Muslim women from middle class homes continue to battle discrimination despite efforts by the government and non-profit organisations to empower them, says veteran filmmaker-activist Rama Pandey, who is serialising her encounters with 26 women from the community in three volumes of stories.
Her book, "Begum Bano Aur Khatoon", a collection of seven plays in Hindi, was unveiled in the capital last week. The other two are "Faisle", which was serialised on television, and "Hum Hain". Pandey is also an eminent broadcaster, writer and theatre personality.
Pandey said "Begum Bano Aur Khatoon" has been "welcomed by the imams of mosques who have admitted there was a need to address social issues in Muslim society".
"I am a commentator of things of human interest. Any woman who fights injustice and triumphs over suffering attracts my attention. For 40 years of my life I have observed the incidents that I have described in my book. The book is a salutation to these women and my commitment to my cause of helping Muslim women in distress," Pandey told FacenFacts.
"Every woman who lives behind the veil (in Muslim society) has deep lives - and those who have the desire and the courage to stand up for what they believe are winners," said Pandey, India's first producer-director at BBC Radio Service.
Pandey, who had married into a Muslim family, says "the women from poorer Muslim homes do not have the economic condition to protest injustice". "There is no social structure to support these women. Women with three to four children are often abandoned by their husbands. They are denied the right to decent lives. Women have suffered male egos because men from this society cannot tolerate women who have opinion and break out."
Pandey cited the example of a Muslim Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, who tried to misuse the position of his wife, also an IAS officer. "He would question her decisions and try to dictate the postings of collectors and cadre distribution.
"The men still oppose higher education in women. I know of pimps in Haryana who lure young Bengali (mostly Muslim) girls to marry old men. My literature is for such women and their mothers and fathers. My literature does a different activity - it raises awareness," Pandey said.
The author has been working with Muslim women - victims of social injustice - in the non-profit sector for several years, rehabilitating them with vocational skills. The seven stories in her collection are real life sagas of unusual grit shown by women.
Narrating a typical story of courage, Pandey said one of the plays in the anthology "Parinda" is the story of Nasreen, one of Srinagar's first para-gliders.
Nasreen was trained to be a professional after winning a para-jumping contest. When she returned home after training, the newspapers were full of her achievements. Proposals for wedding started pouring in and Nasreen married one 'Dr Farooq'.
A year after the wedding, Farooq left for Saudi Arabia to earn dollars and a lonely Nasreen took the job of a teacher in a local school.
When Farooq returned home after three years, he was angry with her job. Nasreen became a mother of two children and "asked Farooq to take her to Saudi Arabia". But she soon realised that women were 'prisoners' and she yearned for her freedom. She walked out on her husband when he refused to leave his job. Nasreen returned home to live the freedom that she had experienced as a para-jumper.
"After 'Faisle' (the first anthology) was released, hundreds of women befriended me and became my sisters. They handed me the stories of their lives and told me to lend voice to them because they did not have the courage to speak out...It was as if the dumb had been given the power of speech in the last two years," Pandey said.