Rising above all shackles: Umera Banu - an inspiration to many in Azad Nagar

Drive past the indicator that marks the start of Azad Nagar. If you see a mosque, you have reached the right place. Turn off the engine, get off, cross the road and walk past the mosque.

Umera Banu, the lady who has been inspiring other women in Azad Nagar for years

Don’t be surprised when a random local waxes lyrical about her when you utter her name. Yes, you heard it right and the reason being she is an exception. Girls from her community are not allowed to go out and study after a certain age but she managed to shake off all the shackles of her religion. No amount of criticism could stop her from fulfilling her dream. She is an exception. She is Umera Banu.

The 23-year-old free-spirited lady was born and brought up in Azad Nagar, Karnataka. Though she had attended an Urdu medium upper primary school till class 7, she managed to cope with a new environment with ease when she joined English medium Girls’ Government High School. She thanks her lucky stars that she always had by her side very supportive teachers.

“My teachers were always a pinnacle of strength. Especially Chetan Kumar, the one who used to teach us income tax. He made understanding even the most complex elements of the subject a piece of cake. His way of teaching made me grow an interest in the subject,” says Umera with gratitude.

Tuition is always a burden to a family with poor financial standing. So right from school days she had to solely depend on school for academic guidance.

After school, Umera joined Women’s College for her graduation. She took up Financial Accounting, Business Management, Business Mathematics, Auditing and Income Tax at college.

Umera completed her graduation in 2013. She wanted to pursue her Masters but could not as her marriage was fixed in the same year. She had got engaged to her fiancé in 2010. She is still a maiden for two reasons.

Her fiancé has an elder sister. So his family always wanted to see their daughter married off first. Umera’s would be sister-in-law got married in 2014. But again the vagaries of nature delayed her marriage; flooding in 2015 and extreme draught in 2016 left the family in distress.

All the crops were destroyed in the wet spell and the dry spell for consecutive two years.

Umera’s family earns a living from agriculture. They produce tobacco, ragi, tomato, potato, red chilli, green chilli, cauliflower,cabbage and turmeric powder.

Though they have been incurring loss for the past two years, no traces of it can be seen on her eyes. Rather with a smile full of contentment, she explains how a piece of land is used for both corn and tobacco cultivation.

Her family once took out a loan of Rs. 25,000 from State Bank of Mysore for buying firewood used for drying tobacco. In order to buy a buffalo (used as a draught animal), they had to mortgage their land in 2013. The bank has already served them a notice for not paying back the loan in time.

Prior to 2015, they had managed to get returns Rs 2.5 lakh on an expenditure of Rs 1,50,000. But two consecutive years of loss have made things worse.

Despite all the difficulties, she is content with what she has got from her parents. Her neighbours used to criticize her for pursuing higher education and wearing modern outfits. But her father Fayaz Ahmed has always supported her.

“My parents have faith in me and they trust me. Neighbours tried to instigate them against us. They told my parents not to send me to school because in their opinion, my education would put them to disgrace. They call us ‘boys’ when my sisters and I wear modern outfits. I have been blessed with very supportive parents. They have no objection to what we do. They pay no heed to what others say,” Umera explained.

She started teaching at Chayadevi Primary school on Mysore Road in 2015 to contribute to the family income. But she quit her job in 2016 because the school was too far from her village, and she felt unsafe to return home all alone at night.

Even though she got selected by a private company as an accountant subsequently, she couldn’t take it up because of the distance.

Umera always wanted to become a lawyer. But her dream has remained unfulfilled due to lack of any law schools in her hometown.

” There is one in Mysore which is 40 Km from here. I could not afford the bus fare. Becoming a lawyer remains an unfulfilled dream,” she says.

Now she dreams of pursuing M.com after marriage. ” I will continue with my education, no matter what,” Umera adds with eyes brimming with enthusiasm.

Now she gives tuition to 25 children in the village. She finds all her happiness in them.

“I am content with what I have got in life. I am happy about the fact that I contribute to the family income. I am helping my parents. I am also independent,” she exclaims proudly.

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