An Advocate for Change

On a bright day, while the late-winter sun seems pleasing to the body and soul, Persa Sanjana Hussain sets out to meet an amazing woman — the managing director of Mohammadi group, Rubana Huq. A multifaceted personality, under whose guidance Mohammadi Group has weaved a story of spectacular success. Yet, steer-heading this company’s mercurial rise is not the only role the graceful lady is known for.

Rubana Huq. Photo:Kazi Mukul

Rubana Huq is a mother of three, who was awarded a Ph.D. from Jadavpur University on 13 August 2018. Earlier in 2006, she won the SAARC literary award for her poems. To this day she vivaciously juggles her roles and, additionally, her interests ranging from literature to the corporate world. She feels strongly about workers’ rights and has devoted a considerable amount of her effort in bridging the gaps in the workers-owners relationship. It does feel intimidating to interview such a power-packed persona.

As we arrive, she greets us politely. She is busy taking phone calls and juggling multiple tasks. Clearly, Rubana Huq has more than one hat to wear but she still humbly squeezed in some time for us to answer a handful of questions. With woman’s day ahead of us, I knew exactly what I would ask this wonderful lady who has broken the glass ceiling and continues in her stride, thereby setting a shining example for countless young women.  
With my curiosity brimming, with my cranium full of questions, I begin with what shaped her into the strong woman she is today. She answers, “I have no idea about which moments shaped my life, I just know that I am continuously evolving. I don’t remember a definite moment that shaped me, but I think it’s mostly my childhood.”

 Rubana Huq thinks that the challenges we face day in and day out finally give form to the people we become.  She has faced myriad challenges in her life – those that helped her gain strength.
“Being able to cope, being able to take a stride and being able to reconcile are the three best things that I tell myself,” she says.
Though she is a person with a sharp focus on the future, she knows pretty well that there is a turn of events that may lead one to ends which one never envisaged.  She has always been academically inclined and contrary to her expectations and ambition she ended up becoming a business person.

One axiom she would never forget is about giving full throat to whatever one does. Her mother inculcated in her this love for work. “She used to say even when you sweep the floor do it the best way you can,” she says and hastens to add that “how we do something is more important than what we do.”  

“It’s an endless pursuit for excellence, for perfection and for humanity. I think there is a lot we could do in favor of humanism, which is missing in today’s landscape. We really need to have empathy and I believe women tend to have more empathy than men,” she says when talking about how women have a significant role to play in a society that is increasingly lacking in empathy.
“My journey has been shaped by moments of humanism. And I feel that I am really not worth anything if I am not able to impact others,” she says.

Rubana Huq strikes a pose in front of the camera. Photo:Kazi Mukul

 The “growing gender gap” is another issue that I had in mind. As I briskly voiced my concern over rural women, perceived as a dejected lot without access to education, Rubana Huq gently rectifies my position. She helped me recast my position, one which reeked of the usual developmental narrative before she intervened. I am sure, many aren’t aware of such a displaced position.
Surprised by my question, she retorts, “If you do your research properly, the enrolment rate in schools has gone up and the number of women taking up education, crossing barriers are increasing.”
Dwelling on the disparity she adds, “As for women being on a par with men, I think some men will always devise something or the other to keep us tied. Maybe in three-four decades, you’ll see a change in this, but it will still not be a scene to be proud of.” But that should not deprive us from appreciating how gracefully women are evolving and learning to cope in their own capacity, and it is not limited to the urban space only.

 As an example, she brandishes a picture of a group of garment workers studying in the Asian University of Women (AUW) that she took with her phone. AUW is an international organization with Cherie Blair as the chancellor. With a glint of elation in her eyes, she shares that one of the students named Shathi, studying economics who is about to graduate in 2020. “She is such an incredible ball of fire,” says Rubana both praising and taking pride in Shathi’s indomitable spirit.  

It is easy to believe in over-generalized notions amidst the widespread propaganda that often confuses us in the urban centers, the rural scene is vastly different and is absolutely changing. A girl in the village has access to education. There is more than 95% enrollment. In fact, education is free. There are government efforts and the NGOs working to make a difference — the scenario is rapidly changing for the better.
“I think the stress on education is a must. Children must be educated to speak for themselves. Awareness being created whereby a woman does not feel compromised is integral to the struggle as well,” she points out.   

She believes that a woman standing up for another woman will change the scene. “I think the youth has a major part to play here as they can lead the way,” she opines.  

Rubana Huq has always been an advocate of change — and change, she feels, comes when we approach our problems creatively. “We often address challenges in a very conventional manner, using a set format,  which does not leave much impact, let alone in a substantial way,” she says. Her suggestion is that we need to focus on the long term engagements and effects. As an example, she shares that once she made a rule in her office not to give any supplier a chance unless there was a woman on the board. Overnight there were lots of vendors who had their wives in their managing director or the chairman post.
She says, “It’s not the short-term impact that matters the most. We must have long term, visionary strategies set for women to take off.”

“Rural women are far more empowered than you and I are. A female garment worker is far more emancipated than I ever could be. If she doesn’t get along with her husband she just decides to leave him and moves on with her life. No social taboos entrap them. Poverty gives them a lot of courage. Wealth and luxury often entrap us into being extremely complicit.”

“Irrespective of age, class, and other social divides, all women embody the spirit of compassion and at times an even bigger, if not equal, share of courage. When we pour that into the work, magic happens,” she argues. Many torchbearers have been able to set an example all by themselves by tapping into this spirit and let it manifest into a collective growth. Rubana Huq has already demonstrated that her roles are directed towards such strength of awakening.
I left her room with a certain sense of awareness -something that felt new and yet somehow very familiar. As I walked out, a little voice in my head was telling me that it isn’t as impossible as we make it seem. The little fire in me to want to change the world suddenly felt like it was blazing. And this very feeling, of being inspired, ignited and fueled by the likes of Rubana Huq will help us knock off barriers and walls on our way to progress, one brick at a time.

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