In the lanes of Batla House, a mission to empower women

By Sadia Suhail for Twocircles.net

New Delhi: The narrow, dingy lanes of Batla House in Delhi may not look the most appealing for a walk. But for hundreds of women, the maze created by these lanes unravels at a small house, otherwise known as the office of Shikhar Organisation for Social Development (SOSD). Since 2001, Shikhar, founded by Nadeem Akhtar (CEO), has been working to empower the vulnerable sections of the society by cultivating skills in them through vocational training, educational programmes, computer training, health camps, safety camps, etc.

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The organisation also aims to ensure that women no longer on information fed to them; rather it works on helping them develop, and understand, the sense and importance of independent decision making. Currently, the NGO caters to almost 300 women (predominantly dropouts) from class 9 to 12, 850 computer trainees and 250-300 women in the tailoring sector.

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Akhtar, who was previously working with Maruti Suzuki India believes that the team of helpful and understanding colleagues. “Nothing can be achieved if you do not have a good team and it is the collaborative effort of my team mates whose expertise has been utilised for betterment of society” said Nadeem Akhtar. The team of SOSD includes Aditya Ghidyal (Vice President), R.K Suri (senior advisor), Priyanka Dhawan (treasurer), Puranchan Pandey (Executuve director UN Global Compact Network) to name a few. Indian cricket player Virender Sehwag is the longest and constant promoter of Shikhar.

The reason for its location in the lanes of Batla House are pretty clear: it endeavours to channelise the workforce of women (predominantly Muslim) who are coming out of their homes and conservative backgrounds to empower themselves by acquiring skill and expertise through various courses by paying a very nominal fee. The skill-development courses are divided on a six-month or a year-long basis.

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A conversation with the trainees shows that despite facing discrimination on account of their gender and religion, they are not ready to give up. Take the examples of Tanzil (32), who is doing her graduation from a private college, Zareena (48), who is a homemaker, and Saba (18), who is an intermediate student. The three believe that they don’t just want to learn skills; they aspire to open up their boutiques, parlours and schools respectively. At the same time, they are aware of the conditions all of them face at home and the conservative attitude of their respective families, but this has not held them back from aspiring high. Another trainee at Shikhar said, “Hamare ammi abbu yahan aane dete hain kyuki yaha sirf ladkiyan aati hain or kaam seekhti hain, magar kahin aur jaake job karne ki ijaazat nahi milegi. Haan, agar mauka mile to zaroor karungi.” (I come here because my parents allow me to come here since it is an all girls centre. My parents will not allow me to work outside home. If given an opportunity, I’d love to work outside.)

SOSD, which is backed by funds from individuals, various corporate sponsorships (Adobe, SAP, Maruti Suzuki, Omaxe, etc), government projects and corporations (Power grid Corporation of India), and the Delhi social welfare board, has been heading in the right direction, says Akhtar. He added that the volume of projects that SOSD has taken up in such a short span of time is a testament of its achievements.

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Akhtar is of the opinion that NGOs which function nowadays in a self benefitting manner is an evil that needs to be eliminated because the basic tenet of an NGO is social service which is attributed to selflessness.

However, it has not been all smooth sailing for the Akhtar and his team. Training Muslim women poses a great challenge, especially in cases where the parents of girls are highly sceptical of sending their daughters out to work. Reasons like safety issues and conservative attitude play a significant role. Also, the lack of infrastructure and space to turn it into a full-fledged institute, electricity issues, coeducation are other set of problems that need to be dealt with.

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Nadeem Akhtar believes that SOSD has a long way to go. He wants to see the organisation have a pan-India presence, with the All India Women Empowerment Centre in the next 10 years with efficient infrastructure, employment generation and working on a self sustained model.

(Author is a student studying at A.J.K. Mass Communication Research Centre)

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