“Hang my son before my eyes if proved guilty.”
It was a mother saying those words — Zubaida Qureshi, whose son Subhan Qureshi alias Tauqeer is accused of planning Delhi’s serial blasts of September 13. With the world stacked against her, Zubaida found herself alienated even within the Muslim community.
“Barring a few non-Muslim friends who have displayed concern about their security, no one from their own community has come forward with any moral support. Even neighbours have turned hostile,” said Subhan’s lawyer Mubin Sonkar.
But across Mumbai, hundreds of other women have armed themselves against such pain. Muslim women are coming together to deal with the churn in the community.
Their biggest concerns — sharing pain, preventing children from getting drawn to terrorism or being victimised for the acts of others.
“Somehow, the community feels that the police have picked up innocents — it’s a frame-up. We tell women let the law take its own course, you try to remove the prevailing mistrust in society with your behaviour,” said campaigner Salva Rasool.
“This experience gave us a lot of strength,” said Khatoon Shaikh, 51, as her grandchildren fought for a place in her lap. “We realized women in our community have so many problems… We started looking for ways to solve them.”
Shaikh, who saw the carnage of riots 15 years ago, now frequently witnesses anti-terror police raids in her neighbourhood. Once a seventh grade dropout confined to her hut in Naupada, Khatoon has cleared Class XII as a grandmother, and proudly carries a visiting card.
She is now the Maharashtra convenor of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (Indian Muslim women’s campaign).
The mothers meet every day, doing something simple they are often unable to do at home — talk uninhibited about their fears and concerns, pour out their pain and find simple ways to deal with their children’s angst.
Many are asking maulanas to hold special duas (prayers) to save their children from going astray, and talking to them at home on what is right and wrong.
The ongoing holy month of Ramzan has come in handy: community leaders address these issues during informal sessions in the evening.
Even in faraway Tamil Nadu, activist Sherifa Khannum has taken on Muslim hardliners by holding exclusive women jamaats (congregations) where women are raising issues of alienation.
The mothers have refused to let the rage often sweeping through the community to consume their lives.
“As the welfare of their children weighs on their minds, they often ask about the difference between jihad and terrorism,” said Nahid Rizwan, who talks to women about applying Islamic laws to everyday life.
“Islamic laws have the answer. How can a religion which says that you can’t even hurt an ant allow such killings,” she asked.
It was 1992 when Khatoon and four friends started a group that would move around, talking to women whose husbands had gone missing or whose sons had been picked up by the police. For the first time, she learnt Hindi — to be able to talk to the police. Many followed.
Suraiya Razia Shaikh was among them. The riots left her brother so traumatized, he went insane.
But she encouraged her sister Shabana Shaikh to study. “She (Shabana) is now a lawyer and practises at the family courts,” Suraiya said with pride.
A Class X dropout, Suraiya herself is now pursuing her bachelor degree. Along with Khatoon, she now focusses on empowering women and making them aware of their legal rights.
Shabana Shaikh now helps women’s groups in the Naupada and Behrampada shantytowns with her legal expertise.
And the caller tune on Suraiya’s phone says everything about the resurrection of her riot-ravaged life: “Chhodo kal ki baatein, kal ki baat puraani (forget the past, the past is an old story).”