Meet the MP: Iqra Munawwar Hasan - Hindustan Times

Meet the MP: Iqra Munawwar Hasan

Jun 09, 2024 08:30 AM IST

I spoke to Iqra Hasan, one of only 27 Muslim women ever to make it to Parliament, about her plans for Kairana, putting her PhD on hold.

Iqra Hasan had just completed her master’s degree in international law and politics from London’s School of Oriental and Asian Studies when Covid’s second wave struck and she found herself back home in Kairana, Uttar Pradesh.

Meet the MP: Iqra Munawwar Hasan
Meet the MP: Iqra Munawwar Hasan

With a B.A. from the Lady Shri Ram College and a law degree from Delhi University, Iqra had submitted her PhD proposal—a study of the first-past-the-post system of India’s parliamentary democracy—with no thought of joining politics, even though it was in her blood and she had seen her parents and elder brother campaign for as long as she could remember.

When her father, Chaudhary Munawwar Hasan, a member of Parliament, died in a car accident in 2008, it was her mother Tabassum who stepped into the breach, winning the byelections in 2009 and again in 2018. Meanwhile, her brother Nahid contested and won the state assembly elections three times.

But just before the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, as Nahid was on his way to file his nomination as the official candidate from Kairana, he was arrested on various charges including the state’s Gangster Act. With her brother in jail, and her mother lying low since she too had been implicated under the Gangster Act, it was left to Iqra to campaign for her brother. Nahid won and has since been acquitted in some of the cases.

I spoke to Iqra about her formal plunge into politics, her plans for the future and the hope for greater representation of women in Parliament.

You were all set to do your PhD. Then you decided to contest the Parliamentary elections from Kairana. What led to that decision?

I came home to Kairana in 2021 during the second wave of Covid. I had just completed my M.A. and could not even attend the graduation ceremony. Then a few months later, in 2022, my brother was implicated in false cases and arrested. My mother too was named under the Gangster Act. So, not to be dramatic, I had literally no choice but to step up and take on the responsibilities of both the household and politics.

My family has contested from Kairana since my grandfather’s time and I grew up in this environment. I recognise that I come from a lot of privilege. But I was an extremely shy girl. Even in college, doing my law degree, I would be nervous appearing in moot courts and debates. It was difficult for me to speak in front of people.

Now, with my brother in jail and my mother lying low, it was left to me to fight for him in the 2022 assembly elections. I didn’t even know how to give a speech. My mother told me that I would just have to find the courage and do it. In the end my brother won, but it still took a year to get him out of jail because of the legal process and administrative delays.

Those two years in politics were the worst time of my life. I was on my own and I had to rise to the occasion. The BJP literally tried to torture my family in every way. It made me want to be the one to stand up to them. So, when I was offered the ticket to contest the Parliamentary seat this year, I thought, “Yes, why not? Why not battle it out openly?”

What was your campaign strategy?

I began my campaign as soon as I was offered the ticket to contest. I understood that I would have to reach out to all sections of people—Jats, Gujjars, Dalits. In the end, I’m glad that I got votes across all communities.

I already knew the issues concerning my constituency since I have deep roots here. For instance, sugarcane farmers face huge problems getting payments on time from the mills. This is an old issue that needs a long-standing solution.

I also had one advantage as a woman. Kairana is quite patriarchal and at rallies and meetings you never meet women. So, I would make it a point to go inside their homes and listen to what women had to say. Male politicians don’t do that. Normally, nobody listens to women or gives them importance. So, I always tried to reach out to them, to understand what issues they faced and what they want.

The condition of government schools is pathetic, just one or two teachers for 100-200 kids.

What are the other issues?

Regular development work has been neglected in our area. The BJP did no work here. The electricity is erratic, there are no proper roads. There is actually no industry here, apart from a few small-scale weavers. I have already spoken to [Samajwad Party chief] Akhilesh Yadav about starting an industry here. I would like to also organise the weavers into a set-up where they can sell their goods online.

The youth want to be on track to get jobs in the police and army. This is a huge demand and I plan to put them on that track.

Heroin addiction is another problem in the area, and I would really like to come up with a solution to this.

What do you have to say about the fact that all the parties fielded so few women candidates?

As I mentioned earlier, I know I come from a very privileged background. I have legacy. Not a lot of people fall in the same category and are waiting for a chance to prove themselves.

As women, we can reach out to other women and open up spaces for them. It’s a two-way process. I learned a lot from speaking to women, reaching out to them and giving them the importance that male politicians do not.

All parties need to do better. We just don’t get enough chances. Parties need to look into this. And as women representatives, we need to ask better questions of our own parties and government.

Right now, I believe that unless there is reservation and the women’s reservation act comes into effect, you will not see more women representatives in Parliament and the assemblies. Look at how many Dalit women have won this election. It’s because of reserved seats. Without strict laws, things will not change. To get space in public life, women need laws otherwise nobody is doing justice to women’s representation.

The following article is an excerpt from this week's HT Mind the Gap. Subscribe here.

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