The Life And Struggles Of Najima Bibi: Manipur’s First Muslim Woman To Contest Elections

Najima Bibi is contesting elections from Wabgai constituency in Manipur.

Her life has been embroiled in struggles- a struggle to get educated, end an abusive marriage and fight off fatwas. However, she has not relented and is ready to stand up against the tide. Now in her forties, Najima Bibi is the first Muslim woman from Manipur to contest elections and is passionate about working for the upliftment of women.

In Manipur, Muslims are fewer in number and have also been economically weaker. According to the Census 2011, Manipur has 239,836 Muslims (known as Pangal in Manipur) and make for 8.4 per cent of the state’s population.

The representation of the community in politics is less and is almost negligible for women. For the upcoming Manipur polls, only 10 women candidates are in the poll fray.

Najima Bibi has been a social activist for a long time and has been advocating for the equal rights of women in her community. She is not cash rich and the local clerics from her community have also threatened to outcast her.

For a conflict-area, a woman from a minority population espousing for women’s issues despite being threatened, is a rare mix. In times like these, her candidature stands out.

A look at her life and struggles

Back in school, Ms Najima was the only girl in her class. She faced incessant taunts and harassment and had a rough time growing up. After completing Class 10, she was forced to marry, so she took a chance and ran away from her home. She then married a man who turned out to be an abusive husband, so walked out of the marriage in six months.

After her divorce, she began her journey towards self-reliance and economic independence. She initiated a rice thrift fund for local women. Under this programme, each woman in the group would deposit a handful of rice, which was collected at her house. By turn, the entire collected rice would be given to one woman at a time and the lady would sell the lot to earn some money.

Najima is running a shelter for women in Manipur and advocates women’s rights.

Ms Najima is currently running a shelter home for destitute women and has been actively involved in advocating women’s rights. “My only aim in life is to work for the social empowerment of women so they don’t face abuse,” she said.

She further said that in 2006, religious leaders issued fatwa against her and she was socially abandoned in her village and was not allowed to take water from the community pond or buy anything from the village shops.

Irom’s relentless fight against all odds is an example of how strong a Manipuri woman can be, says Ms Najima.

Journey in politics

Ms Najima, who is a candidate of Irom Sharmila’s Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance party, is contesting from from Wabgai constituency. She says that it was Ms Sharmila’s 16-year struggle and fast against AFSPA that drew her to join her party.

“Irom’s relentless fight against all odds is an example of how strong a Manipuri woman can be. So when she decided to join politics I decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. If I become an MLA, I have policies and vision for education, women’s issues, against AFSPA, for small scale employment generation and so many other things, which I want to use to help the society we live in,” Ms Najima was quoted as saying by the news agency PTI.

Her decision to join politics has earned her a fatwa by religious leaders in Santhel Mamang Leikai who have announced that she will not be given “kabar” or burial ground after her death. The people of the village are even discouraged to talk to her because of her political involvement.

However, she said that she’s not afraid of the threats as her life has been a struggle since the childhood. “What I do in my lifetime is important. If I am able to work for the uplift of woman in my society, it would give me more peace,” she told PTI.

Ms Najima is a candidate of Irom Sharmila’s Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance party.

She is contesting against five other candidates in her constituency. She says that whether she wins or loses, she will continue to work towards betterment of women in the society.

To meet people in her constituency, she started riding a cycle. For this too, she was poked fun at, but she takes it sportingly. “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.

(With Inputs From PTI)

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