An interview with Sitara Begum — a shining star for Muslim women in Manipur

By Anjuman Ara Begum,,

Sitara Begum hails from Porompat area in Imphal, Manipur. A renowned social activist in the state and presently head of the NGO United Manipur Muslim Women Development Organisation. Begum did B.A. in 1980 at the age of 26 and became the second female graduate among Muslims in Manipur. Her contribution to the uplift of Manipuri Muslim women is astounding. Her own life is a piece of inspiration for thousands of Muslim women in the state who were denied basic rights in the name of religion. In an interview with Anjuman Ara Begum of, Sitara Begum talked about her life and work.

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Tell me about your family

My father was Late Abdul Wahab and mother Late Sona Hambi. We were 10 siblings – 7 brothers and 3 sisters. I am 6th child of my parent. I am married and have four children – two daughters and two sons.

How did you start working for the society?

I used to take all kids of my area to school when I was only 6 years old. Villagers liked me a lot for this. I was famous. I was born in 1961. I was only 14-years-old when I got married. At that time I had just passed class 10th. I had no knowledge and my level of understanding was very low. I had given birth to five children when I turned 20. Then one day I became nearly hysterical thinking that I need to do something. I cannot live a life like this. I went to the doctor and did sterilization. I took admission in class 11th and completed my B.A. in 1980 at the age of 26. I became the second female graduate among Muslims in Manipur. I was the first woman to sing song in radio. In school I had a group of 10 girls and we were very active though there were restrictions from the family and community. I loved reading books.


I helped about 300 women to sterilization. I opened a school at my own house and started to educate adult females of my community.

Did you face resistance for such work?

Yes. People laughed at me as I was teaching housewives and elderly women. People made fun of me. But it did not stop me. Now I want that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme should start in my area. I went to CM’s office and got the order yesterday (October 3, 2009).

Were your students happy?

Yes. They were very happy. Many women could count their money and read letters and newspapers.

How long you taught like this?

This school continued for 6 months. Then I established an organization called United Manipur Muslim Women Development Organisation. I don’t get fund for my organization. I never run after funds. I want to empower women of all communities. Today people recognize me as a Muslim woman from Manipur. People recognize me and my contribution. I have traveled all over India and talked about my community. People from all over the world came and visited my hut and talked to me. This is my satisfaction. There is power in unity and fun in working together. I want to see all our communities get united.

What is the main work of your organization?

We are giving vocational training in tailoring and other similar works. After training they go back and work in their localities. We run schools for housewives. Also, we conduct awareness campaigns on domestic violence and violence against women in general.

What is the population of your area?

About 30 thousand people live in Porompat area. Muslims, Nagas, Meitei all are here.

What is the main occupation of the people here?

Mainly agriculture, many others are daily wagers.

What about the education level?

It’s very low. Very few graduates are here. And educated women are very less. Only 7 women are graduates here.

What do you think about the Muslim insurgency in Manipur?

In 1993, a fight between Meitei Muslims and Meiteis took place and unfortunately, I think, that gave birth to Muslim insurgency. And later we came to know that some Muslims groups are active here. Situation is quite tense here. Everyday newspapers are flooded with the news of killings. Peoples are afraid to come out. Many people don’t have TV. So they don’t know what’s happening outside. We conduct door to door awareness campaign for women to be aware of the existing situation.

What is the solution to insurgency here?

I don’t believe that killing will solve the problem. We need to have peace dialogue. We need to stop fake encounter killings. The struggle will go on.

What about the fear level in people’s mind?

We don’t go out after 7 pm. There is wide spread extortion. People are afraid to come out.

How do you view Manipur in 10 years now?

I think in ten years from now, the problem of insurgency will be solved. Otherwise there will be civil war.

(Sitara Begum can be contacted on 09856116315 or at her home in Hafiz Hatta, Minuthong, Imphal)