The war of 71 snatched our Baltistan and this overnight partition changed the fortunes of how many families: Zulekha Bano

The war of 71 snatched our Baltistan and this overnight partition changed the fortunes of how many families: Zulekha Bano
Zulekha Bano, who lives in Bogdang village of Nubra Valley, Leh, is the first woman lawyer of Baltistan. Even though his family Baltistan falls in India, social boycott and fundamentalism is no less here too. However, after becoming the first woman Balti lawyer, Zulekha is like a role model for the girls of her area.
Archana Sharma talked to him. Here are the highlights:

What are your views on the education of girls in your area?
Till a few years ago, in our village Bogdang, the thinking about the education of girls was very common. Girls would study in the village school at most till the eighth standard, then they would get married. There was no question of further reading. Indian Army started Goodwill Army School, where my father sent my sister, brother and me to study. On the encouragement of the army, a cultural program was organized in the village, in which I danced and my sister sang. This program shocked the radical Islamic thinking of our villagers and they boycotted us socially. It was not readily acceptable for girls to study or engage in any cultural activity.

How did the idea come to mind that you have to study law?
After the social boycott in the village, our family shifted to Dehradun. However, further studies were not possible in the village, so I had to leave somewhere. I was confused about what to study next after 12th. I was not inclined towards engineering, medical. Being a skilled speaker and full of confidence, Law seemed an easy and right choice. By the way, I did not believe that I would become the first woman Balti Vakil.

Do you or other people in your area find it difficult to study because of the language?

Balti language is spoken in our area and the same medium is taught in the village school. Since my Hindi and English were very weak, so my admission in Dehradun took place in the fourth class instead of the sixth. All the students face this problem. I am grateful to Army School where we got Hindi and English education. This helped me further. It is necessary that Hindi and English should be taught compulsory in all schools.

What kind of difficulties did you face as a woman lawyer?

Now the situation has changed a lot. The education of girls is being taken up in the village in a normal way. Diskit, where I practice in the Munsif court, people trust me a lot that if she is a girl from her village, then she will help in the right way.

That means people are no longer so radical?

Now people’s thinking has changed a lot. The girls of our village are studying even after 12th standard. Many girls are going outside the village and getting recruited in Nursing, Teaching, Police Force. Earlier it was impossible.

The road to change is not easy. Do you ever get frustrated at the failure of your efforts?

My life has never been easy, but the struggle makes you shine. Right now the numberdar of our village is an illiterate person. Such a person is not right for our village – I tried hard to convince the people. That’s why I want to work in Leh instead of big city.

You are in an area where the streak of displacement changed the fortunes of people overnight. The weather is harsh here too. How are things now?

I have heard from my father and other people of the village that after the 1971 war, a large part of Baltistan went to Pakistan and only five Balti villages remained in India’s part. Overnight this partition changed the fortunes of so many families. Some of the family members who had gone to the Pakistani side for some work remained there and half the people remained in the Indian side. Even today there are many such families who mourn the members of their family who have gone to the Pakistani side. It is difficult to cross the border, but people are connected through phone, internet.

Who has contributed the most to your studies and vision?
Our entire family has been very serious about studies, especially my father. He always emphasized on the education of all of us brothers and sisters. Everyone used to say what to teach daughters, there is benefit in teaching sons. But he did not listen to anyone and took a tough competition from the society for this purpose. Earlier my mother also felt that girls should get married early. But after coming to Dehradun, seeing all the girls studying, their thinking also changed and they worked hard to teach us. There was no source of income in Dehradun, so my parents opened a hostel where forty children lived. All the hostel work was done by our whole family together.

What are your special plans for the future, especially for the women of your state?

Every day I meet some family and encourage girls about education, sports. It is my dream to see the girls of my place in different fields in high positions. Chilimindo festival is celebrated in Baltistan on the growing of apricot flowers, which does not happen in our village. I want it to happen in our village also.

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