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HVK Archives: Muslim_girls_break_out_of_=27cloistered_homemak? er=27__mould=2C_take_to_classroom?Date: Wed, 6 Jan

Muslim_girls_break_out_of_=27cloistered_homemak? er=27__mould=2C_take_to_classroom?Date: Wed, 6 Jan - The Times of India

Shahnam Minwalla ()
January 3, 1999

Title: Muslim girls break out of 'cloistered homemaker' mould, take to classroom
Author: Shahnam Minwalla
Publication: The Times of India
Date: January 3, 1999

The purdah may still be firmly in place. But behind the black
veil, a silent revolution is gaining momentum.

Over the last few years, Muslim women-often considered the most
backward and suppressed group in the city-have begun to claim
their rightful place in the classroom. Determined to break out
of the 'cloistered homemaker' mould, they are suddenly working
towards MAs, MBBSs and degrees in engineering. So distinct is
this trend that educationists have begun to hail it as "a real

"We are witnessing a new wave," says Dr Ishaq Jamkhanawala,
president of the Anjuman-i- Islam, which runs numerous
educational institutes. Concurs Uzma Naheed, head of the
women's department of the Saboo Siddik Polytechnic, "Our girls
are moving far ahead, even compared to our boys."

Until 10 years ago, Muslim girls from the middle and lower-
middle classes were, typically, placed in Urdu medium schools
and then yanked out after standard 7. "Marriage was considered
all-important, so there seemed no reason for girls to be
educated," says Irfan Merchant of the Rahat Welfare Trust which
provides educational aid to children in the community. Adds
Farida Lambay of Nirmala Niketan's College of Social Work,

"As in most low-income groups, the girls' education took a back-
seat. Barring exceptions like the Bohras and Khojas, Muslim
women have rarely had access to education."

The riots of 1992-'93 proved to be the turning point, however.
"For the first time, Muslim women from the chawls and slums came
forward," recalls Ms Lambay. "The crisis demonstrated the need
to shatter stereotypes and shape a better future for their

Social-workers-understanding that riot-relief involved more than
the distribution of chatais and buckets-stepped in to meet this
sudden thirst.

"Hampered by a lack of education, these women found it
impossible to even apply for a ration card or compensation,"
recalls Ms Naheed, who initiated a job-oriented training
programme for Muslim women.

Today, the women's department at the Saboo Siddik Polytechnic
trains over 450 women in vocational subjects like journalism and
textile designing - a far cry from the mandatory mehendi classes
that the accomplished young Muslim women attended until a few
years ago. "Even girls from extremely orthodox families have
enrolled with us," says Ms Naheed, adding that very often the
impetus comes from parents. "The walls are gradually coming

Most Muslim-run educational institutions are feeling the
reverberations. More and more girls are being enrolled in
English-medium schools. Women today comprise over 70 per cent
of Muslim students in Anjuman-i-Islam's medical college. And
they seem set to storm even traditional male bastions like

"This year, about 20 girls have enrolled for a degree programme
and another 75 for a diploma in our engineering college," says
Mr Jamkhanawala, pointing out that about six years ago the
figures were close to zero.

While professional education is witnessing a steady trickle of
Muslim women, degree colleges are experiencing a definite flood.
Of the 900 Muslim students in the Royal College of Arts.
Science and Commerce at Mira Road, for example, a hefty 700 are
girls. "When we first started about 10 years ago, there were
almost none," says Zainab Valikarimwala, registrar of the

Strangely, however, there is no corresponding trend among Muslim
males. "Muslim boys are more interested in business than in
jobs," says Ms Valikarimwala. "The few who do enrol with us
tend to drop out after HSC. The girls, on the other hand,
complete their BAs and are now going in for MAs and professional

Nowhere is this discrepancy more apparent than in the family of
Saira Ghulam Hussain. The 23-year-old resident of a Jogeshwari
chawl made news when she topped Mumbai University in the B.A.
exam this year. While Saira's three brothers opted out of the
educational system after SSC-to become electricians. drivers and
machine operators - his three sisters are determined to win
academic laurels.

"We want to safeguard our future before thinking of marriage,"
says Saira, who gives tuitions to 15 children in order to
finance her M.A. "I hope to become a college lecturer."

Adds her neighbour Ruksana Sheikh, who is studying Physical
Therapy, "In today's world, we are nothing without education."

But why haven't Saira's and Ruksana's brothers arrived at the
same conclusion? A tremendous pressure to contribute to the
household income seems to be coupled with a palpable lack of
interest in education. "Even the few boys who are studying lack
clear goals," says Byculla-resident Sabiha Sheikh who, after
completing her D.Ed, is now doing her B.A. Scoffs 13-year-old
Fehmida, who lives in Dharavi, "The boys spend all their time
roaming around the gullies and playing cricket."

The outcome of this imbalance is becoming apparent. "My B.A.
students always complain that it is difficult to find qualified
husbands," says Ms Valikarimwala. Concurs Sabiha Sheikh, "There
is a big difference in outlook between a graduate girl and an
SSC boy."

Despite these distortions, however, educationists are jubilant
about the growing tribe of qualified Muslim women. "If you
educate a boy, you educate an individual," says Mr Merchant,
whose trust has helped numerous young girls become doctors and
computer programmers.

"If you educate a girl, you educate a family. If this trend
continues for another 10 years, I truly believe that our
community will undergo a dramatic transformation."

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