Despite fatwa issued against her for contesting election, Manipur's first Muslim woman candidate Najima Bibi said that she wants to continue her fight against domestic violence and work for uplift of Muslim women.
"I am not bothered about my life, but as long as I live I will continue my fight against domestic violence and in favour of social uplift of the Muslim women in the society. My life has been a struggle since childhood, I am not afraid of any threats," Najima Bibi told PTI.
Najima is a candidate of PRJA party of Irom Sharmila and is contesting from Wabgai constituency.
Najima said that she was attracted by Irom Sharmila’s 16 year old fast against Armed Forces Special Powers Acts and when she formed a political outfit, she decided to join her.
"Irom’s fight has always fascinated and inspired me. Her relentless fight against all odds is an example of how strong a Manipuri woman can be. So when she decided to join politics I decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with her.
"If I become an MLA, I have policies and vision for education, women's issues, against AFSPA, for small scale employment generation and so many other things, which I want to use to help the society we live in," Najima said.
But her decision to join politics and contest elections has kicked off a storm as she’s facing fatwa in her home constituency of Wabagai and religious leaders in Santhel Mamang Leikai, have publicly announced that Najima Bibi will be given no "kabar" or burial ground after her death. The people of the village are even discouraged to talk to her because of her political involvement.
"What is do in my lifetime is important, If I am able to work for the uplift of woman in my society, it would give me more peace. What will I do by knowing what is being done to me after my death," she said.
Najima said there are certain section of people with orthodox mentality who have always come in her way of work.
"When I used to travel on cycle to the meetings, people used to make fun of me. So when they made fun of me, I instead got encouraged. There is something special in what I am doing, which they can’t handle, that is why they are making fun of me", she added.
Najima’s journey has been relentless. She fought odds at every step and today she is the first ever Muslim woman to contest the assembly elections in Manipur. From being the only girl in her class and the first girl in the family to complete her 10th standard amidst the taunts and harassment in the school, she has come a long way.
Najima was forced to get married as soon as she completed her class X. But she ran away from home and married a man she had only met twice and that turned out to be a disaster. Her husband was abusive and she walked out of the marriage in six months.
After her divorce, she realised the importance of self-reliance and economic independence for women. She initiated a programme for the local women, called 'cheng marup', a rice thrift fund.
"Everyday the women in the group would take out one handful of rice from the quantity to be cooked in their homes. These were collected and kept in my house, and twice a month, whoever’s turn came, she would get the entire rice and she would sell it to earn some money. It was looked with suspicion by the Leikai people, as I was divorced and our saving was considered as theft, but we were determined to keep it running," she said.
Najima, who is in her forties, has been actively involved in helping women and advocating about women's’ rights but it was an workshop on gender equality in 2001 that proved to be a turning point in her life.
"I decided to help everyone and anyone possible and wanted to ensure that women don’t face harassment, abandonment and violence," she said.
Najima currently runs a shelter home for destitute women.
"But in 2006, religious leaders issued fatwa against me and I was socially abandoned in the village. I was not allowed to take water from the community pond, not allowed to buy anything from village shops. So I am not used to it. It really don’t make a difference. My only aim in life is work for the social empowerment of woman so that they don’t face abuse," she said.
Najima is pitted against five other candidates in his constituency including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Najima is riding on her cycle everyday to meet people and campaign in her constituency.
"Whether I win or lose, I will continue my work and no one can stop me from doing that," she said.
Photograph: Najima Bibi/Facebook