My life always consisted of struggles, which I face even today but I have risen from the ashes and continue to fight every day - Shahjahan Mirza

“I had never experienced love from my family – neither my parents nor my husband. I’ve known love only from the people in my community.”

I’m Shahjahan Mirza. I’m 37. Today if I’m able to speak with such confidence and self-belief, it is solely because of CORO. The life I have been able to lead, I owe it to them.

I am currently working with 350 families on reducing domestic violence and gender discrimination. I also work with the police, hospitals and other state mechanisms to support women who face any violence or abuse.

But it was never like this. My life always consisted of struggles, which I face even today but I have risen from the ashes and continue to fight every day.

I’m from Gonda, Uttar Pradesh but I was born in Mumbai. I’ve seen a lot of struggles as a young girl. I couldn’t study beyond 7th grade and had to start earning a living. My father was an alcoholic, who couldn’t hold a job. The entire burden of taking care of the family fell on my mother and me. We used to work as rag pickers in the dumping ground at Govandi, Mumbai.

I was married off at a very young age. My fate turned out to be the same as my mother. My husband was an alcoholic and I faced a lot of abuse from my marital family. After some time, I gave birth to a baby boy and went to live with my mother. She told me, “In life, a woman should always stay with her husband. If she chooses not to then people will spit on her”. I soon accepted this as my fate.

I was working 12 hours a day to earn some money. It felt like I had hit rock bottom. One day I came in contact with Badrunisa Khan from CORO who was forming a ‘women’s group’ to specifically work on domestic violence. She took me into this group and I started attending several meetings with these women. For the first time I felt that people noticed that I am a human being. I met many women who had a similar fate and my pain could be shared with so many of them. I joined these women in helping other women who faced violence. It felt like I finally had a voice and an identity. It gave me confidence to stand up to my husband and marital family.

In my community women aren’t allowed to step outside the house and talk to other men; speaking up against violence was unimaginable. Such women were looked down upon. These social norms always held me behind. However, my work gave me the opportunity and encouragement to challenge these norms. Today I’m a strong woman who can take on any adversary. It is this same community, women and men, who support me in every way.

CORO gave me a platform to fight for my rights. Now I can put forth my thoughts with confidence and it gives me the power to move ahead. Now that I have stepped out of the darkness into the light, I have taken charge to do so for all the women in my community.

I cannot thank CORO enough for the change it brought in my life”