Why it took Kerala so long to recognise the work of a woman editor of 1930s

Haleema Beevi
Haleema Beevi played multiple roles with a single objective—to empower, educate and organise Muslim women | Illustration - Immayabharathi K

“Dear sisters, let’s not hesitate to send your daughters to schools. Prophet Mohammed never treated women inferior to men. We have to unite and demand our educational and employment rights. I hope you know that only the crying baby gets the milk. In our times, even crying babies do not get milk. Hence we have to keep on crying. Those who are educated among us should make use of every opportunity to get employment. We also have the duty to serve the nation. Women should take up employment. That only helps them to uphold their self-esteem.” 

The above speech by a feisty 20-year-old Haleema Beevi, at the Muslim women’s conference held in Kerala's Thiruvalla in 1938, went on to launch many a small and big revolutions for women's emancipation. The text of this speech was published in the July 1938 issue of  ‘Muslim Vanitha’, the first magazine launched by Haleema herself.

Haleema played multiple roles with a single objective—to empower, educate and organise Muslim women.

But nearly a century later, there is little mention of her in the annals of history. This, despite Haleema being a pioneer in the journalism industry. She was the editor of four magazines and a newspaper, a first for a Muslim woman in Malayalam language. She almost single-handedly fought for the rights of Muslim women. She was the first Muslim woman to be elected a municipal councillor. But she perhaps received the least recognition for the fact that she nurtured many legendary Malayalam writers like Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer, Changambuzha Krishna Pillai and Balamani Amma.

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