Extraordinary stories of ordinary women

TCN Special Series: Part 1 on Nazma Phumdreimeiyum

By Anjuman Ara Begum, TwoCircles.net,

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Nazma Phumdreimeiyum is the founder of Organisation for Development (OFD), a group working on the issues of violence against women and women empowerment in Santhal Namung Leikai, Thoubal district of Manipur. She has been working on women’s rights since 2001 and this passion became her profession in 2003. Nazma, a courageous and outspoken lady, shares the challenges she faces everyday for her work.

What are you interests?
I am interested to work on the issues of violence against women, child rights. The economic development of women and proper education for children are my main focus. I started dealing with the cases of domestic violence directly since 2003.

What kinds of cases you deal with?
Different kinds of issues come in from time to time. Mostly, cases of survivors of sexual assault, dowry, and domestic violence come in.

You are working for a long time on this issue. What are the challenges you are facing both personally and professionally?
For me working on the issues of women is challenging both personally and professionally. The mindset of Muslim community in Thoubal district is very conservative and religious fanatics imposed dictum on women often and controls women’s social behavior. When I started working people looked at me differently as someone who has challenged the society and branded my work as something against the society and order. My perspective didn’t match with the so called elites and leaders of the society. They also presumed that I am earning money through elicit means. I was branded as someone who doesn’t respect her husband or obey his ‘commands’ which is considered as duty for the women in my society. The local religious community, the Maulavis thought that I will become more popular than them and they saw my work and prosperity in the professional field as a challenge. They started imposing dictum on me. They said that when I take up cases since I am a woman I should talk to man in the courtyard or meet police in the police station or lawyers in their chambers. They said that my work will destroy the society and its norms.

How did you face these challenges?
Maulavis mobilized villagers and had meeting to boycott me and throw away me from the village or at least impose restriction on my mobility. In 2007, I formed a Self Help Group (SHG) to help women to stand at their feet. The SHG started making detergent powders, pickles, soap etc. and we were doing well. Maulavis instigated the villagers against me arguing that my work in anti Islamic and I take interests. I was asked to resign from the SHG and also asked the husbands of other SHG members to force their wives to resign from the group. I was afraid as if there is no member would mean automatic closure of the group. Then we decided to have meeting every Friday and discussed among ourselves. We struggled for three months. I had to complain to police too. Police helped me. Police informed the miscreants that they will send police commandos if I am bothered further. I was afraid of repercussions. I decided to know if Islam permits women to work or not. If Islam permits then I will work, otherwise I will stop working altogether. I did this as my mobility was criticized and restricted. It became problematic for me to do small things like buying something for the shop or fetching water. I complained to police as it was unbearable to me. I also consulted some good NGOs that extended solidarity with me. These are All Manipur Students Union, United Manipur Muslim Women Development Organisation etc. The Maulavis made false allegations against me and collected signature from the villagers. I protested and asked them to remove the false words. They also called a meeting in the mosque and caused spilt in the community over my issue. All Manipur Jamiat e Ulema, a religious body in Manipur was informed about these developments and called me and the Maulavis for a hearing. I attended and the Maulavis too attended the hearing. I informed the Ulema that the SHG is for women’s financial independence and not for earning interests. I produced all the documents in my support. The Ulema personnels rebuked the Maulavis and asked them not to disturb me in future for my work. The hearing continued for four hours. I was allowed to continue my work. The conflict was clear and a declaration was done that women can work. Right now I have no problem but the Maulavis fear that I may become a big leader in future.

Do you work only for your community or for others too?
Right now my work is not confined only to my community but I work for all.

What type of work are you concentrating now?
I constructed a shelter home for female survivors of violence. I took donations from various sources and also accepted rice as donation. I have a three room shelter home with basic amenities.

How do you manage the shelter home?
It’s again very challenging as I don’t have continuous source of funding. Earlier I got support from Centre for Social Development but it stopped now. I managed with my own savings. People also give food and other help. Sometime I do counseling for victims and if the victim is rich I get some money. I use such earning to recharge my cell phone. I am also getting help from Integrated Rural Social Development Organisation (IRDSO), a NGO. My children are growing up and I need to think seriously now. My SHG group too now started silk warm rearing. Hope this will help with some money. Also few men are supporting our SHG.

What about your family? Do they cooperate with you in your work?
My husband Ayub Khan is a cultivator and a small trader of fish. I have two sons and three daughters. My parents help me a lot. My brothers are doctors and lawyers. They support me both morally and financially. In 2007, my husband use to beat me a lot because of my work. My family too confronted with my husband. He didn’t allow me to travel to other states to attend workshop. Once he took money from the organizers for my participation in a conference in Mizoram. I challenged my husband. Now he has changed a lot and supports me. My children are young and studying in schools.

(Nazma Phumdreimeiyum is reachable at Organisation for Development, Santhal Namang Leikai, Thoubal district, Manipur, India. Phone: +91-9856326838)

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