Shabnam, formerly a teacher, is our Community Correspondent from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Being denied a much-deserved scholarship for completing matriculation with first division just because she came from a Muslim family did not stop Shabnam from pursuing higher education. Now the first graduate in her family, Shabnam believes that she has fulfilled her father’s dreams.
Threatened by her progressive educational background, Shabnam’s in-laws were very wary of her presence in the family. Her parents started to get worried and they suggested that she take a divorce and return home, “I did not lose faith, or my temper. Anger does not resolve any problem. Newly married into the family, I was certainly scared. Of, say, the ten things that bothered me, I started by putting forward one; that was my first step towards change. My mother-in-law threatened me when I was going for VV’s conference in Delhi, saying that she will send men after me. So, my mother agreed to accompany me. Today, the situation has completely changed, my work has cast such a (positive) spell on them, and they push me towards achieving more now and appreciate me. My husband also accompanies me to meetings sometimes.”
Dissatisfied with her profession as a teacher, Shabnam felt that she was not doing much to bring about social change, so, she chose to join VV as a Community Correspondent in 2015. Since then, Shabnam has reported on stories revolving around sanitation, education, health, gender, community development, social security schemes and public amenities.
Shabnam also runs a gender discussion club with 25 women participants who are more than eager to attend these meetings. It is because of the commitment she has devoted towards her work as a Community Correspondent that she is able to gain the trust of her peers. The club has successfully encouraged families to send their girls for further education and take up jobs far away from home in other states. Those who earlier refused to let Shabnam into their homes because of her religious identity now welcome her, realising the absurdity of conservative beliefs and illogical practices.
Shabnam was introduced to videos when she was working as a teacher with Sahbhaghi Shiksha Kendra. There was some inhibition in the beginning and she was reluctant to take out the camera in public for fear of being judged, but she chose to face her fear and today she uses it with much confidence; her camera has become her comrade wherever she goes.
“Even if I am unable to shoot a video of an issue, I don’t feel bad about it. Since I am always involved with the people from the community, our discussions have led to change and people now themselves take notice of atrocities and violation of their rights and raise their voice against it,” she says.
Initially, the administration would talk ill of her to the community, planting seeds of doubt in their heads about her actions and willingness to help them. It was only her perseverance that did not let her deter from the goals she wanted to achieve.
Losing her newborn niece in the neighbourhood Primary Health Centre due to medical negligence and corruption infuriated Shabnam and she immediately decided to intervene. She took out her camera and started recording a video of the hospital staff and their improper conduct. That’s when a doctor pleaded with her and apologised and today, the hospital has not only improved its infrastructure but also its quality of care, the patients are now treated with respect.
The other issue that Shabnam is passionate about is water and sanitation. Having faced acute water shortage during her stay in Mumbai, she was well aware of the water crisis Indian cities face. Back in Varanasi, she faced the same problem but this time, she made sure she did something about it. She met the panchayat (village council) head and made a video on the issue, the video eventually reached a viewer in the United States who proposed to sponsor the installation of a water facility in the area. and within three months, handpumps were installed in Moviya village. When the problem was resolved, a woman from the told Shabnam that she had faith in her, and knew that she would not make hollow promises; the community’s support motivates Shabnam.
“I could not have imagined that videos could be such a powerful medium had I not engaged with them. It cuts across all mediums of interventions,” says Shabnam.
Shabnam now dreams of a self-reliant and self-dependent community, a ‘Shabnam’ in each household to carry forward the work she has undertaken.