It was in the narrow by-lanes of Baiganwadi slum in Govandi that Sheeba Khan grew up. The old uncles and aunties, vegetable vendors and kirana shop owners had always been familiar.
But it was probably for the first time in 2010- at the age of 24- Sheeba re-explored this all too familiar neighbourhood with a new lens and a new fix as a PUKAR Barefoot Researcher.
It was in the tapered alleyways of the slum that communal conflicts perpetrated domestic violence. An alarming number of young girls dropped out of schools after their parents didn’t want them to “study too much”.
“I really wanted to do something for my community; for the women in particular. I belong to a very large family, and it was quite a challenge for me to pursue my academics,” says Sheeba, who completed two Fellowship cycles with PUKAR from 2010 to 2012.
Going from lane-to-lane, household-to-household, and family-to-family, Sheeba along with her friends set out to document the various gender-based practices of discrimination in the realm of schooling and education. The reasons were way too many including the overarching notions of bias towards the sons, the fear of not being able to find suitable grooms for daughters, lack of safety besides other infrastructural problems such as absence of sanitation facilities in the school premises. “Even though it has been a few years since we documented our study, our findings and interviews continue to be as relevant. Even today, the young girls continue to fight these everyday battles,” adds Sheeba.
In the Advanced Fellowship Cycle, Sheeba decided to explore the challenges faced by community women, who were a part of an inter-religious marriage. “For such women, the challenges have always been one too many. Right from convincing their parents to adapting to an all new culture, deciding the identity of their children to fighting orthodoxy and outdated rituals, it has never been easy,” says Sheeba.
Crossing one barrier at a time, Sheeba has come a long way through her two fellowship cycles. The skills she honed and the confidence she gained have enabled her to script her own life’s story. She currently works as a supervisor at Niramaya Health Foundation, engaged closely with the anaemia project. “As a catalyst during my fellowship days, my friends’ parents used to send them to the PUKAR office in my name. It took me weeks to convince them,” says Sheeba, adding, “This ability to engage with communities at the ground level has helped me grow into a more confident person.”
As she packs her bag, ready to go back home after a long day at work, she says, “The Fellowship taught me that if you set your mind on doing something, nobody can stop you…”
“…Change will automatically follow,” she adds with a smile.