Shabnam Ramaswamy- a journey of faith
When we talk about the condition of women in India, sadly we notice a no to very little improvement. Child marriage to domestic abuse, crimes against women doesn’t conclude to rape itself. Unfortunately, no matter how much women are coming forward, the crimes isn’t stopping, it’s like a loop that is continuously existing and repeating its culture again and again. The cycle goes by a women been married off at an early age, abused by the partner, abandoned by the family and dying in vain. This journey hasn’t seen any change ever since it started. Fortunately, few of them has managed to break out this loop and started their journey afresh to becoming a social figure most of us seeks inspiration from. One such women is Shabnam Ramaswamy, whose life has been trapped in the same loop but her courage was greater to break out. This is her story.
Shabnam Ramaswamy: a mother for thousands underprivileged kids
The 65-year-old survivor of domestic violence, Shabnam Ramaswamy has risen from all odds and scripted history on her own! Today she is responsible for almost 1400 underprivileged mothers or women whose life seems nothing but like a black hole. She is inspiring them, motivating them, teaching them the traditional art of Kantha and helping them overcoming the dull circumstances and getting them prepared to face a brighter future. She also started 2 different schools, providing education to about 1300 children who otherwise lacks access to education.
Shabnam Ramaswamy was born as Kazi Shabnam Ahmad in Murshidabad’s Katna village, in a well settled family and had a quite privileged childhood. Her father was a doctor and probably alone in his family to opt for something other than farming. She has the freedom to wear fancy clothes and even go to a decent school for education unlike majority of girls in her village. When she noticed girls from her neighborhood lacking access to education or freedom to life, the young Shabnam always thought of helping them once she is able to. Unfortunately, life awaits a different future for her. At the young age of just 16, Shabnam was married to a 36 year old man, almost double her age and it was never a happy marriage. She was subjected to daily domestic violence, torture and abuse. She got physically abused by her husband and mentally tortured by her in laws. Unable to speak anything, she restraint herself from talking loud. In just the span of few years Shabnam became a mother of three.
“I endured inhumane torture in that house, and within a few years, I was already a mother of three. One night, I could not take it anymore. I felt being homeless was better than a home like this. So I just left home in the middle of the night and spent the night in the streets.” said Shabnam Ramaswamy in a report by The Better India.
After fleeing home, life was never easy for Shabnam. She use to live at Sealdah Railway station, struggling to find a job. By selling her only bangle and a necklace, she survived for almost three months. Fortunately, through her well curated command on English language, she was able to get a job of a receptionist at a gynecologist clinic. Soon after this, she managed to get the custody of her youngest son. And just like this step by step, she countered all the obstacles and finally got the custody of her all three children along with a divorce from her abusive husband. Few months later, Shabnam joined a night college to complete her graduation. She got a degree in home science following a one in interior designing.
“All my hard work finally paid off when I launched my first interior designing studio—Visual Interiors—in a small, rented room in Kolkata. It took me around eight years of relentless struggle.” said Shabnam Ramaswamy.
Reaching her mid-thirties, Shabnam was living a well life with her three children along with a promising career. But as it is said, not everything is decided by you, sometimes things happen totally out of blue without any understandable reasons. During her childhood days, the misery of women she saw then, struck her to do better now. She volunteered in NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation in Delhi at the very starting. It was during this time when she met filmmaker Jugnu Ramaswamy, who in the process of making an autobiography of Shabnam- fell in love with her. A year later, the duo took vows and got married in a simple ceremony.
Not only did their interest matched but also their aim to do good for the society. The duo purchased a land in Katna and started a school over there. Known as The Jagriti Public School which according to Shabnam is her “dream project” was established in 2005 with a global mission to offer educational facility to the under-privileged section of the society. Today, The Jagriti Public School has about 800 students enrolled and the school charges fees in the range of just Rs. 600-900 with the facilities that are no less than world-class! Shabnam Ramaswamy urge to do better didn’t stopped here, instead she ended up opening another school, Pragati Shiksha Niketan, where they provide access to education to underprivileged kids to get education in less than Rs. 300 per month. Along with this, she also runs Shabnam’s cooperative venture called Katna’s Kantha which employs around 1432 women from several Murshidabad’s villages. The idea behind Katna’s Kantha is to provide remuneration to the women who are subjected to domestic violence and abuse. It offers women to seek a better and independent lifestyle for themselves.
Shabnam Ramaswamy organized exhibitions across the country and abroad to promote the art of Kantha. And over the course of these years, she has managed to expand the popularity of the material to its peak, sustaining itself into a premium brand, dwelling attention from Europe, USA, Australia and several prominent places. The team of Kantha also ensures the safety from domestic violence and justification to the sufferings by keeping almost 152 support staff in touch with local police to ensure the complete security. That is how Shabnam Ramaswamy had managed to break out from all the odds of her life and risen like none else. She has lived a life not only supporting herself and her kids but also doing wonders for thousands other, Shabnam Ramaswamy is indeed an inspiring woman.