KARACHI: Zahida Shaikh, a revolutionary woman who dedicated her life to fighting for racial equality and political rights for women, passed away in Hyderabad late Saturday night. She was 57 years old.
Wife of veteran politician Rasool Bux Palijo, Zahida was inspired by Russian and Chinese revolutionary women and remained committed to her cause till her last breath.
“We knew Zahida when she was a teenager. She and some other female activists had come to our village, which was partially a no-go area in Larkana division, to mobilise women about their rights,” said journalist Manzoor Chandio.
“It was 1987 and she stayed for a night. They lectured women and even our male folks against honour killing and political rights,” Chandio said, adding that in those days, women were not allowed to leave their homes and Zahida set a precedent in the agrarian society by leading and fighting for their rights.
Born in a middle class family of the Shaikh community of Kamber-Shahdadkot district in 1961, Zahida received her early education from a boys’ school in her hometown and did her master’s in mass communication from the University of Sindh.
She joined the Sindhi Shagrid Tehreek, the student wing of the Awami Tehreek led by Palijo and rose to the position of president of the Sindh Girls’ Student Organisation and Sindhiyani Tehreek, the women’s wing of the party.
She not only travelled every nook and cranny of the province, but participated in two historic long marches travelling hundreds of kilometres on by foot to fight for the rights of women and other issues and water rights for the people of Sindh.
“In the thousands of years of Sindh’s history, there was no grass root level and organised movement for the rights of women. Sindhiyani Tehreek emerged in the 1980s for this cause and Zahida was one of the prisoner of it who never surrendered. She was a symbol of hope for voiceless women and peasants,” an activist of the Awami Tehreek, Zulfiqar Rajpar, said.
Sindhi writer Ayoub Shaikh, who also happened to be Zahida’s class fellow said,”She was the only girl in a boys’ school. When teachers used to punish [under performing] students, we would see Zahida weeping over it.” He added that Zahida’s struggle yielded significant results in such a way that parents allowed their daughters to attend schools and women, especially young girls, came out of their conservative society and took part in social and political activities.
Zahida not only led women, she also wrote many articles and translated a book on the Russian revolution from English to Sindhi. Her marriage to Palijo, however, created resentment amongst party members who felt that their leader should not have married a party activist.
A few people also sidelined themselves from the party over the marriage. However, Zahida proved to be a wonderful wife, preserving Palijo’s books and helping him in his literary work.
Zahida’s was a sudden death, which occurred when the family was getting ready for a wedding.
“It seems to be a hypertension issue, otherwise she was fit and healthy,” said Ayoub, who is also Zahida’s first cousin.
Social media was flooded with condolence messages after her death where writers, political and women’s rights activists and civil society members paid rich tributes to her.
After the funeral prayers held in Kamber town, Zahida was laid to rest in her ancestral graveyard.