I was born in 1983 with a form of disability known as Scoliosis (a severe curvature of the spine) and Polio too. Due to these life threatening diseases, I had to undergo several surgeries. I wanted to become a doctor to serve the needy patients but as luck would have it, ended up pursuing engineering. Even though I lost a couple of academic years because of surgeries, I never allowed it to affect my morale. I started my professional journey as a technician at IHBAS, Delhi (a neuro hospital) while also doing an M. Tech in the evening. Later, I joined as an engineer at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore.
I slowly became involved in disability rights activism and also started blogging. In 2011, my life changed and I was totally bedridden and struggling for survival. At that time, I pledged to myself that if I survived, I’d dedicate a part of my life to helping the needy.
One day a Muslim girl from my neighbourhood entered my home. My mother asked her how educated she was. She replied that she had studied till class 10th but couldn’t pursue higher education because of her father’s conservative mentality. This incident shocked me and reminded me of my childhood when I was discriminated at school level admission because of my religion. After listening to that girl’s story, I decided to do something for the Muslim girls in our area of Jafrabad. Although I had the vision, objective and a roadmap, I still needed polishing which I received during a one-year Youth Leadership fellowship program jointly support by Pravah and PACS-UK. This training helped me generate new ideas and execute them successfully on ground and also help others in capacity building.
And that’s when along with Miss Khateeja, the co-founder, I put up the base of Foundation for Indian Integration and Rights (FIIR). We aimed to work towards all round development of Muslim girls in our area to help them break stereotypes and educate and find employment.
The main challenge before me was the conservative mentality of the parents about educating girls. These girls couldn’t make independent decisions, most of them attended government schools till elementary level which provided poor education standards.
FIIR believes in truly inclusive services and wants to cover a wide range of areas such as health and human rights, education and employment, advocacy and access, talent and training (especially for women, youth, senior citizens and persons with disabilities). However, in our first phase we are covering Jafrabad area of Delhi through our project ‘Light for Life’ to mobilise Muslim girls for education, employment and skill development. We aim to inculcate leadership qualities in them and provide them a platform to voice their opinions. In addition, we also aim to sensitise parents and male members of society about gender equality.
One girl came up to me and shared that her mother had given her permission to enroll in skill based training at FIIR but her father wanted her to quit. However, she insisted that it is her decision to quit or stay. Several other girls expressed their joy at getting opportunities that they were not getting before. There have been many examples of girls who’re now earning and supporting their family. A lot of children like reading books from our library and take part in fun activities as well. A number of girls also continue their education through a distance education programme that we set up. Many girls and adolescents have now become aware of their religious and constitutional rights. Parents too have become more involved in gender-based discussions.