On Monday, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) candidate from Kozhikode South Assembly constituency, Noorbina Rasheed, toured the Mankave neighbourhood.
Holding one end of the sari around her head and correcting its position often, the 59-year-old walked fast from one house to the other even as her campaign team struggled to catch up with.
It was the third day of the electioneering for Noorbina after her party decided to field her from its sitting seat on Friday. Neither the rising temperature nor the humid condition has drained her energy despite trudging every nook and cranny of the locality.
“I feel recharged while meeting people and seeking their blessings. Electioneering is an entirely different experience. I am thankful for my party for fielding me in this election,” she said.
Noorbina’s candidature has been a milestone in the history of the Muslim League in Kerala.
The party has not fielded a woman candidate for the Assembly election in the past 25 years. The last time it nominated a woman was in 1996. The candidate, Khmarunnisa Anwar, however, lost to Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Elamaram Kareem by 8,766 votes from Kozhikode - 2 (which has been renamed as Kozhikode South).
Recent statistics, however, favours Noorbina. Senior Muslim League leader MK Muneer won from Kozhikode South in the two previous elections in 2011 and 2016. In 2011, he scraped through by a margin of 1,376 votes. He increased his margin to 6,327 votes in 2016. Muneer opted for the Koduvally constituency this time.
Muslim League is the second largest constituent of Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
Noorbina is up against Left Democratic Front candidate Ahmed Devarkoil of the Indian National League (INL) and National Democratic Alliance’s Navya Haridas of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Who is Noorbina Rasheed?
Born in 1962 in Thalassery in Kannur district, Noorbina’s parents migrated to Kozhikode only to give her better education.
After graduating in law in the late 80s, she practised under prominent criminal advocate M Kunhirama Menon, and the stint helped her establish as a successful criminal lawyer - the first woman from the Muslim community - in Kerala.
She joined the Muslim League in 1993. She took the initiative to form the party’s women’s wing - Indian Union Women’s League (IUWL), often referred to as Vanitha League - and was chosen as the first general secretary of both the State and national units of the outfit. She continued in the post till 2018.
She served as a member of the Kerala Women’s Commission for 10 years. In 2011, she was named in the list of 100 women leaders from 92 countries, as part of an international exchange programme organised by Hillary Clinton, for her contribution to empowering women and girls in India.
‘League Not anti-woman'
Though her party did not nominate women candidates for 25 years, Noorbina does not find fault with her party leadership. She rejected suggestions that the Muslim League is an anti-woman political outfit.
“How can you say that the Muslim League is anti-women? The IUML has several women members in the decision making bodies of the party,” she said. “The party will nominate more women when it feels that we are empowered and we can work well as legislative members,” she said.
Noorbina is confident of retaining the party’s sitting seat and has begun campaigning a day after announcing her candidature.
“I was surprised when the party decided to field me. The party leadership did not give any hint about it. I heard the announcement on the television news channels,” she said.
Noorbina says contesting in the party’s sitting seat increases the responsibility manifold. “The main challenge is to retain the seat by a bigger margin. Besides, this is an opportunity for women to showcase their political capabilities. We have to show the party leadership how good we are at serving people,” he said.
She said her candidature will inspire more women to enter politics. “I am sure that many educated women will enter politics.”
Education & empowerment
Noorbina believes education is the panacea to empower women from minority communities.
She cited her own life experience to buttress her argument. Her parents had migrated from Kannur to Kozhikode to give her a better education. It helped her pursue her favourite career and establish herself as a successful criminal lawyer.
“Women empowerment is possible only through education. So we must give priority to educating women,” she said.
First Muslim woman to contest triple talaq law
Noorbina was the first woman to challenge the law that criminalises Triple Talaq - the practice of instant divorce - in the Supreme Court.
The law - Protection of Rights on Marriage Act - provides three-year punishment for Talaq-e-Biddat, which is often referred to as Triple Talaq.
She does not approve of the practice of Triple Talaq, but she approached the court because she believes the law is unconstitutional.
“The law criminalises divorce to incarcerate Muslim men. Women cannot be protected by sending men to jail. I firmly believe that the law is against India’s Constitution and hence I approached the court,” she said.
Noorbina says women’s safety and development are the main election issues in her constituency.
“I am a woman. A majority of voters in my constituency are women,” she said.
“Women are not safe in Kerala. We have seen the rape and murder of two girls in Walayar. The police did not arrest the culprits. Instead, they victimised the victims. Such incidents should not happen in Kerala. My aim is to provide a safe environment to women,” she said.