-Shishu Kalyan Samity’ was originally founded by Khatun’s father late Muhammad Moinuddin in 1979. A popular social worker, he also ran another NGO Tajmahal Grambikash Kendra focussing on village education, roads, sanitation etc. Beside this, he had planned for development and empowerment of rural Muslim women in that area for which the goal was simple: ‘NOSKK should be controlled by women only.’

The NOSKK, which was just another small NGO, grew by leaps and bound after Khatun took over. Incidentally, among her siblings – six sisters and two brothers – only Khatun took over her father’s social work.

After initial study at Khaskhamar High Madrasa, when she passed High Madrasa Examination, she was motivated enough by her father to join his work. In 1993, Moinuddin handed over the charge of NOSKK to Khatun. After completing PG degree in History from Calcutta University, she took charge as NOSKK general secretary.

Rahima Khatun, Ms Neera Kohli and Ms Manasi at Zari Embroidery Training programme of NOSKK.
Rahima Khatun and others at Zari Embroidery Training programme of NOSKK.

She was married in 1994 into a family in neighboring village. Her husband Mohim Molla works in a private sector bank. Her husband and father-in-law encouraged her and supported her work. Mother of two children – Rohan Ahsan and Maria Ahsan – who study at Al Ameen Mission Howrah, Khatun says, it is because her children study away, she gets enough time to focus on the social work.

When Khatun started spending time for social work, she claims, the condition of women and children was pathetic. “But fortunately, through our programmes to uplift the rural women’s lifestyle, now the situation seems to have changed. Our programmes for women’s empowerment are totally run by women members only,” she says.

Sitting inside the two-storied building of NOSKK, Khatun told Twocircles.net: “Our society/Kendra has nine members and all of them are women. All the section are managed by women. Apart from these, our team has a women’s brigade with 320 social mobilisers, 240 field workers, 40 supervisor, four block co-coordinators and one project co-coordinators. All paid salary by NOSKK.”

Awareness programme of Adolescent girls at  Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra.
Awareness programme for adolescent girls at Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra.

The area’s social indicators have pointed that micro-finance is more useful for poor Muslim women, she says and adds, NOSKK runs a ‘Sanitary Napkins Making Centre’ on the first floor of its office. Other than free distribution to adolescent girls, these are also supplied to the local market at a very low cost thus earning enough money that is used for development of the society/Kendra further.

“I am now focusing on Zari (hand embroidery) workers. Basically, rural area Howrah district is engaged in Zari works and majority among them are women. Recently, we held a workshop with the collaboration of a Delhi-based organisation for marketing directly through Internet. They have promised marketing of zari production by NOSKK,” Khatun informs enthusiastically.

Beside developmental activities for women, the ladies are also active on social mobilisation support for
polio eradication, routine immunisation and ‘Behaviour Change Communication’ for the community empowerment. With the support of UNICEF, they installed Polio Kiosk. After getting an appeal from District Magistrate and the state Waqf Board, these woman also arranged announcement of polio advocacy in 200 mosque receiving good response.

Women workers in Sanitary Napkin production Centre of  Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra.
Women workers at the Sanitary Napkin production centre of Nari-O-Sishu Kalyan Kendra.

Rahima is also a member of Child Welfare Committee of Howrah district. For her outstanding selfless work for the empowerment of women at the grass root level, the Ministry of Women and Child Development of the Government of India awarded her the ‘Rajya Mahila Samman’ for the year 2014 on the International Women Day on March 8 this year. This is a state-level award given by government of India but through the state government.

Earlier, she has received the ‘Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Prize 2011’ from West Bengal Board of Madrasa Education on November 11, 2011. She has attended several international seminars and conferences and also participated in the ‘Fourth World Women’s Conference’ held in 1995 at Bejing, China. In 1996, she attended the ‘Firth Asian Development Forum’ conference at Bankok; a symposium on ‘Pakistan-India Local Government’ held in July 2007 at Lahore, Pakistan and also participated in seminars regarding women and children development in Bangladesh, Sweden apart from metros in India.

A study report ‘Changing Status of Muslim Women in Panchayats of West Bengal’ in 2007-2008 shocked her. The report showed the backwardness of Muslim women, especially from select districts, all Muslim dominated, of West Bengal. Khatun had given a proposal to the Ministry of Panchayati Raj in 2008 and got the opportunity to conduct the survey/study vis-à-vis changing the socio-economic status in four Muslim dominated district Murshidabad, Nadia, Uttar Dinajpur and Howrah. “Sachar Committee report has already brought into sharp focus the realities of Muslim women’s lives which also gets reflected in this document. The then minister – Mani Shankar Aiyar – too appreciated our report and bore all the cost through the ministry.”

Annual Meeting of NOSKK
Annual Meeting of NOSKK.

But that study’s findings made her think about how to work for changing the scenario. “Here we find Muslim girls are enrolled in school in more numbers than boys. So we increased the activities towards development of Muslim women,” she adds.

Keeping all those issues in consideration, the NOSKK now engages in ‘Poorest Area Civil Society Programme (PACS)’ of the government. NOSKK activities include Social Mobilization support for Pulse Polio and Routine, Immunization; Skill Up-gradation Training programme on Zari Embroidery; Crèche to provide support to working mothers; Community Computer Centre (recognized by State Council of Technical Education, Government of West Bengal), Women Empowerment programmes through Self Help Groups (SHGs); Adolescent Friendly Services; Sanitary Napkin Production unit and Empowering Young Muslim Women through Spoken English etc.

Rahima Khatun taking award of `Rajya Mahila Samman-2014' from Shashi Panja, Minister of State department of Women and Child Development of Government of West Bengal.
Rahima Khatun receiving the `Rajya Mahila Samman 2014′ award from Shashi Panja, Minister of State department of Women and Child Development of Government of West Bengal.

Saira Begum, 60, a founder member and vice president of NOSKK, told TCN at its office: “We are happy to get a real woman activist in our society. She will reache highest milestones in future.”

She may be contacted at +91-9830646876 or email: nskk1979@gmail.com / msrahima@rediffmail.com , Website: www.noskk.org


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