A Story Of A Girl Who Had The Heart And Courage To Go Against Societal Norms – Talat Khanam – SPJIMR – Celebrating Womanhood
This is a story of a girl who had the heart & courage to go against the societal norms and her father who had the compassion to support her dreams. Let me take you through my journey. There is a place, Hesla, 45 kilometres away from Ranchi where I was born. I was supposed to go to Madarsa (a place where religious preaching is given) to pursue my education. But here I am today, in SPJIMR, projecting an image of transformation & hope. This is my story.
I hail from a very conservative Muslim family-like the ones who are very strict when it comes to women. As I am the eldest daughter, the onus to carry the dignity and religious virtues had always been bestowed upon my shoulders. I was asked to wear only salwar suit & burkha. I still remember I was just 12 years old. Imagine how difficult it must have been for such a little kid to carry that burden, not only of burkha but also of other rituals and expectations. But thanks to my parents who wanted me to study in an English medium school. As girls were allowed to go to Madarsas at max, this step was not liked by most of the people in the locality. The biggest objection was raised to my school uniform. But they didn’t listen and admitted me in an English medium school. I went to school on weekdays and Madarsa on weekends to learn how to read Quran Sharif, the learnings from which I still carry with me. Let me tell you an interesting thing. Since my school was 10 kilometers away from my place, I had to travel for 2 long hours. You know why? Because there were hardly 1-2 students from my place going to that school so the school authorities didn’t find it feasible to provide a separate mode of transport for my place. So, the same bus which used to go to other places was supposed to pick us at 5.30 in the morning so that we could make it to school around 7.30.
As I was learning, I started questioning. Even my mother supported my action of boycotting burkha. When I was shamed for not wearing a burkha, I used to say why don’t you ask your boys to wear kurta pajama all the time? Why only girls? The problem was lack of education. They didn’t have a point of view. They accepted what they were told. What’s the literacy rate of Muslims in India? Around 42.7%? And how many Muslims do we find in good schools and colleges? Very few.
Since intelligence is expected to be measured in terms of marks, I remained consistent in boosting the morale of my parents by securing the first position every year.
One day, a lady came to my place with a wedding invitation. I asked her whose marriage it was? Who is the bride? Her answer was “she is like you only.” I was shocked and I said, “Aunty I am not even 18.” She said, “How does it matter? What matters is that the groom is well settled and she wouldn’t be getting such partner later.” I got very angry at that moment and really wanted to give her an earful. But why would anybody listen to a 17-year-old girl? This made me even more firm to change the mindset of the people about girls. Even my own cousins who are younger than me got married at a very early age.
So, how did I make it to Delhi University? There were some students in my class who used to talk about Delhi University. To be honest, I didn’t even know the difference between a University and a college at that time but I was very much fascinated by the fact of going to Delhi University. I told my parents about the same but their reactions didn’t seem to please me. The day came. XII results were announced. I was at my relative’s place attending a marriage. I got a call from my teacher, “Talat well done! You have scored 96.6%.” I was like wow! ‘Huge Numbers’. I told everyone over there. They praised me but they said how does it matter for you if it is 69 or 96? You are anyway going to stay here and will manage your family after 2-3 years. I was like “What? What are you saying? I want to study. I have dreams.” Who cared for my dreams then? But let me tell you, my friends, Allah cared. The very next day my mother came running to me-Talat wake-up! Wake up! Some people have come. I just came out of my house and saw my goodness the whole Mohalla was there with some cameramen and people holding mikes. It didn’t take a second to figure me out that they were reporters and before I could think of anything more; they started throwing questions on me- How are you feeling after being the district topper? You are the state 4th topper? How did you manage to get such good grades while belonging to such a small village? What is your motivation? What do you want to do further?
And yes! That was my chance. I looked at them. I just gave a broad smile and said. I want to go to Delhi University. I want to be in the corporate world. The very next day, my interview was on a newspaper with my picture. The same people who were criticizing me earlier were standing in the first row to congratulate me. Their perception had changed suddenly. They were like now people all over Jharkhand know that a village named Hesla exists just because of you. But that day I realized that people criticize you till the time you are unsuccessful. The moment you become successful, they will praise you. They will follow you. Meanwhile, my parents were convinced to let me pursue my higher education. But the next hurdle was WHERE? Maximum my father was ready for Ranchi.
At that time, we were also going through some financial constraints but I still remember my father saying that “even if I’ll have to sell my land, I’ll give her the best to fulfil her dreams”. He meant it and he did it. Fortunately, I got admission in Daulat Ram College. When I went back to my place on the first vacation, I could sense a change there. People had admitted their girls in my school. I had become a role model for them. They wanted their daughters to be like me. People visited me from every household just to see how I had looked after coming from DU. I took advantage of the situation and talked about the world out there. I talked about how life is so mesmerizing outside. I talked about the opportunities that we have there and what we can do to grab it. How we can be the face of the change. Things have changed since then. The change was not only in them but also in me. I knew what I was doing, where I was headed to and I saw that I have already made a difference.
Today, I have become a person whose dreams are bigger. The hope to transform the mindsets of my community who believed that the girls are just to stay in the kitchen is now stronger. And I have covered that endeavour successfully so far. I was the first girl from my place to break this notion and make them realize that there exists a world prosperous which welcomes the girls like us to step forward and make a difference.
In a way, I believe I am already a success because I have given hope to so many women in my community who are willing to go beyond their pseudo boundaries and chase their dreams.
But the story is not yet over. Yes, their thoughts are changing. Yes, they have started realizing the importance of education. Yes, they have the courage to look beyond the barriers. Yes, they have the heart to support the girls; but the responsibility is not yet off my shoulders. I have covered most of my journey and eagerly waiting for the day when I will embark my journey in the corporate world – the day when I will be able to take them one more step towards development, the day when the success in my career will be the answer to rest of their questions.
PGDM Candidate 2020