Zarina Patel is a Kenyan South Asian woman, who not only struggled against the oppression faced by fellow women, but who was also involved in other movements, above and underground, which fought against injustice. She has worked with people from different walks of life; across cultures, gender, generation, religion and region, ethnicities and races.
Zarina has not led the stereotypical life of a South Asian woman. She has followed in the footsteps of Makhan Singh, the father of trade unionism in Kenya; Manilal Desai who worked closely with Harry Thuku in the anti-colonial struggles and her grandfather, Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, who bestowed Jeevanjee Gardens to Nairobians. She has authored the biographies of all three personalities as well as the work of South Asian journalists in The In Between World of Kenya’s Media.
She is the Managing Editor of AwaaZ magazine that started with recording the lives of East African heroes of South Asian descent, and now focuses on minority and diversity issues. AwaaZ is now in its eighteenth year of publication and has the SAMOSA Festival as its cultural arm.
Although she was born and raised in an upper middle class family, she rejected opulence and sought personal liberty and fulfillment by identifying with multi-ethnic and multi-racial groups that were struggling for human rights and freedom from exploitation and domination. She not only liberated herself from the shackles of patriarchal Asian society, but also interacted with Kenyans of similar character and thinking.
Zarina’s fight for women, her struggles against a corrupt Bohra priesthood, fruitful efforts to save Jeevanjee Gardens from land grabbers, to working with the organization Kikuyus for Change and the Kenyan Constitution Review process and being one of the founder members of the Kenya Asian Forum – are a few illustrations of her diverse contributions to post-independence Kenya.
She understood the connection between freedom of creative expression and the struggles for democratic space and the concomitant benefits of conscientising the public of the prevailing social, political, cultural, global, and economic circumstances.
Zarina’s artwork demonstrates the possibility of carrying out political work and speaking out even under difficult circumstances.