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13 April 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: Okhla Muslim women candidates in Delhi MCD elections struggle to come out of shadows of their men folk

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By Danish Ahmad Khan


Okhla (South Delhi): For the first time since the trifurcation of MCD, municipal elections are being held on April 15, 2012, in Okhla, which falls under the newly-created South Delhi Municipal Corportaion. The electioneering in Shaheen Bagh, Okhla Vihar, Abul Fazal Enclave and other areas in Jamia Nagar have undoubtedly added a touch of glamour to the otherwise pensive and forlorn atmosphere prevailing here whose residents are still struggling to come out of the bitter memories of late-night police raids to nab 'terrorism-suspect' Muslim youths and the infamous Batla House encounter.


Some of the municipal wards in these areas have been reserved for women candidates. Take a stroll down the pothole strewn, dusty lanes and by-lanes of Shaheen Bagh, Okhla Vihar and Abul Fazal Enclave, and you'll get to see walls, gates of houses and vehicles passing by plastered with photographs of Muslim women candidates along with their spouses or men folk. Though these muncipal wards have been reserved for women, you will seldom find any election poster displaying a woman candidate independently, without the presence of either her husband or an aspiring kin.


Nikhat Rahman
Yes, this is the story of women candidates hailing from municipal wards in the area that houses the world-renowned Jamia Millia Islamia Univeristy. These aspiring politicians and future representatives of Okhla are yet to show their leadership qualities and come out confidently among the people seeking votes and explaining their programs for the development of their municipal wards.


Muslim women candidates in this typically Muslim-dominated ghetto of Jamia Nagar are still struggling and finding it extremely difficult to come out of the shadows of their men folk. Being a resident of this area, I have myself so far not been able to see any woman candidate meeting the people and seeking votes. May be it's their conservative Islamic upbringing which though somehow permits them to flaunt their photographs, but stops them from venturing out in the open to ask for votes and intermingle with the electorate in thier areas, whom they are going to finally represent in the newly-elected South Delhi Municipal Corporation.


Amidst the prevailing despondency, there's still a ray of hope, when you meet or talk to one such woman candidate, Nikhat Rahman, who is fighting elections from Ward No. 206, as an Independent cadidate. Nikhat proudly says she is not among the many dummy woman candidates put up by their husbands or kins to fight the municipal elections. Like a bold, confident, educated and self-dependant woman, Nikhat has chosen to portray herself independently on election posters and prefers meeting the electorate in her municipal ward one-to-one, in stark contrast to many of the dummy woman candidates.


When asked after all what prompted her to contest the MCD elections from such an area where Muslims still have a stereotype image, she says that she is a resident of this area for 10 years now, but is unhappy about the developments in the area. She says, "We live in the national capital, but the Jamia Nagar residents don't even have access to clean drinking water, quality schools or parks. Sanitation is non-existent here. The area has been neglected by the governments for long. Being a resident of this area for 10 years now, these things moved me. Change can only come when a sincere candidate is elected to the MCD with the full support of the residents. Therefore, when this ward (no 206) was reserved for women, I realized the time has come to do something concrete, to lead from the front if I want to make this area a better place to live in."


On her campaigning style, Nikhat Rahman said, "I believe in simplicity and that reflects in my campaigning, which is sans any pomp and show, glamour and glitz. I lay more stress on one-to-one contact, and spend most of my time going into the lanes and bylanes of the area, knocking at the doors of the residents, and speak to them personally. I also hold a lot of nukkad sabhas, where I, mostly, stand on a chair and address people with a microphone in hand. I am yet to take out a grand rally replete with bikes and cars, or erect a big stage to address people, as I neither have that kind of money to spend nor do I believe in such extravaganza."


During my conversation, I asked isn't she afraid of the challenges before her as an elected Councillor and the many expectations of the people in this area. Nikhat Rahman promptly laid bare her plans. She said, "Transparency will be the keyword for me. It will be public knowledge as to how much funds are received and where are they spent. I believe the best way to ensure people’s participation in the ward will be to hold mohalla sabhas where municipal officers, police officers and common people -- there will be representatives from among them – will participate. Every issue/problem will be discussed threadbare and solutions will be worked out with consensus. Suggestions will be sought from the public."


Nikhat Rahman's agenda for the development of her municipal ward includes: Build roads and broaden the narrow streets; check traffic congestion on main roads; install streetlights in lanes and bylanes; ensure quality functioning of 24-hour dispensaries and public health centres, and make reputed doctors visit these centres; organise free health camps, particularly for women, children and senior citizens; provide sanitation facilities in the entire locality; make MCD vans visit the area regularly for lifting of garbage; keep drains unclogged all through the year; keep sewer lines clean; take precautions like flogging and launch cleanliness drives to prevent occurrence of diseases like dengue and other epidemic; plant trees in the area to make it greener; provide recreational facilities like parks and playgrounds for children; launch vocational course centres and coaching centres for young boys and girls; to ensure establishment of public utilities like milk booths and vegetable outlets; to ensure 24-hour power supply in the areas; and ensure that no citizen of the area is unnecessarily harassed by the administration, police and others; to help bring justice to those who have been wronged.


Nikhat Rahman is confident that being a Muslim woman will not be a hindrance for her in working for the welfare of the residents of her ward, and expects wholehearted and prompt support from them by electing her. Though Nikhat Rahman wryly admits that it will still take some time for Muslim women to come out in large numbers and take active part in politics and be on their own, completely out of the ever domineering shadows of their men folk.


[Danish Ahmad Khan is Founder-Editor of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at indianmuslimobserver@gmail.com]

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