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Thursday, Oct 17, 2019

‘Politicians can’t control who I vote for... I am no longer ignorant’

First time voter, Tabassum Bano Mirza from Mumbai, feels no leader deserves unconditional support, and she would evaluate her options until she reaches the polling booth.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Mar 04, 2019 12:15 IST
Gayatri Jayaraman
Gayatri Jayaraman
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Tabassum Bano Mirza, a homemaker from Mumbai, has a list of issues that will decide her vote. Top among them is her family’s concern- a toilet under Maharashtra’s Souchalay Nirman Yojana.
Tabassum Bano Mirza, a homemaker from Mumbai, has a list of issues that will decide her vote. Top among them is her family’s concern- a toilet under Maharashtra’s Souchalay Nirman Yojana.(HT Photo )

Tabassum Bano Mirza’s life was largely confined to her locality in Thane West’s sprawling slum – Hajoori – until she landed a job at an upscale salon when she was 18. The job gave her financial independence, exposed her to a wider world and inspired her to engage with it. All of this may not have been possible had not Mumbai provided her an enabling atmosphere to overcome her disadvantages.

“As Muslim women, we live protected lives. Still, we are lucky that we are in Mumbai. We move around until 11 pm without fear. It is not like that in Gorakhpur, where my parents come from...,” said Mirza, 28, who underwent a three-month beautician training course after dropping out of high school.

Fight to vote

Mirza first tried to register as a voter when she turned 20. But she was unsuccessful despite filling registration forms four times. She would eagerly check voter lists; go from one voting station to another hoping to vote in municipal, assembly and even in the last national elections in 2014. But each time she returned home dejected to find her name missing from voter lists . “It happens a lot in my locality,” Mizra said.

Mirza, who married a man she was in love with and now lives in Vikhroli, finally made it to the list in 2017.

What is in it for me?

As a 28-year-old now, Mirza’s priorities have changed. She is now a married woman and a mother of a one-year-old daughter. Her in-laws do not allow her to work and the things she stands for matter even more than ever before. For generations, her father’s family voted for the Congress. It has been a legacy she grew up with but not the one she would necessarily continue. Mirza wants to evaluate candidates based on what they have done for her family and locality as she looks forward to voting for the first time.

Mirza is upset how politicians left them to their fate last year in February when municipal authorities demolished 106 houses and shops in the name of widening a road that remains unrepaired. The road has been a source of much trouble for the residents. It causes water logging every time it rains. Mirza said no local leader showed up with aid, food or money in the last monsoon season when the residents were for days forced to wade through chest-high filthy waters. The flooding coincided with the Muslim fasting month of Ramzan when the faithful fast from dawn to dusk. Mirza said most families could not make sehri or the pre-dawn meal and went hungry.

The society’s polarisation on communal lines bothers Mirza as much as the civic issues. “The Society is communally divided in a way that it has not been before,’’ she said. “…in the middle of Ramzan, when we needed help the most, we are abandoned…,” Mirza said. “My question today is – who is standing with us? When we have to put our names on electoral lists, on ration cards, deal with flood waters, we have to run from pillar to post ourselves. Today, I have a daughter, who would not get admission to an English-medium school without a donation, and I want a better life for her. So, I think hard about that vote now. I will keep evaluating my options until I get to the booth,” she said.


Mirza grew up in a Shiv Sena stronghold, where she said residents could walk up to the party’s local unit or shakha for help even in solving family disputes. Except for Shiv Sena’s offshoot, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, few other parties have been able to replicate that reach. But today even these shakhas are in decline. Even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could not match the Shiv Sena’s reach. But Shiv Sena’s inconsistency with alliances also makes Mirza wonder if it deserves her vote. The Shiva Sena sealed a deal with the BJP this month after much speculation whether their alliance would last. The two parties have been at loggerheads with the Shiv Sena having taken on the BJP on issues like the Rafale jet deal .

Mirza said there is no leader – national, state, or at the local level– in any political party who deserves her unconditional support. She wants action. “Women have become mature now. We did not have the knowledge earlier. We voted how our families voted. We agreed with whatever was being discussed,” she said. “You would listen to a national level leader giving a speech at a rally somewhere in Delhi and assume that he will help you. But now we look around and ask: Are they helping you? Are their schemes reaching us? Where are their workers? I do not see any Congress workers here. I do not see any BJP workers here,” said Mirza.

Mirza said today they can tell politicians what they want to hear and still go into the ballot box and make their own decision. “They cannot control who I vote for. They can only do that if they keep me ignorant. I am no longer ignorant. In a way, I am glad that I am only able to vote for the first time now. Now I know what it means,” she said.

No toilet, no vote

She has a list of issues that will decide her vote. Top among them is her family’s concerns. Her father migrated to where he lives now over 45 years ago and found work as a turner in a company that later shut down. He is now a watchman and earns Rs 8,000 a month.

Mirza’s parents own the house where they live, but it does not have a toilet. They have submitted forms for a personal toilet under Maharashtra’s Souchalay Nirman Yojana. But they are yet to get one or the money to do so. Mirza said toilets were being built rapidly under the Uttar Pradesh Souchalay Nirman Yojana in her native Gorakhpur. She says they sometimes get inflated electricity bills of as high as Rs 5000 and her old parents have to run around to get them corrected.

Cluster development is due in their slum block, but their relocation means a lease that does not acknowledge her or her sister’s right to the property. Under the rules of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, the ownership will revert to the government, but the house has belonged to her father since he first came here as a migrant. “Laws are made for people, but the people are not considered or consulted when they are implemented,” said Mirza.

Tabassum Mirza says laws such as the Triple Talaq Bill will not be passed if everyone waits for a consensus, and is happy the BJP is pushing it.
Tabassum Mirza says laws such as the Triple Talaq Bill will not be passed if everyone waits for a consensus, and is happy the BJP is pushing it. ( AP File )

Daily battles

Mirza said her family gave women freedoms within the framework of their religion. “… [But] people tend to stereotype us. We are Muslim but because my father has been a vegetarian all his life, we are all vegetarians too,” said Mirza, whose sister Hina has a bachelor’s degree in history. But Mirza’s in-laws are different. They do not allow her to work and she does not know how much husband,who works as a driver, earns. These are battles – for space, identity, future, her ageing parents, her daughter – that she fights daily in her two homes.

Mirza is happy the BJP is pushing to get the practice of instant divorce or triple talaq among a section of Muslims criminalised. The BJP-led central government issued an executive order in January to make the practice an offence punishable with up to three years in jail.

The order was issued after a bill that had sought to make the practice a nonbailable offence could not be passed in Parliament’s upper house – Rajya Sabha. The bill was passed in Lok Sabha or Parliament’s lower house late last year.

For Mirza, any law that protects women from unfair treatment is welcome. She added the triple talaq was never meant to be three words uttered in anger and heat of the moment for divorce and cause irrevocable harm to families, women, and children. Mirza said it was being used to undermine the rights of women as equal partners.” What the BJP government is doing is good,” she said. She added it matters in homes where women are not treated well. “Where women suffer, women suffer alone.”

First Published: Mar 04, 2019 12:14 IST

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