Meet Sadiya Shaikh, emerging community leader from Mumbai

Sadiya Shaikh receiving the Savitri Bai-Fatima Bi Award

Nikhat Fatima|

Born in Bihar, Sadiya’s family shifted to Mumbai when she was 4 years old. Sadiya, eldest of her 5 siblings has recently been awarded with the Fatima Bi Savitri Bai Award in 2023 for her contribution to society towards education and community upliftment.

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At the age of 21, Sadiya’s tremendous efforts towards social work has won her accolades from both regional and national institutions. She is a recipient of the ‘All India Women Achievers Award 2021 organised by Twell TV and Tanishq in Karnataka’s Mysore; part of 100 inspiring women featured at the Global Women Inspiration Awards and Conclave 2021; and ‘Humanitarian Excellence Award’ by ICan Foundation and the more recent Fatima Bi Savitri Bai Award 2023.

Her journey in activism

“Savitri Bai Phule and Fatima Begum have done huge work in the field of education to be such icons. My work in comparison is just a small baby step,” says Sadiya smilingly as she recounts how she was informed of her most recent honour. One morning she got a call from an organisation named ‘kaide ne vagya’ (walk with the constitution) asking her to send her details. Much later she got to know that this organisation identifies 5 young achievers ever year who overcome stereotypes and make a difference in the society.  And thus, along with 4 others Sadiya was selected to receive the prestigious Fatima Bi Savitri Bai Award that commenced in the year 2017.

Presently working for international child rights and advocacy group,, Sadiya’s journey in activism began with the anti-CAA protests in 2019. She had a lot of friends from all faiths till the Citizenship Amendment Bill was passed. When people came out in protest against the Act, she noticed that her friends had all backed out and did not join in the protest.

“I realised we have to fight our own battles and stand up for our rights. It was then that reality hit me that I was living in a dream world,” she recalled. Thus began her journey as a social activist. She got actively involved in organising peaceful protests, supporting groups in advocacy and using her education to empower masses. “People around us have tried to  demotivate me, some even told my father not to give me so much of liberty or else I will never get good alliances for marriage,” she added. However, that didn’t deter her from pursuing her path and joining youth activists from different cities in the country to work for bigger causes.

Her first notable work across different communities was when Sadiya helped flood-affected victims in Darbhanga in 2020. This was when she had started ‘Rehnuma Welfare Foundation’ with help from her father, who runs a small leather goods manufacturing unit in Dharavi. The foundation is aimed at stopping child marriages and child labour while paving way for women empowerment from marginalised communities.

“They even mocked him, asking things like do you want your daughter to contest the elections?” but her father did not bother about any outside influence or lack of support. Instead, he accompanied her everywhere she went – conferences, protests, or workshops.

“He accompanied me to Shaheen Bagh, Karnataka and other places,” she said with pride while talking to

Community library

Sadiya hails from Darbhanga district of Deora Bandhauli village in Bihar. This is where her journey as an emerging community leader began. Looking at poverty and inaccessibility of resources, she started a community library for the children of her village called ‘Maulana Azad Library.’ This library houses Bihar School Board and NCERT books from classes I to XII which are issued free of cost to the needy children. There are other books on history, literature, social sciences, etc. that can be borrowed for reading. The children nearby are also helped with their studies at the library which is being managed by Sadiya’s cousin who is pursuing her postgraduation.

Her library has gained a lot of reputation in the surrounding villages as well. Sadiya says her dream is to equip this library with computers and internet facility so the children in the village can access these facilities as well.

The road ahead

“I will continue to work for child welfare and education with renewed energy and inspiration with support from donors, well-wishers and parents,” says a determined Sadiya. Currently pursuing her Masters in Sociology, Sadiya is the eldest among her five siblings – three sisters and a brother with progeria genetic disorder. This emboldens her to work harder and bear the family’s responsibility along with her father.

“I am humbled by these honours as they motivate me to work harder to change the lives of many young children and women from my country India,” she shares when asked about what she feels about winning such big achievements at 21. Sadiya was recently honoured with ‘Emerging Social Work Leader 2021’ at the Asia World Model United conference.

When asked about her future plans, Sadiya says that her focus besides her fulltime postgraduate degree lies on developing more community libraries in other villages and improving education of girls as they suffer the most in underprivileged backgrounds. Her key takeaway from Shaheen Bagh protests was “women can fight to retain the secular fabric of India, end communalism and defeat fascist forces.”

“Muslims, especially women should work on improving their lives at all levels especially education in which we are lagging behind,” Sadiya feels. Motivated by this, she plans on establishing a school for girls with support from funds at ‘Rehnuma Welfare Foundation’ in villages. At present, the organisation is mainly funded and managed by her sisters who are also studying. Therefore, she wants the encouragement of her supporters, donors and parents to make them proud.

Her message to aspiring women leaders is “to be politically, socially aware to raise questions where there is injustice. We should keep the interests of the nation at heart and work towards building a harmonious and peaceful environment.”