Amongst the many groups fighting for the rights of women and especially marginalised women, Bebaak Collective tends to stand out. One might retaliate that there are so many groups fighting for women, so why would any particular group stand out, what’s the difference that they are bringing to the table? Well, the answer lies in the structure and the nature of the work that they are doing.
Bebaak Collective is a campaign group, focusing on women’s issues, but mostly issues of Muslim women. They take up issues and politicise them nationally, so as to create awareness on them and publicise them. FII got on an interview with activist and one of the main voices behind the collective, Hasina Khan, to profile the excellent work that the collective has been doing since the last couple of years.
MM: When and how did the idea for Bebaak Collective appear?
HK: Bebaak Collective began as a informal group of discussions. It started as a reading group where we (some of the grassroots activists) from different states met once and did readings, learning and sharing. We discuss current issues as well as topics of historical importance from an inter-sectional feminist perspective. Bebaak Collective has been a result of this collective process of learning and sharing.
MM: How did the organisation initially create awareness when it started?
HK: In our campaigns we mostly speak about structural violence which results in quotidian violence. We slowly evolved as a campaign group. We believe that because of multiple axis of caste/class/religion, women face diverse kinds of marginalisation which is a result of structural violence. In the course of women’s movement we have learnt, that importance of collective struggles and having solidarity across lives having different courses. We started working with Muslim women’s living realities and we started campaigning against unilateral triple talaq. We do not believe that abolition of triple talaq will take away the discrimination from the Muslim woman’s life but we want to focus on the questions of social security, in terms of economic rights and educational rights for women. We are one of the petitioners in Supreme Court challenging the validity of unilateral triple talaq.
MM: How do you plan your campaigns and how does the planning vary from campaign to campaign?
HK: So when we were campaign against ‘Gau Rakshaks‘ (cow vigilantes) who are targeting minority communities by falsely implicating them in cow slaughter cases, we tried to politicise the issue in the media. I was personally a petitioner in the Supreme Court against the beef ban, as we know beef is a means of livelihood and a source for cheap protein for Dalits and Muslims. Our campaign around atrocities of cow vigilantes is in continuum with our protest against beef ban.
MM: Please give a brief description of your work with grassroots organisations.
HK: We work in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh with grass roots women activists working in several organisations. We meet them once in every two months and share readings, discuss various issues of historical as well as contemporary relevance. We see this interaction as a participatory learning where each one of us learn from the other and get together for collective action.
Considering there is a diminishing space for collective action because of rise of right wing forces, we believe in collectives and work towards sustaining of collectives across women’s organisations. This space of sharing, discussing and learning will forge a larger solidarity among activists who work relentlessly within the community. Our work with grassroots organisations is a process of collective learning and struggle. We work together and formulate campaigns and try to carry them in respective states. We also try to work on the newer leaders and activists emerging from the community.
MM: What are the biggest challenges that you have come across since the foundation of the organisation?
HK: The biggest problem for us as of now is the popular imagination of Muslim women as ‘vulnerable‘, extremely religious and abused by family. We feel the monolithic understanding of the community is a problem and that people think triple talaq is the only challenge of the community, which is a myth. We want to fight against such victimisation of Muslim women through our organisation.
MM: Which of your campaigns, according to you, have been the most impactful?
HK: We cannot name any particular campaign, but we look at our work as a sustained process which will bring change in a certain period and not overnight. It is important to understand campaigns as long drawn struggles of women’s movements and not a quick fix for any immediate problem.
MM: What are your opinions on the current controversy surrounding the Muslim Personal Law Board with regard to Triple Talaq?
HK: Our primary opinion is that triple talaq is gender discriminatory and thus it should be abolished under the constitutional rights of Muslim women. This debate should not be based on whether Muslim women are for or against the community. Secondly, we also believe that social security and equal citizenship rights must be ensured. We are one of the petitioners supporting Shyara Bano’s petition in Supreme Court to declare triple talaq as unconstitutional. Because as feminists working in the community we have learnt that triple talaq is gender discriminatory and being Indian citizens, Muslim women’s rights must be ensured.
MM: Please tell us more about the national convention in 2016 in Delhi on Musalman Auroton ki Awaz: Sadak se sansad tak.
HK: As a part of our collective journey, we came up with a national convention in 2016 in Delhi with the participation of around 500 Muslim women. The convention was called, Musalman Auroton ki Awaz: Sadak se sansad tak. In the national convention, we tried to break the myths around Muslim women, that she is always burqa clad, uneducated and a ‘victim‘. This convention marked the rights of Muslim women as citizens who are otherwise only treated as a faceless vulnerable population waiting for schemes.
MM: Your documentary Tiryaaq talks about Muslim women’s leadership across the country. Please walk us through the experience of making this documentary?
HK: Tiryaaq which means antidote, is a documentary about Muslim women’s leadership across the country who challenge patriarchy within the community as well as right wing forces outside it. We are not trained filmmakers. We are a group of passionate people who came together to focus on Muslim women’s leadership which is fighting against the fundamentalism inside the community as well as rising right wing forces in the country. The journey has been cathartic as well as politically charged because we were working with grassroots activists who are otherwise invisible from the national level.
MM: What are some of the current and future projects that you are undertaking?
HK: Right now we are only focusing on the triple talaq petition at the Supreme Court. The hearing is over and we are waiting for the judgement. However, we will continue to speak around the rights of Muslim women.
Also Read: The Triple Talaq Hearing: The Case So Far
FII appreciates the ground-breaking work that Bebaak Collective is doing and wishes them all the very best for their future endeavours.
Featured Image Credit: India Today