The Begam from Birgunj
The Begam from Birgunj who beat big bureaucrat
• Getting candid with Karima
Begam grabbed media headlines after she slapped a senior government official on Tuesday over an old car row. Following the incident, while civil servants are boiling with fury, an FIR has been lodged, and an arrest warrant for the minister has been issued. But her high-profile position has definitely been a leverage that has allowed her to walk free. At least, until this news report was filed.
Many might be intrigued by this name. ‘Who is Karima Begam’ was probably the first thought in many minds when the incident occurred earlier this week. But those who know the 34-year-old closely describe her vividly. Her five-year-old political career has been fortune-fluctuated, a roller-coaster that she herself describes as ‘chequered’.
“I got into politics by kismet (fate),” she says. “I was a housewife until 2004. Then I was picked as the district chief of the Women Forum of Nepal Sadbhavana Party.”
But Begam came into the national limelight after the Tarai uprising in 2007. When the movement was at its peak, Begam turned to Upendra Yadav, who was leading the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum that was steering the movement. “She brought in more than 5,000 people on her own in Birgunj and that impressed me,” recalls Yadav.
Soon after, her party handed her the responsibility to lead the Women Forum of Parsa district. This mother-of-four-turned-politician was so quick to cash in on the responsibility that in no time, she shot up to the position of the central vice-chair of the Women Forum.
Begam then established a pro-woman organisation called Bari Women Association. But last year, a group of women publicly accused Begam of embezzling organisation funds. In a political career that had just begun, it was a significant setback. “It seems she was framed,” says a central leader of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik, Nepal—the party now she is with.
Begam these days finds it hard to spend quality time with her family. “Since joining politics, I am not at home most of the time,” the minister reveals a motherly side to her.
Begam cleared her grade 10 examinations from Motihari, in Bihar, India. Soon after, she was married to Mohammed Sallauddin. Her critics maintain that if it were not for the Tarai agitation, she wouldn’t have had a political career. “She did not have much political credential before she was elected to the Constituent Assembly,” said a CA member from Parsa, preferring anonymity. But that can be said about many other male leaders from the Tarai too.
At the same time, her street-cred also seems to be based around the Begam that assaulted the CDO last week. “She was an anarchist of sorts, disruptive in behaviour, and undisciplined,” says Yadav, the chairman of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. During the second general assembly of the party this year in Birgunj, Yadav says Begam repeatedly presented herself so rudely that the party had to reach a decision to expel her.
When reminded of the recent assault, the ‘angry young woman’ says the CDO, Durga Prasad Bhandari, “touched me”. “He told me that if you think you were so powerful, why did you not transfer me?” she gives her version of events. As she continues, it seems that her assault was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. It seemed to have been pent-up, eventually lashing out at the “audacious” CDO with four slaps. “For the last one month, I had repea-tedly asked him to take action against those who had killed five people but he didn’t pay any attention to me,” fumes Begam.
How’s life as a state minister, then? “There is nothing much to do,” Begam gushes. “Mantriji (Mrigendra Kumar Singh Yadav) takes care of everything.”
But still, what makes Begam Sahiba (pun unintended) so colourful? So full of tantrums?
“I am the way I am,” she says, unrepentant.
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