Ahmedabad: Until the Godhra carnage of 2002, no one in the state had heard of Shabnam Hashmi. They would not have known about her even now, had she not formed Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (Anhad), an organisation that has taken up the cause of riot victims. Since then Hashmi and Anhad have faced numerous humiliating attacks by mobs, high-handedness of the ruling state BJP and detention by the police. The journey of Anhad is now centered on countering the ideology of hate in the state and protecting the pluralistic, democratic and secular ethos of the country.
Born in Aligarh and brought up in Delhi, Hashmi’s motive behind forming Anhad cannot be understood unless one sifts through her childhood and the ideologies that shaped her. It was through her father Hanif Hashmi— a freedom fighter who was sent to 4 years in jail by the British for joining the freedom movement— that Shabnam got lessons in the plurality and democratic values of the country. The senior Hashmi refused to accompany his brothers to Pakistan after partition, saying “We did not fight for freedom to leave our country.”
“My three siblings and I grew up in extreme poverty. We went to government schools. But our parents ensured we got exposed to democratic values of the country and develop a respect for it as well. All that my parents had for us were books, books and books,” said Hashmi. Her mother Qamar Azad Hashmi passed away on April 1, 2013.
Recalling her childhood days, she said that her mother did not miss any opportunity to take her to places like the Baal Bhavan, Saproo House and Russian Cultural Center in Delhi. They were also regulars at performances of renowned theatre artiste Habib Tanveer in Delhi. By the age of 15, Hashmi had already read Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy. Hashmi, who secured a post-graduate scholarship to study at the Moscow State University in Russia, left it half-way, as she was keen to work with poor Muslim girls in Nizamuddin area of Delhi. This eventually encouraged her to see the ground reality of the 2002 riot victims. Hashmi even travelled across the riot-affected areas of the state to know the condition of women, particularly rape victims, following the riots.
“What I found was disturbing and shocking,” she said. The plight of riot victims motivated her to form a platform to address their problems and work for their rehabilitation.
“Anhad thus came into being with the motive of taking the values of Indian Constitution to the people,” she said. The organisation began with the help of her husband Gauhar Raza and her son. Soon they began training camps, spreading the vision of India and countering the hate ideology in the state, which according to her, was so far not happening. Anhad later spread to Haryana, Bihar, Kashmir and Delhi. The organisation soon expanded its reach providing livelihood support as well as providing help during natural and manmade disasters.
The journey has not been smooth. The organisation has faced public humiliation, police and political attacks and has been dragged to the courts as well. But she believes that the opposition is proof that her organisation has an impact. “My weapon is the Constitution of India and not any religion.” On BJP’s criticism of her work, she says, “If BJP believes that I am working against them, it means they are working against the Constitution of the country.”
Hashmi and Anhad have also been accused of being pro-Congress. But she says that the support of any secular party, be it CPI or Lok Janshakti Party among others is welcome.
“We have protested against P Chidambaram, against the UPA’s move to arrest innocent Muslims for sedition. In fact, we were the first to oppose the Communal Riots Bill by the UPA government,” she said countering allegations of being pro-Congress.