Hope in Hard Times: Women Surviving the System

Qazi Zaid

New Delhi, Sept 26: In the summer of 1990, the family of Akleema Begum was living on the railway tracks near Nizamuddin railway station, in New Delhi. Akleema begum’s husband was the sole breadwinner for the family. In an unfortunate accident along the railway tracks, he lost one arm and one leg. For survival, she and her children were forced by circumstances to beg from the tourists, visiting the nearby Humayun’s Tomb.

Refusing to give in to fate Akleema decided to take matters into her own hands. Today, Akleema not only takes care of her family, but also helps other women to do so. She manages an all-women-staff parking lot.

After the incident on the railway tracks that changed the family’s fate Akleema was convinced that she was on her own. At the merger of Mathura road and Lodhi road, the abandoned parking area around the Sabz Burj was seen as an opportunity by Akleema.

Previously used by the famed Kareem’s Restaurant the parking area was abandoned after one of the guards’ body was found floating in the nearby canal. Akleema started managing the parking on her own and asked for a small sum of money from the car owners in return.

While doing so, she delivered two children. India, with high numbers of infant mortality rate, the current rate at 47% (according to UNICEF), is one of the most unfavorable place for children. Akleema who belongs to the poor class of the society, is mother to 7 children.

The booming economy of India has changed the Delhi that Akleema came to 30 years back, from Agra. “Governments support businesses and efforts in entrepreneurship but that is for the rich, the government is for the rich. They won’t encourage us for setting up anything. When some rich and powerful people travel on this road we are forced to not get the cars parked by the police that day. Other days, they just take money.” said Akleema.

Now Akleema helps provide for 11 other women amongst which turf has been divided and affairs are smoothly managed. The women look after each other’s children and take turns for having lunch. Sometimes the women also work in shifts and cover up for each other in cases of need.

There are other women like Akleema. Many organizations work to help such women. Also run by a woman, ‘Arnimaal’ is a nonprofit organisation based in New Delhi and Srinagar. As one of its many goals, ‘Arnimaal’ works to empower women like Akleema through education, income generation and development of leadership training .

According to Kalpana Tikoo, head of the Arnimaal, the heightened sense that women are at risk is in part due to the increasing friction between old cultural norms and new economic realities. “It has been observed globally that whichever country or society has concentrated on women empowerment have developed much more quickly and have progressed manifold as compared to those who haven’t,” Kalpana said.

The economic boom  that has encompassed the country and changing times have brought more women out of their traditional roles in the home and into the workforce, particularly in urban areas.