SAMAR ALI, General Secretary National Federation of Girls Islamic Organisation (GIO), is working in an MNC. She has done Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication from English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad and served as EFLU Students Union (2019-20) General Secretary. In an interview with MOHD NAUSHAD KHAN, she said, “Our major focus is the empowerment of women in general and Muslim women in particular.”

What role do you think will GIO play towards reconstruction of society and nation building?

Our major focus is the empowerment of women in general and Muslim women in particular. We also aim at engaging with various issues concerning the whole community and public. We have seen that in most of the recent issues targeting the community, the initiation of questioning was done by Muslim women. Also, in recent history the suppression of women was rightfully countered by women all over the world.  GIO, while enhancing and enabling the efforts of these young women, is developing a common channel through which we can work for the community and the society in general. Being a federation at the central level, our working mode will be through different states. We aim at strengthening the state setups, which in fact have been performing immensely, well according to their specific conditions and possibilities.

What is the main focus of the constitution of GIO?

As a federation we don’t have to work on a single given line in every state. Each state may have differences, including the levels of women empowerment, literacy rate, health and educational infrastructure and so on.  So, we might have to focus on one aspect in one state while on different issues in other states. The federation has to keep in mind these differences and act accordingly to bring forth the highest potential of state committees.  According to state conditions, they already have constitutions to work upon. We will be trying to share the ideas among each of the states by sharing knowledge and experience to bring desired changes. But right away we are not trying to make a single GIO constitution for the whole country. We will be sharing our knowledge, experiences and expertise.

For a Hijabi girl, professional ambience is not very conducive these days. Is it because of Islamophobia or age-old prejudices? What should be the way forward?

It is possible to have prejudice about a community at an early age. People might assume that this community is reserved. But even after constantly witnessing Hjabi girls actively participating in every sector of social life, including campus, professional, academic, entrepreneur sectors, the prejudice persists, then the problem is certainly with the society. Muslim girls are highly educated, meritorious, gold medallists in education, pursuing professional courses and so on. If they are consciously kept from mainstream society, by not acknowledging their presence, the way forward is to create our own new space.

Under the prevailing hate-filled atmosphere, how challenging it would be to work against the tide?

Definitely, it is a challenging time. However, as we commonly observe, it did not begin in recent years, but has a much longer history. Even in these difficult times, we see the hope at various levels, the majority of which involves Muslim women. In the winter of 2019, a pan-India movement emerged in the country, led once again by Hijabi Muslim women. Following the Covid lockdown, which was used to suppress these uprisings, the voice of Muskan in Karnataka reignited the eruption of protest against injustice.

Here, we see the presence of strong Muslim women every now and then, whenever they face injustice. They are rightfully raising voices against it. Being part of the world’s largest democracy, every citizen of this country should be able to similarly stand up and speak for themselves. GIO will be focussing on enhancing democratic spaces, where any individual can step up, without compromising their identity, and claim their rights.

How do you think Shaheen Bagh protests redefined the Muslim women?

The extensive coverage of Shaheen Bagh by the international media to an extent resulted in alienating the prejudice that remained about Muslim women. Especially when we see elderly women protesting despite extreme weather conditions, speaking up for themselves, with well-defined political understanding, smashed the age-old image of helpless Muslim women framed by mainstream society. Shaheen Bagh was mirrored in various major-minor streets all over the country, indicating the energy and strength upheld by the Muslim women despite the fascist efforts to suppress them.

Does GIO have any specific plan for the educational empowerment of Muslim women?

We believe that Muslim women’s educational empowerment has to be met in three stages. Primarily the idea of educating women has to be enhanced as inevitable. Even today, there exists a cultural stigma toward the educational empowerment of women. Secondly, lack of enough opportunities has also adversely affected the academic presence of Muslim women. Apart from the absence of educational infrastructure in the Muslim-populated regions, there has been consistent otherization of Muslim students from the premier educational institutes. Also, it doesn’t end with eliminating Muslim students from these institutes but also constructs a socio-political atmosphere that threatens the existence of Muslim women and their identity. Hijab bans at the institutions are a major example of that.

We can see media these days, of course with some exceptions, has disappointed all of us, how damaging it is for the society and the nation at large?

Media, in recent history, has played a major role in targeting, villainising and terminating minority communities in the Indian context. News coverage no more takes place after any particular incident, but rather news itself is created to generate hatred and false allegations towards minorities, further eliminating them from the public domain. This has resulted in the division of society in general. The only hope is the presence of certain independent small or large media firms and news portals, despite constant efforts of eradication, developing space to perform credible journalistic work.

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