Shabana Azmi, the legendary Indian actress was the chief guest at the launch of website of the community women’s group Indian Ladies in UK.
The actress – who is renowned for her work as an advocate for social justice as much as she is for her work on screen and stage – is no stranger to Westminster, having been awarded the Gandhi International Peace Prize in 2006.
Lords of the realm were enraptured by Azmi’s address to the upper chamber of the UK parliament then and on Thursday 09 March, an audience of first generation Indian migrant women settled in the UK were the audience.
The actress, resplendent in one of her vintage sarees, delivered a sweeping speech taking in the issues of identity, integration and equality castigating the rise of the politics of intolerance spreading throughout the world and in India.
“The ILUK has a formidable 16000 members and its motto is ‘Empowered Women Empowering Women because women anywhere must stand together in solidarity and sisterhood. ILUK believes that a deep rooted understanding and appreciation of one’s culture is vital in helping to understand one’s adopted culture, thereby improving and strengthening a better integration of the migrants with the mainstream.
“But we need to recognise that today migrants are not separate from the mainstream – in fact in most countries they are the mainstream and we must stop regarding them as ‘the other’ if we have to reach any understanding of the complexities of Identity and Integration. “said Azmi
Excerpts from Shabana Azmi’s speech.
““In the present global political scenario with Donald Trump’s vision of integration or in the wake of the Brexit vote or closer to home to the rise of the BJP, the fundamental question is how do we embrace diversity and celebrate multi-culturalism?”
““If you ask me who I am, I will say I’m a woman, an Indian, a daughter, wife, actress, Muslim, activist etc – my being Muslim is only one of the aspects of who I am but all over the world it seems as though a concerted effort is being made to compress identity into the narrow confines of the religion I happen to have been born into at the exclusion of all other aspects of my identity.”
“I am an Indian Muslim and I feel no affinity to the Saudi Arabian Muslim. I feel much closer to my Indian Hindu, Indian Christian and Indian Sikh friends. What I have with them in common is a shared history, a shared identity and a shared future. As a Muslim in India, because I live in a democracy I have a stake and a claim in aspiring to be the President of India, a world famous cricketer, a global film star, a successful entrepreneur because I have the space and the opportunity to dream and the wherewithal to attain it.”
“So suddenly, I have the word “Muslim” hurled at me either as an accusation or with kid gloves – it makes me self-conscious in a way I’ve never experienced before. To argue that there is a Pan Islamic identity that subsumes all identities is factually incorrect. Islam resides in more than 53 countries in the world and takes on the culture of the country in which it is practised. So it is liberal in some countries, it is moderate in some and it is intolerant in some others.”
For me Muslim means Urdu, Biryani, Eid, the Urdu language and my ganga jamuni tehzeeb, my composite culture.”
Shabana Azmi runs Mijwan Welfare Society, a charity dedicated to the welfare of girls in Mijwan, her ancestral village in Uttar Pradesh, India.