The Weekend Leader - Never say die

A woman with many challenges in life

Partho Burman   |   New Delhi


Vol 0 | Issue 0

She describes herself as a crazy, creative, fearless and dedicated woman. Shabnam Hashmi, the 54-year old social activist lends her strong voice against injustice. Her strong messages, campaigns and garnering of support from the masses influence opinions and bills in the corridors of power and governance. She involves those in the struggles outside the purview of social, democratic and secular movements and ensures that their voices are heard.

According to her, challenges are many at different levels. One is, of course, the political challenge. “The fascist forces want to gag anybody who talks against them and of secular democracy. When you are fighting against communalism, and for communal harmony, and minority rights, there is always a section of the people, who are disturbed by the fact that you are going to get justice for some people, and so an opposition is there.”

People associated with her organization ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) have been physically attacked many times. “The kind of hate-mail received is tremendous. Even I have 10-stitches on my forehead,” says Hashmi. 

The 2002 Godhra riots made a deep impact on her psyche.  “I don’t call it Godhra riots. I call it Gujarat carnage.” Within a week of the incident, Shabnam recollects, her husband Gauhar Raza (scientist and writer) and her son accompanied her to Gujarat and were shocked.

“We dedicated our life to fight against the kind of ideology breeding hatred. I interviewed about 50 gang-raped survivors, which left a deep impact on me. They trained people to gang-rape Muslim women. Surprisingly, they are moving scot-free in the society. But now, the atrocities are happening against their own women,” laments Hashmi. 

A fighter for peace and harmony

“Officially, we have been able to send Amit Shah, Chudasma and many other IPS officers in Gujarat to jail. Things have started happening. This brings hope after a long struggle,” she says.

Justice for everyone is impossible for one organization to achieve, Hashmi confesses but, adds: “We do a very small part of what needs to be done. One of our major demands was to bring ‘Communal Violence Bill’. All our recommendations have been accepted by the National Advisory Council.” 

Who motivated her to become an activist? She says she has been working since her college days, but it was her brother’s death that motivated her to get fully involved. “I was around 21. My brother Safdar, an activist and a theatre artiste was staging a street play called ‘Halla Bol’ in Ghaziabad. It was January 1989 and the Ghaziabad municipal elections were due. He was attacked when the play was in progress. He died a day later. So I had to join my brother’s group and carry on the campaign that Safdar could not continue to. Personal grief aside, to me the responsibility was what mattered more”, she recollects. She got so involved in the community work that she didn’t get time to go back to Moscow for her studies. “It was the whole atmosphere in our house and the upbringing. If I have to name one person, then it’s my mother Qamar Azad Hashmi (now 84 years old) who has motivated me.”

Shabnam believes she has been a very good mother. Both she and her husband have given the basic values of honesty, of equality and passion for poor, to their children. “I don’t think career is important and whether you earn money or not; I think if they care for people around them, it would give me much pleasure.”

The fun-loving woman, who will be celebrating the silver Jubilee of her marriage on December 1, is fond of mountains, oceans and enjoys singing at the top of her voice. Korma, biryani and her mother’s karela (bitter gourd) recipe are some of the favourites on her menu. And yes, she is on Facebook – sending out messages about her political work!

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