Burqa avenger

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Burqa avenger

Sunday, 07 June 2020 | MUSBA HASHMI

Burqa avenger

From a burqa clad woman sanitising temples, to young souls distributing raksha kits and immunity boosters to frontline workers — people from all walks of life have come out during this pandemic to contribute to the welfare of humanity, says MUSBA HASHMI

Swords,  shields, capes and magical powers are what folklore tells us about superheroes and warriors. But not all superheroes wear a cape. One just needs to have the eye for detail to find one. Clad in a burqa, mouth covered with a mask and a sanitising machine tied like a backpack, the 30-year-old Lucknow University graduate, Syed Uzma Parveen is making headlines and for all the right reasons.

A mother of two — Veer Abdul Hameed (1) and Wali Ullah (6), Parveen has been sanitising galis, mohallas, mosques and temples of Lucknow for the last two months now. However, she came in the limelight because of a video in which she is seen sanitising a temple. Social media and news channels were quick to appreciate Parveen and the video went viral.

The idea hit her when she realised that there is a dire need to disinfect the surroundings. “Day in and out we hear these debates on new channels about Hindu-Muslim, we need to realise that these topics are not at all important when we all are fighting a pandemic. It is not the right time to sit and scream about our ideologies but to come out in the open and do our bit. Temples and mosques are places of worship and people do visit them. That’s how I thought of sanitising these places as well apart from the mohallas. I started two months back and since then there is no stopping me,” Parveen, who has sanitised 38 galis till date, tells you.

Parveen started the work from her area, Saadatganj and then proceeded to the Sitaram temple in Faizullahganj. It was love for the country and its people that made her take up the cause and risk her life. “When someone in the family falls ill, we just don’t let them be on their own. Such should be the case when it comes to our nation. Just when the country and its people need us, I cannot run away from my duty. My neighbours are like a family and it is my responsibility to ensure that our surroundings are clean and infection-free,” she says.

The social work that Parveen is doing is not once in a blue moon thing. She has been actively helping people in every possible way since her college days. “My inspiration has been my father, Syed Javed Hussain, who taught us to be kind. The life lessons that he gave us are engraved in our hearts,” she says.

Recalling the first time when she helped someone, she says: “The sense of empathy aroused when I was 10. My family and I were off to some place. On our way, we saw an old man, helplessly lying on the road, covered in ragged clothes, in biting cold. Abba stopped the car, and he gave the old man a blanket and offered him some food. That kind of act my father inspired me to help people even more. During my college days, I used to offer people free rides on my Scooty. Whenever I used to see a student or elderly walking in the sun, I used to offer them a ride to their place,” she tells you. Parveen’s kind act inspired her friends to do something on similar grounds.

But not everything in the garden is rosy. Her idea of sanitising streets met with a lot of resistance from the family and society. “Initially, my idea of going out on streets, sanitising didn’t sit well with my family. They told me that I should stop worrying about all this and look after the family. People around me, asked me: ‘Sirf tum hi kyun karogi yeh kaam, koi aur kyun nahin’? To which I replied: ‘Main hi kyun nahin’? So, they gave up and realised that I was firm in my decision. However, my husband, Saiful Hassan, never stopped me from doing the social work,” Parveen tells you.

That was not all. Her neighbours started complaining about how she is roaming around sanitising streets and temples. “One day after another, my neighbours would tell my mother-in-law: ‘Your daughter-in-law has no shame. She is out on the streets freely and doing a man’s job’ and that it will put a question mark on my character too,” she tells you.

Despite all the hurdles and abuses that she faced daily, Parveen was determined to not give up. “Out of all the abuses, the one that shocked me was of a woman who posted a video on social media, calling me names and abusing in every possible manner. It affected me a lot. More so, because it came from a woman. But I picked myself up and decided to not lose motivation because of a person who is hiding behind her mobile phone and speaking rubbish,” Parveen tells you.

The resistance was not only from family but also from the people who didn’t want a burqa clad to sanitise a mandir. “It is indeed an unusual sight, because not many times people have seen a woman in burqa outside a temple. Therefore, there were unusual stares from people but then I learnt to brave them. When I first went to sanitise the temple, a man sitting there told me to go back as there is no need to sanitise the area and that they will do it on their own. But then the pujari (priest) came out and told me that I was doing a humble job and no one has the audacity to stop me. He asked me to continue the humanitarian work that I was doing. Just a few moments later, an old lady, of that my grandmother’s age walked up to me and showered her blessings on me for what I was doing. All these sweet gestures encouraged me to do it all the way more,” Parveen tells you.

But not all is lost in Parveen’s story. After coming in the limelight, her mother-in-law and the rest of the family and neighbours appreciated the fact that the work she is doing is for a good cause. “When they saw my video on a news channel and my photos in newspapers, my neighbours congratulated me. They were happy that I am making the society proud,” Parveen tells you.

Managing family and work was a task for Parveen especially during Ramzaan. She used to wake up at 3 am, do sehri, offer namaz and then went on for sanitising the streets. “I did it throughout Ramzaan. I used to leave my house at around 5 am and return by 9 am. The reason being to not feel the heat while fasting. Then after an hour of rest, I used to get back to household chores,” she says.

