MUMTAZ ALAM | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI: About a week after Malala Yousafzai returned to her home country Pakistan as Nobel Peace Prize winner six years after she was shot in the head by terrorist group Taliban for campaigning for female education, Munni Begam from Uttar Pradesh ascended the prestigious stage of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in India’s National Capital as the ‘Malala of Eastern Uttar Pradesh’.
Begam was honored with the ‘CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award 2018’ by none other than Vice President of India M. Venkaiah Naidu for her exemplary work in the field of education in the eastern parts of India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh.
Thank God, there is no Taliban in India to shoot her for campaigning for female education. But Munni Begam had to face the hardships of her own poverty to become a recognizable face of female education in her area.
She was born into a family of farm laborers and married at the age of 12 – child marriage is common in the rural India. Due to acute poverty, she could not see school, but “home-schooled herself by writing with coal on waste papers,” says her short biography.
Today, despite all odds, Begam is a leading advocate for women’s functional literacy, campaigner for women’s education and advisor to the Gram Panchayat.
CII says that this ‘Malala of Eastern Uttar Pradesh’ has transformed the lives of 5,770 illiterate rural women through functional literacy classes and advocacy for access to government schemes and entitlements in Jaunpur and Pratapgarh districts of the state.
Her life has passed through several stages — from being a tailor to a sewing tutor, educator, and Zilla Panchayat member.
On the first day of its 2-day Annual Sessions on the theme of ‘Building A Better India Together: Responsible, Inclusive & Ahead’ in New Delhi, CII presented the ‘CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award 2018’ to three exemplary grassroots women leaders – one each in the category of Education, Health and Micro Enterprise. Out of 227 nominations, 15 had made it to the list of finalists – five each in the three categories – and one was selected from each category.
CII told the gathering that these 15 women directly impacted 2 lakh people.
Munni Begam was honored in the Education category, Asha from Rajasthan in the Health category and Vechulou Kanuo from Nagaland was honored in the Micro Enterprise category.
Out of five finalists in the Education category, there were three Muslim women – Arshi Fatma and Nasreen Meetai and Munni Begam. The Health category also had a Muslim, Hajera Unnisa.
In addition to a cash reward of Rs 3 lakh each, the three winners and 12 finalists will be part of the CII Foundation Leadership Training and Mentoring Program.
CII Foundation introduced its Woman Exemplar Program in 2005 and has since recognized and supported 41 women.
“The program, since its inception in 2005, promotes women’s empowerment at the community level by discovering, recognizing and supporting those who have, against all odds, excelled and contributed significantly to the development process in India,” says CII about the program.
Speaking on the occasion, Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu said: “We must ensure equitable distribution of the fruits of our economic prosperity. In other words, the poor and weaker sections should not be left behind in the growth narrative of India.”
How CII Introduced The Winners While Presenting Them Award
“CII Foundation is proud to honor ‘Munni Begam’, the ‘Malala of Eastern UP’ who has transformed the lives of 5,770 illiterate rural women through functional literacy classes & strengthening women collectives to advocate for their rights & entitlements.”
“CII Foundation takes pride in recognizing ‘Asha’ for her commitment towards providing de-stigmatized counseling, free treatment and nutritional support to 6,011 people living with HIV.”
“Ms Vechulou Kanuo – The Voice of Naga Women being awarded at @CIIFoundation #WomanExemplar Awards 2018 for her indefatigable efforts to introduce modern agriculture & animal husbandry to 10,586 women & farmers & enabling thousands of small entrepreneurs in the rural interiors of Nagaland.”
In her presidential speech, CII President Shobana Kamineni, first woman president of the business confederation, highlighted the need for women empowerment.
“As CII’s first woman president, I call upon the industry to be more inclusive and respond to women parity. Having more women is good for society, country and for your business. It will also justify choosing me as CII president in a way,” said Shobana.