The Optimist Citizen

A Modern India’s Sarpanch who is breaking religious stereotypes to bring in a change in the lives of innumerable Muslim women

Born in a Muslim family in Makhtapur, a small village in Khirka Block in Harda District, Firoj Khan was always concerned about the plight of Muslim women. He saw that Muslim girls had very little education, because of an orthodox thinking, the purdah system, etc, and as compared to other communities, their condition was severely deteriorating. Moreover, a highly restrictive religious dogma has always lead to a stunted growth of the Muslim women wherein the knowledge of religious texts is considered sufficient. Working on social issues for past 9 years, and a small stint with an NGO Samavesh, Firoj strongly felt that along with religious learning, women should also acquire knowledge of the world. Thus, he selected 6 small villages: Makhtapur, Morgadi, Runjhun, Devgaon, Charwaha and Temlawadi, with a population of 9000 predominantly Muslim, to bring about a change.

Firoj Khan

A baseline survey in these 6 villages revealed that only 1 girl was going to college, 1 girl was studying in Std 12th, and 1 in Std 11th. Moreover, in the last 2 years, 92 girls dropped out of school, after 7th & 8th. Firoj wanted to see these Muslim girls continue their education, and all the dropouts join back mainstream education. He motivated 22 Muslim girls who had dropped out after 10th to join back school. He even filled in their application forms. After a long persuasion their parents also agreed. What came as unexpected was that along with the Muslim girls ,5 girls from Hindu families also joined providing evidence to the rise of consciousness towards education, communal harmony and peace. Firoj says: “Religion does not bar or discourage girl education. Religion says, that if you wish to pursue education, you can even go abroad to acquire the same”.

Impressed by his approach and commitment towards development, people elected him as a Sarpanch of Makhtapur and Bhawardimal villages earlier this year. During his tenure, besides regular Govt. infrastructure work Sarpanch Firoj’s priority is to also work on women, gender, caste and poverty issues, bringing equality among all. Education being the main vehicle to reach this goal, Firoj wants every child to complete his/her education. He is also trying to convince the Maulvi, and Muslim committee to make Madrasas a progressive body by providing regular education and teach computers too.

Now also a Changelooms Fellow, Firoj says: “To work, you don’t need money. You need passion and commitment. If I can create passion among youth, and also give direction to responsible people in the village, then things will happen automatically. It is a long term work, but should not be dependent on funds. If I can seed this change in society, true development of these villages will not be far”.


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