Doing something for the society is so very precious. We women especially in India are not used to this concept.

So What Are You Doing This Weekend? 

A guest from Romania was asking me,

So what do you do for a living? 

I was attending a literary seminar, somewhere in the South of India.

I teach English literature , was my prompt  reply.

No, she insisted, What do you do for a living?

Finding me surprised she rephrased her query.

I am asking what do you do for the people , for your society?

What did she exactly mean, I asked. She explained, she goes to an Old Age home every weekend and spends time with the elderly, tells them stories, listens to their woes ,worries and returns feeling fulfilled.

Fulfilled? I was surprised again.

And slowly the reality began to dawn. She meant Social work! And we look down upon this term, thinking, only bored rich women with nothing much to do, go for  such social work!

But how wrong I was!

Doing something for the society is so very precious. We women especially in India are not used to this concept.  Our idea of a good life doesn’t include this, unfortunately.  Most of us women, after a day’s work at home, switch on the Television and enjoy a regular bout of Saas –Bahu serials or romantic sagas. Our idea of outing is limited to being with family to a picnic spot, mall or a visit to our relations. But have we ever given a thought to the idea that while our husbands and kids are busy in their own lives and friends, what do we do?  Except waiting for them; after finishing the work and killing time by watching inane television soaps or worse still gossiping? Shouldn’t we too, get some life?

What about the idea of spending time meaningfully? Caring for, not so privileged people , for a change? This giving , would give you so much happiness , I am sure , that a good bout of television or shopping , won’t. I as a teacher, have been taking my students for such Good Picnics. We go to orphanages, Schools for the Blind and Deaf and the Dumb. The change in the attitude and way of thinking in our kids after the visit is visible and positive.

Doing good, does not just mean dispensing off some money to the needy; it can also mean giving your time.  As they say time is money, it’s also the greatest gift, we can give someone. It becomes the most precious gift for the society.  Dedicating a few hours of the week for a good cause means you too get to spend your time in a meaningful way. The pleasure you feel, when you know that you have brought a smile to some one’s lips is indeed valuable.  Black American writer, Maya Angelou claims,

Giving, liberates the soul of the Giver.  The Giver is as enriched as is the recipient, and more important, that intangible but very real psychic force of good in the world is increased.

How true!

Working, striving for justice peace and equality can be rewarding and is counted courageous. The number of Muslim women in this arena is not great but there are quite a few. Muslim women have played their role even in the freedom struggle of the country. One name that comes to mind is our dear old Bii Amman, the great mother of the great Ali brothers, who inspired her sons and a whole lot of her countrymen to fight against the British oppression.  Some other veiled women from those days also came out of the home when the time demanded it of them. One was Begum Nishatunnissa{1885) . She had married, the great freedom fighter Moulana Fazlul Hasan Hasrat Mohani; who had rich words of praise for his wife. Talking about Nishatunnisa’s  virtuosity he had said, Considering her virtues ,leave alone women , even among men few are equal to her in stature. Among other qualities of hers, he names, her pragmatic wisdom, loyalty and devotion to her Creator and the last Prophet Muhammad PBUH as her prominent strengths. When the Moulana was arrested for his, ‘rebellious’ activities. Or in other words, fighting for the freedom of his country, she singlehandedly strived hardest for easing his hardships in the jail. She wrote letters to the authorities which were thought to be highly influential and received lots of attention in the media of the time. Her career in the public life started on 13 April 1916 when her husband was arrested for the second time. She fought the legal cases against him and it was difficult because she had little money with her and a young daughter to care for. She performed the role of his Public Relation Officer and her letters became the only source through which people got some inkling of what was happening with her husband. Moulana Abulkalam Azad after hearing of her plight, writes to her, this is with the help of Allah alone that you are fighting off  such terrible  hardships; I must say your courage and determination is not found even among our men. I find myself helpless due to my imprisonment otherwise I would have tried everything to make myself useful in this regard. Moulana Azad had been under house arrest under, Defence of India act  in Ranchi, at the time.Such words of appreciation from a stalwart like him vouch for her greatness. When she complained to Moulana Azad about the non availability of a lawyer for her husband, he arranged for a barrister along with some monetary help and also paid the legal fees. Seeing the pitiable condition of her home where she lived with her old and ailing mother –in- law and her young daughter, one of Hasrat’s friends, offered to pull together some money but the offer was promptly refused.  Instead she requested him to arrange for the sale of Hasrat’s Deewans [poetry collection] , that way she thought it would be a little helpful. She was into huge financial difficulties due to her husband’s imprisonment, loss of business and theft at her home, but refused all monetary help.

Begum Nishatunnissa Social Work And Women

Begum Nishatunnissa

Mohamamd Ali[ Ali brothers] had said she Nishatunnissa towered even above her husband when it came to courage and protecting the honor of the community. He had written to her that her presence had given the Muslims a lesson in self-reliance, courage and perseverance. His mother Aabadi Bano Begum aka Bii Amman too had words of high praise for her struggles.*

Speaking the truth before the British Rulers:

She displayed exemplary courage when she met Lord Montagu, secretary of State of India, when he was visiting India in 1917. The protocol was strict and the issue of her husband’s imprisonment  and subsequent house arrest was not on the agenda but when she got the opportunity to talk to him as a member of women’s delegation; she not only gave him a written memorandum about the prisoner’s plight but also spoke to him comprehensively. Fearing censure Mrs.Sarojini Naidu who was present there;  tried to check her in. Mrs.Naidu started pinching her throughout her conversation with the Lord but do you think anyone could have stopped our brave lady? Begum Nishatunnissa did not stop, unless and until she said what she wanted to, about the pressing need of releasing her husband. Her inclusion in the Indian women delegation to meet the Lord, itself is testimony to her prominent stature at the time and her important role in the political  scenario of the country. One of her most memorable speeches of the time was in December 1922 at the annual conference of the Congress party in Gaya, Bihar. Gandhi and Hasrat both were in jail and there was talk about abandoning the non co-operation movement and joining the councils under the British government. She disapproved of Congress party joining the councils under the British government and her words should be carved in gold in the annals of our history.

Those who are supporting the Complete Freedom can’t even think of abandoning this movement. But those who want partial and weakened freedom can go for it and receive their freedom in,’ installments’.

Only a highly confident and brave lady can speak these words publically. She didn’t hesitate to openly blame Mahatma Gandhi for making the mistake of rejecting her husband ’s  resolution of complete freedom at the Ahmedabad session of the Congress and was daring enough to blame that mistake for the ill wishes of wanting to join the British councils. She thought it obnoxious to wanting to work for the very institution which was denying them freedom. What’s more she has been famed for scolding none other than Nehru for disallowing a group of protestors from entering the arena of Congress party conference. How many of us today, have the courage of Nishatunnissa Begum?

Her life is a lesson to all those women who think their virtuosity is only remaining at home and being silent even at the time of a crisis.

Times are grim, our people need us today and we need to strive harder in whatever capacities  that we have been given. Nishatunnisa Begum before her marriage had made it her hobby  to teach and educate the poor girls of her town Aligarh. Women too can surely make a beginning somewhere, at some point of life. They must.

Let’s begin to give for a good cause.

Wish you all the Best!

By Asma Anjum Khan


[*Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali, published by Markazi Anjuman ,A-aa-nat e Islam, Delhi].

[ References to Begum Hasrat Mauhani can be traced to Atiq Siddiqui’s book, ’Begum Hasrat Mauhani aur Un Ke Khuoot’  1981, Jamal Press, Delhi]

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