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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Women Are Creative And Strong-Willed, But They Need To Be Allowed To Show It: Sabika Abbas Naqvi

  • IWB Post
  •  May 15, 2019

“Unn kavitaon ka fayda hi kya jo sirf apne aashiq ki zulfon ko bayan karne ke kaam aayein, uss kavita ka kaam hi kya jo inquilabi na ho?!” This is how Sabika Abbas Naqvi responded when I, being my curious self, asked her the reason she chose poetry to put forward her radical thoughts.

Shouting out slogans of women’s empowerment is an entirely different thing from creating and providing them with the opportunities that they actually deserve and this is exactly what the curators of the Woman Up Summit strive to do. The platform has been specially created to help women become a significant part of the workforce. The idea is to integrate more and more women in the workforce and also to re-integrate those who wish to take up work after having taken a hiatus.

The Summit brings together women achievers from diverse fields, who can guide women in their respective fields and catalyze their growth in the same. Sabika Abbas Naqvi is one such achiever who is going to be part of the Woman Up Summit 2018.

While artists prefer a stage to exhibit their skills, Sabika chose the streets to showcase her art and via that her thoughts to the common man. A performance poet, gender rights activist, translator, and storyteller, Sabika wants every individual to understand and not merely react to what is happening around them.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi

With her voice brimming with the conviction to never bow down, she shared with me instances from her childhood when even at such a young age she fought sexism and why her poetry revolves around issues of reclamation, subversion, sexuality, gender, and minority rights.


Approaching people on the streets and asking them to listen to your poetry, I must say you are pretty bold.

Oh no, no, I am not at all a human being pumped up on overflowing confidence. Arre, in fact, I have severe social anxiety. I need to gather a lot of courage to even stand in the streets to talk about topics like Dalit and minority rights issues, gender rights etc. I am dangerously exposed to the very public that has committed heinous acts like mob lynching, abusing, and hitting people. Also to top that there is the mentality that “Shareef gharon ki ladkiyan aise sadkon pe nahi nikalti.”

I was never an extrovert and over-social, and I am still not, I am a very shy person and have just 2-3 close friends.

Then how do you muster the confidence to publicly perform with such ease? Why do you prefer to present your thoughts in such a manner?

I started noticing that at these talks, either there were the same faces, same social activists or people who are already socially aware to a certain degree. So, how are we bringing about a change, are we even engaging with people when we restrict ourselves to such events only? What about those people, out there, who have thoughts on misogyny, the government, corruption. Why don’t these intelligent conversations churn out any ground results? So, either their engagement in the discussion is limited or they have no proper understanding of the matter they are speaking so passionately about.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi

So, one day I just stood on Rajiv Chowk on Gate no. 5 and I started performing, all alone, unlike these days when I perform with other artists. But then people started gathering around me. And there were so many people, who left their shopping, their food, their gossiping to come and hear me. Initially, I was scared that someone would come up and hit me. *she laughs* There were all kinds of people, no gender demarcation.

So, what happens after you are done with your public poetry sessions? Do people approach you?

People come to me and asked Madam, aap kis political party ki hain?” “Madam, anti-national ho kya?” “Aap kya nukkad-natak karte ho?” Sometimes people try to discourage me from continuing. I don’t care what they say, what really matters to me that people are engaged in what I say, they discuss the matters, allowing different perspectives to have their varied opinions.  

Sabika Abbas Naqvi

People contact me later, message me, email me, telling me they appreciate my efforts, that it’s because of me they came to know a different aspect of an issue, that my words forced them to think. Women have contacted me saying that it takes courage for a woman in this society to speak with such conviction amidst a crowd and that I inspire them. If I can inspire even one other individual, then that’s enough for me.

What was it that inspired you to talk about social issues with such passion, Sabika?

Mujhe bachpan se hi yeh problem thi! *she laughs* I remember when I was around 4-5, there lived this 40-something uncle near us who held this Ph.D. in being sexist. He would go on and on about pointing out the cons of women and what they should and should not do. I would fight with him even at that age but of course, I couldn’t come up with much and would end up coming home and crying to Mumma and Papa.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi

I used to play with the boys of my society and while for my parents all that mattered was a smile on my face, others were more concerned about the fact that a girl was playing among boys. I also went to those video game shops, where you could play games for an hour for Rs 10. The boys would comment on why I, being a girl, was so interested in playing video games, I would beat them up in answer to their mindless query.

I went to an all-girls school and grew up watching such amazing women doing mind-blowing stuff and realized that no woman is any less. We are creative, strong-willed, intelligent, ambitious, hard-working individuals with the same potential as others. What is needed is to allow them to show their skills too.

So true. You earlier mentioned that these days you perform with other artists. Tell me about that.

Tabla-players, Bharatnatyam, sitar players- I work with them all the time. These art forms have long been restricted to stages only. So, when we bring, for example, Bharatanatyam on the streets coupled with my poems, people are quick to point out how the dance form is prohibited from being performed on the streets.

Sabika Abbas Naqvi

Like Ananya Chatterjee is one of the Bharatnatyam dancers I collaborate with and she decided to defy all rules and laws when I asked her to perform with me on the streets. She also received a lot of backlash from people for performing on streets, for wearing a particular jewelry while performing, for making up new dance mudras. But we continue despite it all because there is no stopping people from judging, then why should we stop.

And as a parting gift, she shared the last lines of her beautiful poem Pinjratod…

Aur hum

Humara kya hai

Hum toh besharam, gunahgaar dayan aurtein hain jo

Aagey badhtey jaayengey

Pinjre todey jaayengey

Aur raat nigaltey jaayengey

Aur chaand hamare maathey par

Bindi ban kar chamkega.

The Woman Up Summit 2018 would be held on 27th and 28th of October at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, where you can meet Sabika and more feisty women like her. For registration, please click here.


First published on Oct 26, 2018.

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