Kargil, May 1: Smriti Irani, a famous face fighting the current Lok Sabha elections from Amethi, has hogged the limelight for challenging Rahul Gandhi, considered to be the undisputed winner from this constituency.
Priyanka Gandhi is in the news virtually every day for challenging the Prime Ministerial candidate of the opposition party. Mamta Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, takes up the task of fighting the Election Commission alone.
Jayalalithaa, Sushma Swaraj, Brinda Karat, Shazia Ilmi, Uma Bharti, Mayawati… the list is long and impressive.
Added to these famous names are numerous other women political leaders across the country who have made it large in a field dominated by male leaders. They have fought at a level where their struggle was supported by the public and the media. Thousands of miles away from the metropolitans, a silent struggle has been on for several years now, fighting societal norms that are even more patriarchal, and more rigid. This struggle demands no limelight but the support of its own people.
Two hundred and thirteen kilometers from Srinagar – the summer capital of the northernmost Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – lies Kargil, the snow desert of Ladakh. Otherwise invisible from the media glare, Kargil has suddenly popped up on the media scene during the ongoing Lok Sabha elections and is, of course, likely to vanish as predictably soon after the elections.
In this hinterland, politics and patriarchy have always been partners and blatantly biased against equal rights for women. Defying all norms, fifty-one year old Hajia Marzia is among those women pioneers who have pulled their weight in the challenge of governance. Hailing from the small hamlet of Tumail, twenty five kilometers from Kargil town, this zealous woman ventured to step out of her secure domestic domain into the world of politics.
Out there, in the region made famous by the war of 1999 and precious else, women were scarcely seen in political bodies like Panchayats and other local political organizations, until the recently mandated reservations gave women space in Panchayat elections. Viewing it as an opportunity, Hajia nominated herself in the 2002 Panchayat Elections from Tumail Colony. But the unsupportive environment and harsh verbal accusations compelled her to pull out from the proceedings.
Her hopes received a new direction in 2003, when the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council elections were introduced in Kargil. The Hill Council, as it is commonly referred to, is a thirty-Councilor team. Twenty six Councilors are directly elected from the respective constituencies; four Councilors are nominated from the Principal Minority and Women.
The objective of the Hill Council is to record punctual surveillance of the development work by ensuring transparency and accountability in the district administration. Work plans are made at the grass root level, taking the Councilors, Panches and Sarpanches into confidence and are further reviewed at the Block Headquarters in the presence of the Chief Executive Councilor and Executive Councilors. The model of the Hill Council was first adapted in Leh District in 1995 on the pattern of Darjeeling Hill Development Council. Later in 2003, Kargil District was brought in the realm of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council for the border development of the people of the area. Hazia couldn’t resist herself from taking the chance to become a member of this newly formed Council as she knew this was her chance to bring change in society.
“It is only when you have political power that no one questions your ability to make society a better place to live,” she believes. Yet, her struggle continued, for she was constantly targeted for reasons which had no rational roots and judgment.
The two setbacks did not deter Hajia who, after spending several years in Iran, was distressed on her return to India to see that there was only one Primary School in her village, and that too in a dilapidated state. To contribute her bit for the betterment of society, she converted the ground floor of her house into a Primary School where she taught for almost seventeen years.
This was not all. She wanted to involve her community in this initiative too. She tried to convince villagers to donate an unoccupied piece of community land to build a proper Primary School. Despite her continuous struggle, she couldn’t convince the local authorities or the villagers to help her in this noble task. “La Ilmi (Lack of knowledge) – it was because of lack of knowledge that people failed to understand the importance of a school and education,” she reflects.
It was during the Second General Election of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Kargil in November 2008 that her efforts finally paid off and she became the proud first woman member in the history of the Council.
“Everybody has the right to participate in politics and make judicious use of one’s legal authority. I have never believed in materialism. I have always led my life on the tenets of social work and bringing progress in the community,” shares a determined Hajia, with a defined measure of strength and vigor in her voice.
Having worked for over four years as a Council Member, Hajia makes sure she remains true to her values while in power. “One should never take for granted one’s caliber and position. I respect my duty and try to justify it not only as an officer but also as a conscientious citizen,” Hajia affirms. Several water channels, concrete footpaths, computer laboratories in multiple schools, job opportunities to women and monetary aid have been allotted to numerous women Self Help Groups during her tenure. “Every girl has a right to come out to the field and work with decency and modesty and become exemplary citizens”, avows Hajia.
Hussain, a local, states, “She is one strong woman we have ever seen. She doesn’t hesitate to voice her opinion, especially when in minority among the men in the office. She feels strongly for the society’s betterment. Nobody prefers to argue with her especially when they know that she is standing for the right cause and has the ability to get the work done in time.”
Even though she isn’t an active member of any political body at present she voluntarily provides help and support to people in need, especially women and children. She also helps her sister in her business of selling clothes and other traditional accessories, like woolen gloves, socks and mufflers.
Already an inspiration for young Kargili girls, Hajia has refuted many men and also women who are made to internalize the very false assertion that women have only limited roles to play, i.e., to cater to their families and household errands. The Charkha Development Communication network feels that she has proved that women can rub shoulders with men in every walk of life and can be far more proficient than their male counterparts. What she has achieved for Kargil Society is far more commendable than what today’s leading political figures are claiming publicly for their position and fame. By Azra Khatoon (ANI)