For a person who is fasting to carry a sanitising machine as heavy as 16 kg can be a Herculean task. “Yes, the machine is heavy and it was difficult to carry for such long hours. When I returned after sanitising places my back ached a lot, it still does but then I don’t have an option but to carry it,” she says. Parveen usually goes for the work alone, but sometimes her friends lend a helping hand.

Sanitisation is only one of the many things that Parveen is doing. There is much more in the list. “It all started when the lockdown was announced. Just two days into the period, and I came to know about people living in nearby areas who don’t have enough money or ration to survive the lockdown. That’s when I decided to distribute ration to each one of them. Then after few days, I came across the migrant labourers who were returning home, starving. I decided to help them as well,” Parveen, who lives in a joint family, tells you.

Not only in Lucknow, Parveen is helping people in other cities as well. “We have created a Facebook group where the volunteers post about the needy. We try and help these people in every possible way,” she tells you.

During the lockdown, Parveen also tried to make sure that people are following the guidelines. “When I went for sanitising streets, I saw people in groups violating the lockdown norms. I told them that by doing this they are not only putting  their lives at risk but their family’s too. Some were generous enough to understand while others retaliated and asked ‘who am I to dictate them’ and that I should focus my work. But their response never bothered me. I used to humbly tell them that it was my duty to stop them for their own safety, rest they are all by themselves,” she tells you.

The cost of the humanitarian work that Parveen is doing daily, is the money that she saved for her children’s education. “Till date Rs 95,000 has been spent on sanitising and around Rs 5 lakh on distributing ration. This is the money that I have saved all these years for my children’s education. It was difficult for me to use it but then there was no one I could look up to for help. When I asked my son, who is six, that whether I could take the amount that I have saved for his education, he replied: ‘Mummy, you go ahead. Education is important and we can earn the money back. But what is more important right now is that no one should stay hungry and that our surroundings remain infection-free.’ Hearing that coming from a child was astonishing but then I am glad that my son, at such a young age, has a better understanding of things than most people,” she says.

She tells you that it was a little frightening to be on the streets during such a time when stepping out of the house is not a good option. “It was and is a little scary but then someone needs to do the job. My children are young, that is more worrisome. But I take all the precautions and follow the preventive measures stringently. At all times, I wear a mask. And when I return home, I head straight to the washroom to have a bath before meeting my children,” she tells you.

For her work, the Lucknow administration has awarded Parveen a Corona Warrior Certificate.

“This is not the end. Since, places are opening up, I am now disinfecting bus stands and railways stations and will continue to do so,” Parveen, whose aim is to sanitise the complete city, tells you.

KEEPING THEM SAFE

While many of us have the privilege to adjust to the new normal by working from home and staying safe, the frontline warriors — the police officers — are walking an extra mile and working round the clock to ensure that we are safe and sound. There are many instances when the officers have gone out of the way to bring a smile on people’s faces. A case in point is when a group of police officers in Punjab surprised a boy with a birthday cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday’.

The officers are at the forefront of an invisible war and the need of the hour is to ensure their safety. To contribute to the cause, Rohit Shelatkar, vice-president, Meyer Vitabiotics in partnership with Shelatkar’s Grand Maratha Foundation have come forward to provide Mumbai Police with immunity boosting supplements.

“It gives us immense pleasure to support Mumbai Police who are working day and night to fight this pandemic. Wellman and Wellwoman tablets are scientifically researched and have proven to boost one’s immunity. We want to thank the police personnel for their commitment to the cause and extend our care by providing them with the supplements,” Shelatkar says.

The company will distribute over 45,000 units immunity boosting supplements. In addition, the company will also be distributing 46,000 packs of Vitamin D supplements to the entire force.

A thank you for warriors

Another unsung hero is helping the frontline health workers by providing them with raksha kits which includes sanitary pads, masks, gloves and sanitisers. Meet 26-year-old Shivang Tayal, Director, TSL Group from Hisar, Haryana.

“We started the Rakshak ki Raksha campaign at the end of March and since then we have provided raksha kits to more than 10,000 frontline workers which include Asha and anganwadi workers, ANMs, multi-purpose healthcare workers who work in villages to protect our communities,” Tayal tells you.

Besides providing resources to COVID-19 hotspots, they are focusing on building capacity in rural India’s under-resourced public health system.

“After spending three years in New York doing management consulting, I returned to India and then this pandemic happened. I realised what the country is going through and that there is a need to safeguard our healthline workers. That’s how I came up with the campaign and started distributing raksha kits,” Tayal, whose parents Mukul and Sumita supported him in the cause, tells you.

Tayal says this campaign is just a minor way to thank the frontline workers for their endless efforts. “I just want to thank all the COVID-19 warriors who are risking their lives and helping people in time of need. And I would request all the citizens to try and help these warriors in every way they can. To take care of their wellbeing is the least we could do in the recent times,” he says.

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