Rihana Mansuri, the Founder of Hilal Welfare Society in Orai, was born into a conservative Muslim family but managed to overcome significant obstacles to liberate herself and hundreds of other women from the chains of patriarchy. On this Women's Day, we are proud to feature her on our platform.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Mansuri says, "I was born in Orai, and we are five siblings - two brothers and three sisters." She acknowledges that there are inherent problems in Muslim families, such as conservative family systems, the purdah system, and Muslim law, which differs somewhat from the Indian constitution. Additionally, Muslim families emphasize religious education over school education. Her older sister was married off at the age of 14. Fortunately, Mansuri completed her 12th grade in the science stream.
"The death of my father shattered my dreams," she states. "Although my father was supportive of my decision to study science, his death during my 12th grade year caused a setback. After I completed my 12th grade, my mother arranged my marriage, and a few months later, she died of cancer. This posed formidable challenges for me. My in-laws were unsupportive, so I had to pursue a B.A. degree despite being a science student at the +2 level. My in-laws harassed me for dowry, so I filed for divorce."
Back at home, Mansuri remained self-dependent by doing stitching work and imparting religious teachings. She pursued a double 10th, double B.A., double B.ED, and even a nursing course. Currently, she is pursuing an LL.B degree.
Despite being a Muslim woman, Mansuri used the provisions of the Hindu code bill to obtain her share of her father's property. She asserts that she has more faith in the Indian Constitution than in Muslim laws. "Muslim law would have given all three daughters a 25% share in the property, but I managed to obtain a 50% share because of the Indian Constitution." Some relatives used to say that knowledge does not always help, but Mansuri responded that while knowledge may not help, the constitution certainly does.
Speaking about her organization devoted to the betterment of women, she articulates that following her encounters with the struggles of life, she came to the realization that an organization should exist to extend aid to others. Consequently, in the year 2016, she initiated Beti Ghar, which also functions as the headquarters of the Hilal Welfare Trust. The establishment of this organization was initiated by five women hailing from disparate castes, who themselves had endured mistreatment from their spouses and in-laws.
Upon witnessing the unfortunate circumstances that forced certain girls in the vicinity to abandon their education, I rallied to support their cause and ensured their admission into a school in Kalpi, even offering to cover the fees of some of them. Furthermore, when a girl from Jhansi arrived to take an exam here, we extended our aid to facilitate her preparation and success.
Rihana mentioned that she supports the education of approximately 15 orphaned children from different religions and castes, including males. She also stated that while she was willing to keep them at Beti Ghar, she learned about the legal obstacles involved and decided to assist them through their distant relatives instead.
Regarding the fight against manual scavenging, Rihana had a realization after meeting individuals from the Valmiki Community, who make up a significant portion of manual scavengers. She admitted that she had previously been fixated on her own struggles and mistakenly believed that they were more significant than those of others.
Mansuri was deeply moved by the dire situation of women involved in manual scavenging. She revealed that these women, who are deemed untouchable during the day, are subject to sexual exploitation at night and are even threatened with harm to their husbands. Driven to take action, she partnered with the Bundelkhand Dalit Adhikar Manch and enlisted the help of volunteers to assist these women.
The social activist recounted that she became aware of the Manual Scavenging Act of 2013, which unfortunately did not have a significant impact on the ground level. However, with the invaluable support of Kuldeep Kumar from Bundelkhand Dalit Adhikar Manch, she was able to rescue and rehabilitate a total of 649 manual scavengers. After diligently documenting their progress over a period of four years, these individuals were able to give up their hazardous occupation and receive a rehabilitation amount of Rs. 40,000.
Rihana Mansuri compared the circumstances of Dalit women, who are able to work in the fields and earn a livelihood, to that of Muslim women who are still constrained by the purdah system and societal expectations of what constitutes a "respectable woman".
Despite facing opposition along the way, Mansuri remains steadfast in her mission to improve the lives of those impacted by manual scavenging. She acknowledges that retreating from this path would only serve to prove her detractors right and undermine the progress made thus far.
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