People of Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival: Hamida Khatoon, rising filmmaker

Posted By: Rise Team|Dated: April 11, 2014

Remember to smile the next time you stroll through the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival… you are probably being filmed by Hamida Khatoon!

The annual Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival is the largest event of Sanatkada, a Lucknow-based NGO which supports Indian artisans by selling their goods at this festival and at the Sanatkada Crafts Shop in Lucknow. Hamida, a filmmaker and social worker at Sanatkada, stands behind the lens of the organization’s film projects. Mr. Anand Mahindra, Chairman and MD, Mahindra Group, generously supports the festival in memory of his late mother, Mrs. Indira Mahindra.

Year round, Hamida Khatoon leads two of Sanatkada’s primary initiatives: 1) coordinating leadership and self-esteem workshops for girls in rural areas and 2) making films that try to teach those qualities to girls. She also flexes her filmmaking muscle by filming the organization’s important events. On her journey here, however, Hamida has faced extraordinary personal challenges.

Hamida looks energetic and ready to work at Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival    2014, donning a light kameez and comfortable shoes. She is not only overseeing the  festival’s beautiful decorations and aesthetics, but is filming the festivities for a film  about Sanatkada. She sits down for our interview after 20 minutes of looking for a  quiet spot; the laughter and talk of the festival’s patrons while they transact with crafts  sellers, converse over shammi kebabs, and bump into old friends leave little space for  quiet at this bustling event. Hamida begins telling her story with the help of a  translator:

 “When I was 9 years old, my family, we were very poor. I picked the dry flowers in a    park and made garlands out of that. It was 5 rupees for every 1 KG of flowers. I worked  on very sunny days, it was very hot. I put a wet towel on my head to work. It was  very  hot.”

In the small, ultra-conservative town of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh where she grew up, Hamida explains, “the tradition in families was that girls would study until 2nd or 3rd Standard, and then would be married at 16 years old.” However, Hamida showed an

inability to accept limits at an early age, working hard to help support her family by picking flowers.

Openly and with security, Hamida speaks about her extraordinary hardships like someone who does not feel self-pity, like someone well into her older wiser years, though she is only 27. In the 10th Standard, her father passed away from throat cancer, a hazard faced by people who process cotton. She then struggled to balance picking flowers with attending school – her income more critical after her father’s death than ever before.

With the spirit of a fighter, however, Hamida strove to find opportunities to help her family and herself. Because her elder sister could not leave the house, according to the traditions of the town, Hamida divided her garland-assembly labor to maximize her family’s earnings: she picked the flowers while her sister made the garlands at home. She continued attending school as well, paying for her education herself. Soon, Hamida found an opportunity to interview for a job at Hindustan Unilever conducting surveys in Faizabad, and leapt at the chance to transform her family’s life.

“I came to Lucknow for the first time to interview for the job. There was a walk-in interview. It was a big city,” she reminisces about the day she applied for the job. “Everybody was coming crying from the interview. Girls who are smarter than me, they were crying even. The next day I got the job, I was very happy. At least I could help my mother with medicines, and help my family. “

With her sociable and bubbly manner, Hamida thrived at her job and in just four years became a local supervisor, earning over Rs. 14,000/month, and passed her BA in Urdu, sociology and Education. However, Hamida was still not able to completely escape the conservative mindset of her town:

“Everybody kept an eye on me, they thought I was doing some bad thing because I was earning so much. And once, I was very happy to have a snack with a senior company member in Faizabad, had coffee and pakora for the first time. The other people were taking it differently. Called me a call girl. Also, everybody looking at me in a bad way, because I had to go door-to-door for the surveys. I became mentally sick, and had to leave.”

Hamida resigned from her job, not able to withstand the oppressiveness of her town’s rumors. But soon thereafter, in a stroke of good fortune, she met Madhavi, the Founder-Director of Sanatkada, and accepted a job at the NGO. For the first time in her life, Hamida moved out of Faizabad, and she settled in Lucknow, finding a second home at the organization.

Hamida pauses. Her translator is trying her best to catch up. I am exhilarated by Hamida’s story, hanging on to every word.

Hamida has blossomed at Sanatkada. When she talks about her work, the travelling around Uttar Pradesh recruiting young girls for Sanatkada’s leadership and self-esteem classes, she lights up. Girls are hardly ever allowed to leave the home or to pursue an education, she tells me, and so she uses her own story to show girls’ potential, and of what they can do if given more liberties and support. “Girls in these societies are told they are not intelligent enough to use mobile phones even,” Hamida bemoans. For all these reasons, Hamida believes her work and that of Sanatkada has an important impact.

With Madhavi’s encouragement and her own drive for self-improvement, Hamida recently won a  fellowship to study filmmaking. The fellowship also provided video equipment to Sanatkada. With  the new skills and equipment, Hamida produces educational films that try to teach girls that they  are capable of doing anything they put their minds to, and that also teach about the value of  healthy relationships, self-confidence, and education. Hamida feels a deep connection to this type  of work, helping young girls from ultra-conservative environments, because her journey began in  a very similar place.

“Sometimes people ask, ‘why are you trying to convince us to take our daughter out?’ And I have  to give the example of my own life, and tell that I have a personal interest in this, because the  things I was facing in Faizabad, I don’t want the girls to face.”

Later in the afternoon, Hamida returns to running back and forth at the festival, overseeing the festival’s décor. During my third or fourth stroll through the beautiful bazaar of crafts, I see her          intently typing on her mobile phone. Hamida, the filmmaker, a festival coordinator, and a director  of social initiatives at Sanatkada, a girl once told that women could not use mobile phones, is  exhibiting her assured defiance, I think, as she expertly clicks away.


About the author:

 Nelson Mendoza comes from the great city of Houston, Texas and works for the Mahindra Group’s cultural  outreach programs, including the Mahindra Blues Festival. A Bollywood-film buff, Nelson loves living in  Mumbai and enjoys sampling the city’s delicious chaats. He graduated from Yale University in 2013 with a  degree in Political Science and South Asian Studies.


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