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VIDEO: Story of Dastarkhwan an all-women canteen is Jamia’s initiative for gender equity

Dastarkhwan is an all-women canteen and it is Jamia Millia Islamia’s Outreach Programme initiative for gender equity. Since its inauguration in the beginning of 2015, the canteen has grabbed headlines with publications running reports from time to time. The latest being a small documentary by TVFC.

These women of Dastarkhwan serve thousands of students every day and their home-made food is like by many. These women would not have been empowered had Jamia not provided them the helping hand carrying its old tradition of empowering women.

It was on January 16, two years ago when Dastarkhwan operated by Ekta Self Help Group (SHG) was inaugurated by Salma Ansari, wife of Mohammad Hamid Ansari, then Vice-President of India.

The university in its release said: “This SHG is constituted for women from Jamia’s neighbourhood under the aegis of Dr Zakir Husain Memorial Welfare Society (ZHMWS). Later, the Jamia’s Outreach Programme arranged for the training of this group for effective business plan and entrepreneurship. Professor Talat Ahmad, Vice-Chancellor, Jamia has taken a very keen interest in providing gender equity to the campus and Dastarkhwan is a major step in this direction. This initiative of the university is likely to spur other institutions to come forward to change the socio-economic landscape of societies around us.

“The Ekta Team is comprised of about 20 women headed by Shabana Towhid. It is highly expected that this opportunity provided to Ekta by Jamia will lead to economic empowerment and confidence-building amongst the woman of Jamia’s neighbourhood and integrate the neighbourhood with the university for gender sensitivity and institution-society linkage.

“It may be added that “Dastarkhwan” [Table Spread] will build its image through fresh and hygienic food which would be prepared by the women workforce on the spot and served piping-hot or freezing-cold as the case may be to their enthusiastic Jamia students’ fraternity. The university administration is fully committed to providing fresh and hygienic food to its student community, staff and faculty.”

Mukesh Ranjan, the head of Outreach Programme, said the canteen is one of its kind in the capital and if it emerges as a successful effort, Jamia officials plan to take it to other campuses as well. “The canteen is the result of our vice chancellor, Professor Talat Ahmad’s emphasis to promote gender equity in the surroundings of the university. We plan to coax other universities to open such canteens on their campuses.”

Towheed Fatima, a member of Ekta and in-charge of the canteen, told this to Sunday Guardian: “We have hired around 20 women, both married and unmarried, from various localities in Jamia Nagar. Most of them come from very underprivileged and conservative backgrounds. The canteen is an effort to introduce them to the world outside their homes. And what could be better than employment on a university campus, feeding students and teachers?”

“The food is not only delicious but the staff is very generous. Since the canteen hasn’t employed staff from outside, we also trust their hygienic concerns,” said Layma Parveen, a BA final year student and her classmates, reported Sunday Guardian earlier.

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