Nafeesath Beevi (1924-2015)

[In the 2021 elections, the disappointingly few women candidates fielded by the leading political parties became a hot topic. The candidature of the IUML’s Noorbina Rasheed, a first in that party in twenty-five years, has also been of much interest.

Noorbina’s candidature, however, must be placed in a longer history of Malayali Muslim women’s struggles to enter politics, which actually dates back to the late 1950s. It is here that Nafeesath Beevi’s name should be remembered. Along with K O Aysha Bai, she was prominent as an educated Muslim woman who entered politics. Nafeesath Beevi was born in Alappuzha, the daughter of a textile-dealer, Abdul Kareem, and Hawwa Umma. Her father died when she twelve but she overcame many obstacles, being a good student, to join the Government Women’s College for a graduate degree and subsequently, training as a lawyer. The following excerpts and discussion are from a short biography of hers by Anilkumar PY, titled Aankaalathe Penthaarakam [The Female Star in Male Times], Trivandrum: The New Media Space Books, 2017]

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Welcome Speech : M Haleema Beevi

Translated by J Devika

[This is an earlier version of the translation that appeared in my book Her-Self, published by Stree/Samya, Kolkata, 2005. For a fuller, annotated version, refer the book]

Haleema Beevi (1920-2000) was born in Adoor in Tiruvitamkoor. She and her sister were sent to school, quite against the normal practice for Muslim girls, and she studied up to the fifth class, braving stone throwing hooligans and other such deterrents. Married at the age of sixteen, she was encouraged in her public activities by her husband, who was close to prominent Muslim reformers of the time like Vakkom Abdul Khader Moulavi. She ran a magazine for women, the Muslim Vanita in the late 1930s, which later appeared under the name Vanita. In the 1940s, she started another publication, the Bharatachandrika, which was quite successful as a weekly, but ran into serious financial problems when it was converted into a daily. She left journalism in 1947, to make a brief attempt again in 1970, with a magazine titled Adhunika Vanita, which, however, proved unsuccessful. She ran a press at Tiruvalla, and during the period of persecution under Dewan C. P. Ramaswamy Iyer’s dictatorial regime, she learnt printing, composing and binding to print leaflets and other material for the protesters. She was a member of the Municipal Board of Tiruvalla, the first Muslim woman to become a Municipal Councillor, the president of the Tiruvalla Muslim Women’s Association, and an active member of the Muslim Majlis. Interest in her life and work has finally grown stronger with a new generation of young Muslim women in Kerala taking an active interest in gender identity and the possibilities in the faith for gender equality. A new biography of her is forthcoming.

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