This Schoolteacher’s Homework Includes Lessons On Fighting Injustice

VIEW MAP
Aftab-Siddique-feature-photo
 

This Schoolteacher’s homework includes lessons on fighting injustice

Like many of us, seeing illegalities in Siddique’s neighbourhood made her wonder why no one was ‘doing anything about it’. She realised that if she wanted something done, she would have to do it herself. She knew it wouldn’t be easy.

When Aftab Siddique exposed the Maulana Azad Minority scam, she was threatened and harassed in different ways for months. It worried her mother who begged her to be careful. But over the years, this warm, enthusiastic school teacher has shown that she can also be a force to reckon with.

She exposed an SRA scam worth Rs 4,000 crores in Santacruz West. She’s fixed voter fraud and protested police atrocities. She has stood against illegal hawkers and for legally licensed street vendors, helped working class families navigate complicated legal procedures needed to ensure fair treatment during the redevelopment of their homes, and challenged the disproportionate assets of an ex-councilor of Bandra. She’s succeeded in reuniting a woman trapped in Saudi Arabia with her family here in Andheri and assisted in the rehabilitation of a woman who fled domestic violence.

Aftab has been threatened, pushed, and manhandled by goons, and she once sat in a police station for 19 days in protest. She has never given up.

She stands up for people who don’t have the education or the courage to stand up for themselves. She believes that the system works but doesn’t understand why we have to beg for something that is owed to us. Besides fighting injustice on her own, she wields her power as a teacher too! “Along with academics," she says, "I began to empower my students with information about how to work the system and what their rights are.”

Aftab knows the power is with the youth. “Society is rotten and kids who just ignore it will become party of this system. Instead, train them to ask for things, know their rights, change things. The youth will make the difference.”  

Working with the system and to change the system, Aftab is truly a blow to corruption!

Bhavesh Joshi Superhero celebrates the Insaafer spirit of Aftab Siddique!

READ MORE

Aftab Siddique is just recovering from a bout of malaria and, against her doctor’s orders, is on her way to protest FSI and other violations on an SRA plot by a developer. “I’ll rest when I come back,” she says, smiling at concern for her health. “This is too important.”

Aftab meets your eye, speaks with warmth, and her enthusiasm is infectious. A teacher at Chandulal Nanavati Vinaymandir, a school in Santacruz, for 28 years, her manner is a wonderful combination of authoritative and approachable. Maybe it is her teaching background that gives her the ease to present her causes at protests or preserves her faith that the system would work if more of us knew how to use it. She has the ability to keep track of a diverse range of issues.

In the last few years, the scope of Siddique’s work has included exposing real estate scams, voter fraud, and police atrocities. She has stood against illegal hawkers and for legally licensed street vendors, helped working class families navigate complicated legal procedures needed to ensure fair treatment during the redevelopment of their homes, and challenged the disproportionate assets of an ex-councilor of Bandra. She’s succeeded in reuniting a woman trapped in Saudi Arabia with her family here in Andheri and assisted in the rehabilitation of a woman who fled domestic violence. She’s been threatened, pushed, and manhandled by goons, and she once sat in a police station for 19 days in protest. She has never given up.

Like many of us, seeing illegalities in Siddique’s neighbourhood made her wonder the no one was ‘doing anything about it’. Unlike many of us, Siddique realised, if she wanted something done, she would have to do it herself.

“In 2007, there were a lot of encroachments in my area and people being made to run around for basic amenities,” she says. “I used to approach the political karyakartas, trying to get it sorted out. They’d say, ‘Oh it’s too tough, why don’t you do something about it’.” She rolls her eyes. “These guys used to snap at people. Naturally, ordinary citizens then develop a fear psychosis about approaching the police or the BMC or politicians. So I began to talk to them. I’d tell them, ‘I’m educated and could do what is necessary but all I am doing is requesting you to do your job’.”

Aftab saw people looking for justice but living in fear. “They didn’t have the resources to chase these issues,” she says. “If I can make a difference by standing up them, I should.” Her second epiphany was the power she wielded as a teacher. “I began to question whether book knowledge teaches you to fight injustice in the world. So along with academics, I began to empower my students with information about how to work the system and what their rights are.”

One of Mumbai citizens’ most abused rights are the rights to open spaces. The World Health Organisation suggests every city should have a minimum of 9 sq mt of green space per person. Istanbul with its population of 14 million offers 6.4 sq mt per person. Singapore, the world’s third most densely populated city, enjoys 66 sq metres of open space per person, more than double of London’s 31.7 sq mt or New York’s 26.4 sq mt. Delhi folks enjoy 15 sq mts of open space per person. And Mumbai? Mumbai has approximately 1.58 sq mt of open space per person and, after new development policies, this will reduce to 0.87 square metres per person!

If you open the city papers, you’re likely to see Siddique at the forefront of protests about open spaces. Among her many victories, she had an illegal garage operating next to the Khar Police beat chowkie removed from what was supposed to be an open space. She had the area redeveloped into a garden with a multipurpose play area using BMC H/W funds.

Yet, most recently, Siddique is one of the faces at the protests against Equal Streets – a corporate sponsored event that involves shutting down an arterial road. “13 or 14 hospitals and nursing homes, 385 buildings – these are the numbers of people being told they either can’t leave their buildings or have to re-route for the duration of the event,” she says. “I’m not against kids playing, but the venue is wrong.”

If anything, Siddique is a fierce protector of the rights of children to play and study. In a city starved of playgrounds and non-commercial leisure spaces, she has fought to take back open spaces and plots meant for play and educational facilities from unscrupulous developers. From 2012, she has been petitioning the BMC to allow children to play outdoor sports in the centre of Patwardhan Garden – a 14,571 sq mt open space in the centre of a walking track.

Ask her what her most important victory is and she doesn’t have to think for a second, “Mobilising people,” she says smiling. “I can just bring people together. I organized 9 protests from December to January with regards to licensed stalls and there were hundreds if not a thousand people at each one.”

Siddique wants the youth to be the eyes and ears of good governance, “The youth can make a difference. They can change the rotten parts of society! Come ask people like us how to access all the information online. We’ll show you how to scrutinise papers, meet the right officers. Once you know, you teach other people. Rules get bent by the whims of corruption. But the system works. Once you know how to use it, you will be unstoppable!”