Articles

Mijwan Welfare Society - Shabana Azmi

KOI TO SOOD CHUKAYE KOI TO ZIMMA LEY
US INQUILAB KA JO AAJ TAK UDHAAR SA HAI
- Kaifi Azmi

Shabana Azmi

Lines from a poem written by my father, the noted Urdu poet, late Kaifi Azmi continue to strike an emotional chord in my heart and inspire me to work with renewed strength for the marginalised sections of our society. Mijwan Welfare Society (MWS) is an NGO founded by my father in 1993 that works for the empowerment of villagers in a small village, Mijwan in Azamgarh UP where he was born. My father believed that India's remarkable economic progress can only be meaningful if it reaches out to rural India, where 80 percent of the population lives but is denied access to opportunity.

After he passed away on 10th May 2002, I have, along with my godchild Namrata Goyal, taken on the task of carrying my father's dream forward by steering MWS which runs:

  1. Kaifi Azmi High School for girls
  2. Kaifi Azmi Inter College for girls
  3. Kaifi Azmi Computer Training Center
  4. Kaifi Azmi Sewing and Tailoring Center

Kaifi Azmi was a rare poet who practised what he preached. After getting a paralytic stroke which rendered his left leg and left arm incapacitated, he gave up the comforts of Mumbai and settled in Mijwan, a village frozen in time.

WOH MERA GAON HAI
WOH MERE GAON KE CHOOLHE
KE JINMEIN SHOLAY TO SHOLAY. DHUAN NAHIN MILTA...

He wrote in anguish. Today Mijwan is a model village. But it was a long and ardous journey filled with obstacles and he had to face many a hurdle from vested interests. Once when I asked him. ' Abba don't you get frustrated when change doesn't occur at the pace you want it to ?' he answered with equanimity, 'bete when you are working for change, you should build into that expectation the possibility that the change might not happen in your lifetime. But you must have the conviction that if you carry on working with dedication then the change is bound to occur - even if it happens after you'. His prophetic words have become my mantra in the work that I do with the weak and the dispossessed........

When Kaifi Saheb embarked on the journey alone Mijwan did not even figure on the map of India. Today Mijwan is known all over the world. Girls from the Kaifi Azmi Inter College recently won the first prize for cultural activity at a National Youth Competition in Jaipur. This was a play they had written themselves against dowry. It was the first time they travelled out of their little village and met other young people their age from all over India.

I was thrilled with their response as they went up on stage to receive their award. One of them said "this award empowers us to hold our head up high and stand up against years of tradition to tell our parents say No to Child Marriage. We will not get married before 18 years of age because it is illegal and because we have many other dreams." This was the process of transformation my father had dreamed about.

Girls from Mijwan used to be married off as early as twelve years of age! It was commonplace to see them in school with the trademark sindoor in their hair. Today these girls have different aspirations. One wants to be an engineer, one wants to be a nurse another wants to start a business and one even wants to be a super model! It reinstates my belief that to break the shackles of debiltating tradition we need to give our girls equal opportunity through gender just and quality education. Access to micro credit and health care further create an enabling environment that can empower rural India.

MAIN AKELA HI CHALA THA JAANIBE MANZIL MAGAR
LOG SAATH AATE GAYE
AUR KARVAAN BANTA GAYA

When one works selflessly as Kaifi Saheb did, and the results are there for all to see, people join in and the caravan becomes bigger. When 21 year old Namrata Goyal became the Youth President of MWS, she brought fresh energy and a new perspective. She got her young friends involved and went all out to ask my colleagues from the Film Industry to lend their support.

I cherish the help I've received from my colleagues in the Fashion and Film Fraternity for which I will always remain indebted. Manish Malhotra has gone a step further. He has not only designed the clothes for the fashion show, 'Mijwan Sonnets in Fabric 2011' as a fund raiser for Mijwan Welfare Society, he has also adopted Mijwan for a whole year.

It is heartening that the craftsmanship skills of Mijwan, are being recognised the world over. Their work goes to Mumbai Lucknow and USA. Anita Dongre has been working with them for the past year and now Manish...

If we guarantee employment in our villages, people will not need to come to the city in search of work where they are forced to live in demeaning slums...its time we, the people who live in cities see the connection..