How a Muslim Woman in a Small Town in India Is Redifining the Notion of ‘Bad Women’ in Our Society

In a society where women have been suppressed and discriminated against for ages, there is one courageous voice that is helping many in breaking the shackles of patriarchy. Meet Rehana, a woman from an orthodox family in Uttar Pradesh, who is successfully fighting for the rights of women with her laudable organization.

Liberal women are stereotyped as ‘bad women’ in our society. Women who work outside their houses, who resist domestic violence, who demand divorce, who wear jeans and western dresses, who talk to other men, who don’t want to wear a ghunghat, dupatta or burqa, and those who marry by their own choice, are considered to be bad women – particularly in small towns.

Rehana is a Muslim woman from an orthodox family in the small town of Purkazi, located in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh. And she took up the challenge to redefine this notion of bad women.

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Rehana interacting with the community

She pledged to bring about positive changes in her town. Muzaffarnagar is known for its caste based panchayats with regressive approach towards women. Rehana mustered the courage to rais her voice against domestic violence, said no to burqa and decided to change perceptions about the second gender in a patriarchal society.

While on one hand duppatas are said to be the honour of women, the same duppatas are used to shut their mouths in cases of domestic violence and marital rapes. Many a times, this ‘honour’ is even used to hang women. Raising awareness is therefore the only ray of hope to bring about some change in this jungle raj.

Thus Rehana began her work by talking to women about their problems and discussing patriarchy and feudal mindsets, which influence and control our beliefs and perpetuate different practices that oppress women.

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Gradually, she empowered women to raise their voices against various patriarchal practices and began to redefine the idea of ‘bad women’.

She told the women of Purkazi – “you do not need to go far from your homes and do something in the village. Start challenging the orthodox customs at your homes”.

Rehana’s aim is to increase the importance of women’s work at the domestic level, because many women work at their homes but do not get any reclamation. She is enlightening women about the importance of domestic work to build their confidence and is also challenging the inequalities that exist between girls and boys within families. She is creating awareness and providing support to dropout girls as well.

The toughest job for her is to challenge the caste panchayats that garner immense political support. But she has raised her voice against the Khap Panchayats and the different fatwas by ulemas such as bans on jeans for girls and the use of contraceptives by women, which were declared as haraam.

Rehana campaigns along with other women, all of whom are members of Astitva – the organization that she set up for the emancipation of women.

Addressing a rally on Women's Day

Addressing a rally on Women’s Day

According to her, dialogue is a strong and effective means to address and solve any problem. That is the reason why she uses street plays and door to door awareness programmes to mobilize the community to fight against those customs that suppress women. Of these, the Sharab Andolan (a movement to close alcohol shops) is prominent. As a part of Sharab Andolan, hundreds of women came out to protest against the alcohol shops, seeking for their closure, as the consumption of alcohol by men was affecting their lives the most. She also aims to increase the participation of women in political processes at the village level. For this, she is providing the required information and support to women, especially from the minority and weaker sections of the society.

Rehana believes that violence can be stopped and that the community is the primary agency for this – “through mobilization of women and men, we can bring an end to violence against women” she says. Many women with similar experiences of domestic violence work with Rehana at Astitva. Their self-belongingness here, which assures to secure their identities, is the essence of Astitva. It has motivated and brought together many distressed women in their fight against violence and oppression. This unique group of ‘bad women’ is gradually changing the notion of ‘bad women’ in Purkazi.

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About the author: Rajat Kumar is presently working at the grassroots level in Rajasthan. He is an enthusiast learner and believes in small changes for the betterment of society.

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