On the 11th of March, JUST’s Chair Nadeem Murtuja was invited to speak at the launch of Apna Haq, a leading Rotherham based domestic violence charity. He was asked to offer his reflection on the idea of ‘haq’ or rights.
I am the Chair of JUST Yorkshire, a prominent human rights, racial justice and civil liberties a Yorkshire-based charity based here in Rotherham.
JUST has been around for more than a decade, operating at local, national and international level particularly on issues relating to counter-terrorism, the disproportionate use of police force and the adverse profiling of ethnic minorities by public institutions. We are an organisation that holds public bodies to account for racial injustice and human rights violations. To do our work well we have to be politically and financially independent, so that we can fulfil our role without fear, favour or censure – and we make no apologies for our approach.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to Apna Haq’s launch and I was asked if I would introduce JUST and the work we undertake in upholding the rights – or ‘Haq’ as it is known in Urdu – of seldom heard groups and to share the value of organisations like JUST in promoting what is known as ‘insaf’. The two terms – ‘haq’ and ‘insaf’ or rights and justice – are particularly important for upholding the rights of vulnerable ethnic minorities for various reasons – the closure of vital public services in a world of diminishing public resources; the unease over UK’s multi-cultural identity in a post-Brexit world; and the global resurgence of nationalism and right-wing populism – which often scapegoats minorities for political and institutional failures.
However, given its International Women’s Week, I thought it wise to share the life of a very special woman – who embodied the principles of ‘haq’ and ‘insaf’ – and who sadly passed away this Saturday just gone.
This woman was a school principal and like many other women, she survived through the colonial and imperialistic rule of the British Raj. She witnessed the birth of Pakistan following the Indian partition and sadly she saw the rise of Islamaphobia in her lifetime as her faith Islam became politicised.
In her latter years she saw her liberty and dignity being compromised at the hands of institutional commissioned carers and she was told by a government tzar that she and people of her ethnicity had failed to integrate – despite 60 years of contribution to this country.
However it wasn’t all bad – this woman lived a full life fighting for the ‘haq’ (rights) and ‘insaf’ (justice) of others.
When she left this world, she left behind a legacy that includes:
- A 60-bed hospital in Pakistan and an ambulance service – as she believed that a right to life is a basic and fundamental human right;
- A school for children with disabilities – so that they are protected from criminal elements in Pakistani society – because she believed aspiration, education and potential is a fundamental human right for all children;
- An international donor network – because she understood that a steady source of revenue could challenge destitution and the cruelty of poverty, so that their basic human rights are not denied again.
They say behind every great man is a great woman – in the case of this woman and the many who stood alongside her and supported her, there was simply a belief, a philosophy and a vision – that the lottery of birth, or the money in your pocket should not decide what you become. Rather, she believed that people like me who are fortunate to have privilege – having the privilege in itself is not important. It is what you do with that privilege to benefit others, is what truly matters.
I am incredibly privileged to tell you that the woman I am talking about – Ghulam Zohra Malik – was my grandmother. She was 96 years of age but she lived a life in which she became the mother to so many because she lived a life based in the absolute belief in ‘haq’ or rights.
It is that same idea of ‘haq’ that has brought together organisations like Apna Haq and JUST in a common vision and we at JUST are honoured that Zlakha has agreed to join our Board. We know that individually we are strong, but together we can stand resolute against the most daunting of odds. It is an absolute honour that Apna Haq is still around today – despite attempts by the present government to decimate the BME community sector and the generic voluntary sector up and down the country.
Organisations like ours are here to provide a voice, a volume and a decibel that is not only heard – but fundamentally listened to by commissioning groups, public posies and politicians. We realise that to achieve our human rights, racial justice and civil liberty objectives, we can’t do it on our own, because we all have a role to play:
That means recognising that we need to continue to provide a credible voice – but to do that effectively those in power need to provide us with a platform to do so – so that we are engaged in a dialogue of equals.
There has to be a recognition that the BME community is not a homogenous group – so when services are commissioned they are commissioned for all people – and not just the majority. Public institutions, therefore need to adapt and develop cultural competence in the design of their needs assessments.
This town too needs a philosophy, a vision of unity – a counter-narrative that empowers people of all diversities to take the vision forward together. In our minds, we need to view Rotherham almost like a split screen – the first, drawing together where we are now and secondly charting out where we want to be in the future in which everyone has a stake.
You all heard the late MP Jo Cox say that there is more that unites us, than that which divides us. Well let me say: It is haq and insaf that unite us, and it is the taking away of that haq or insaf for specific communities that will divide us. Let nobody take away that haq – let nobody divide us.
Let me finish by saying this, organisations like Apna Haq and JUST are unique. They are driven by women who believe in the idea of rights -– people like Zlakha Ahmed and Ratna Lachman. Likewise women like Sarah Champion, Taiba Yaseen, and Ghulam Zohra Malik don’t come around very often – we are richer for having these women in our lives.