If she did not convince her parents, she would have been taking care of the house until her parents find a man to tie the knot. But she knew what she had to do. She convinced her parents eventually and now pursuing further education, making an impact in the society, travelling and receiving awards. 19-year-old Saleha Khan’s story from Mumbai’s slum will make you think what girls can do if they have the freedom to choose what they want to do.
I had to pass through the narrow lanes. There was the filthy smell in the air because of choked gutters and unclean public toilets. Saleha’s house is situated in a slum of Mumbai called Govandi. Where girls are supposed to be confined in the house because they are not safe to go out and live their life. Moreover, parents of the area think that ‘padh likh kar bhi kya karegi. Sasural me bhi ghar ka khayal hi rakhna hai’ ‘what they will do after study. They have to take care of in-laws’ house only’.
But, Saleha is now pursuing her last year of graduation in commerce in Oriental College of Commerce, Navi Mumbai. She is also changing the mindset of the community through some social work with the help of Save The Children and Apnalaya non-profit organisation. She is doing so well in social work that she is awarded with Young Changemakers Award, Dr. Jockin Arputham Youth Service Award, Best Human of The Year award by her college.
She has also delivered speeches at Youth Ki Awaz, Josh Talk, Tedx Pune and she was one of the delegates at Goal Keepers 2019 event in New York that was organised by Bill and Melinda Foundation. “It has been a learning journey so far for me. The more I am doing for the society, the more I am learning and enjoying,” said Saleha with excitement. She has also been travelling to different cities in India for the same.
Fighting for freedom
However, the journey was not easy for her looking into her humble family background. Saleha was refused to pursue education after schooling not only because of the financial constraints but for security reasons too. She was also refused to do social work that she was doing by joining with a non-profit organisation called Apnalaya.
However, Saleha wanted to break this stereotype. Eventually, her mother got convinced but father was not talking to her for a long time. She was, on the other hand, adamant to do what she wanted to do. She kept doing social work and pursued education further.
Saleha was working on menstruation hygiene and education of the children in her locality. Little did she know that whatever she is doing is worthy of praise. She caught the attention of Maharashtra Government in 2017 and was awarded with Savitribai Phule award. She was just 17 when she received the award.
This award changed the mindset of her father. “My father would always refuse me to do social work because of girls insecurity in the area, but after this award, my father himself said to me to do whatever I am doing for the society,” revealed Saleha. Since then, she has been making an impact on society and won many awards.
Not only her parents’ attitude towards Saleha but the behaviour of the parents of her locality also changed. Earlier parents would say it is not safe for girls to go out and do social work. They would scare her parents for sending her to different cities for social work.
However, she kept doing with the support of her parents. Now, the parents of the locality ask their daughters to accompany Saleha in social work.
“There are very few who call me with different names to tease me. I either ignore them as much as possible or confront them. But I am happy that more and more girls are joining with me,” revealed Saleha. She also told that now parents are allowing their daughters to pursue further education after schooling.
After completing her graduation in commerce, Saleha is planning to pursue a Masters degree in Social Work (MSW). Earlier when I interviewed her she wanted to become a lawyer but now she wants to pursue social work as her profession. “I love doing social work. I want to change the community. I know I can do better in this because I enjoy doing it,” told Saleha.
She ended the interview with a phrase that Mohandas Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”