What can you say you’ve accomplished at the age of 23? Got a degree? Maybe two? You may even have a job. For the women in Shivaji Nagar, this is hardly a reality. With 37% girls getting married before the age of 18, many tend to drop out of school.
Here we have Rukhsar Mulla’s (23 YO) story; a story of a past riddled with difficulties, a present full of endurance, activities and plans, and a future that promises to be brighter. A story of a woman empowered, a woman who proved everyone wrong, a woman who at the young age of 14 had to step up to help her mother run the house. Today, Rukhsar, at the age of 23, has completed her B.Com, works as a Field Officer with Apnalaya, and has built her own house for her family.
“I am the first member of my family who has graduated, has a job and has built a house; not even the men in the family have done so,” said Rukhsar . Rukhsar, a Field Officer with Apnalaya’s Citizenship & Advocacy programme is the epitome of an empowered woman. Her father passed away when she was in 9th standard (14 years). Rukhsar, the eldest of two daughters, had to help keep the family afloat. “My grandparents sold the house we lived in and gave us our share but that wasn’t enough, and after a year we shifted to Govandi as we got a house here within our budget; the remaining money was used for my education,” she said.
“After completing my 12th, we didn’t have money for my college. My mother used to earn some money as a house help but that was not enough for us and since no one from the family was helping us, I started looking for jobs and worked for a year teaching; which was still not enough,” she added.
After a point, Rukhsar got a job at Apnalaya as a Field Assistant. “I was so happy when I got the job, my mother was over the moon as the money was more than we could imagine,” she said. “As I was working, we managed to pay our bills, but in those days my mother kept getting sick. First she got Piles for which I took loans and got her operation done, and then she got a heart attack after a few months. None of the family members supported us so I had to take loans from the people we knew for her operation. Then again, after a few months, my mother had a thyroid problem. After another few months, she then broke her leg. At that point, it felt like, right when I finished paying one loan, I had to get another one. 2017-18 was not a good year for us,” said Rukhsar.
After May 2018, things started looking up for Rukhsar and her family. Her younger sister got admission after her 10th and Rukhsar started to build a house. Taking a loan from a bank, she built a house for her family at the age of 23. “The strength that I got, to care for the family and to build a house, only came to me because of Apnalaya. There has been a lot of change in me. I have learnt about equality and women empowerment and so much more through all the trainings,” said Rukhsar. Throughout these difficult times, her current fiancé (who was her friend then) Barkat Shaikh, was always there for her.
“Before Apnalaya, my family had put it in my head that only a man can do these things. After joining Apnalaya and learning so much, I wanted to show to the people that a woman can do all the things that men can; if nothing monumental, I can build a house. The family members who used to taunt my mother and tell her that she has to take care of her daughters all her life now respect me and acknowledge my work,” Rukhsar added.
Rukhsar has now completed her B.Com. and looks to the future with so much more confidence. “In 2016, I had four goals for myself. First, I wanted a steady job; second, I wanted to finish my education; third, I wanted to build a house; and fourth, I wanted to get married on my own terms. All of the four is now getting completed,” she says with a smile in her eyes.