Elections 2017: ‘Grave’ trouble for Manipur’s first Muslim woman candidate | assembly-elections$manipur-2017 | Hindustan Times
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Elections 2017: ‘Grave’ trouble for Manipur’s first Muslim woman candidate

Manipur’s first Muslim woman candidate, representing the political party co-founded by former marathon faster Irom Sharmila, has run into ‘grave’ trouble.

assembly elections Updated: Jan 31, 2017 11:41 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Najma Bibi (extreme right) with Irom Sharmila.
Najma Bibi (extreme right) with Irom Sharmila. (HT Photo)

Manipur’s first Muslim woman candidate, representing the political party co-founded by former marathon faster Irom Sharmila, has run into ‘grave’ trouble.

A troika of Meitei Pangal (Manipuri Muslim) clerics has warned Najima Phundreimayum, popularly Najima Bibi, that she will not be given space for her ‘kabr’ (grave) in her village in Manipur’s Thoubal district.

They refused to give Najima a reason, but it is believed they are not happy with her decision to contest the Wabgai assembly seat on a People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) party ticket.

Of Manipur’s 60 assembly seats, Wabgai and Lilong are Muslim-dominated. Muslims are a deciding factor in two others — Keirao and Kshetrigao.

Najima and other PRJA leaders, including Sharmila, had on Saturday met Manipur governor Najma Heptulla to let her know about the stand the clerics have taken against her.

PRJA members said Najma Bibi, in her 40s, apprised the governor about the persecution she has been facing in her home constituency from clerics. The people of her village, Santhel Mamang Leikai, are discouraged to even talk to her because of her political involvement.

“I have been sidelined by opponents from the village because I am a woman, but the villagers continue to support me,” Najima told Hindustan Times.

She added the governor advised her to write a formal complaint so that necessary action can be taken and that she will not be deterred by a diktat denying her a final resting place after she dies.

Read | Irom Sharmila to fight CM Ibobi in Manipur elections, vows to repeal Afspa

For Muslims, in general, the thought of being denied a burial space is unnerving. But progressive clerics say Islam gives none the right to make graveyards, which are Wakf properties, out of bounds for any person.

“Every Muslim, man or woman, has the right to proper burial. Second, religious leaders have no business interfering in politics. And third, this is a democratic country and every man or woman has the right to contest,” Lucknow-based Maulana Khalid Rasheed said.

Clerics giving ridiculous fatwas should be ignored, he said.

This is not the first time that Najima has weathered radicals, though. Maulvis in her area, she said, had tried to ostracise her because she had helped women self-help groups prosper and be self-reliant enough to raise issues such as domestic violence.

One of Najima’s ideas of cooperative growth was the cheng marup (rice fund) for women in her locality. It required each woman to contribute a handful of rice for one of them — chosen by lots — to sell in the market twice a month for money to be invested in livestock.

“This is the kind of struggle women from the minority community have to go through in their day to day life. It is not about women’s issues, or fighting patriarchy. The struggle begins with things as insignificant as riding a bicycle,” Najima said.

She had turned this basic mode of transport into a tool for women empowerment.

“We were not allowed to ride a bicycle just to slow us down and I realised I can fight much of it (gender discrimination) by riding a bicycle. I was also able to make it on time everywhere and get a lot of things done,” Najima said while talking to women in her constitutions.

“When they made fun of me, I got encouraged instead. I told myself there is something special in what I am doing, which they can’t handle, that is why they are making fun of me,” she said.

From being the only girl in her class and the first girl in her family to complete her Class 10 amidst taunts and harassment in school, Najima has fought odds at every step. She was being forced to get married as soon as she completed high school, so she took a chance and eloped with a man she had met only twice.

Her husband turned out to be abusive and she walked out of the marriage in six months. After the divorce, she realised the importance of self-reliance and economic independence for women.

The rice fund she initiated helped women in her village and surrounding areas improve their economy substantially. But orthodox elders did not approve of what the women were doing.

“As I was divorced, our saving from the rice fund was considered as theft. But we were determined to keep it running,” Najima said.

Determination – and support from women’s organisations and progressive Muslim students’ bodies – is helping Najima counter clerics discouraging her from contesting the Wabgai assembly seat.

Election for Wabgai is in the first phase on March 4.