Acclaimed filmmaker Satyajit Ray described Shabana Azmi as “the finest dramatic actress of the country". Inspired by the fiery zeal of her father, who worked extensively with construction laborers, Ms. Azmi has been a dedicated champion of numerous social causes. She has fought relentlessly against religious fundamentalism of all hues and is highly respected as a moderate, liberal Muslim voice.
As chairperson of Nivara Hakk, she undertook a 5-day hunger strike in May 1986 for slum dwellers in Bombay and was successful in obtaining land for displaced slum dwellers. Nivara Hakk handed over 9000 tenements free of cost to slum dwellers evicted from the Borivli National Park. This was the largest single rehabilitation project in all of Asia
Along with Swami Agnivesh, she undertook a 4-day march for communal harmony from Delhi to Meerut in April of 1989. She has also participated in several street plays and demonstrations against the rising wave of communalism. In the aftermath of the Babri Masjid Demolition, she, along with activists of Nivara Hakk, helped to diffuse tension in several slums. To their credit, Nivara Hakk did not have a single incident of violence whilst the city was ablaze.
With the extensive tour of her play “Tumhari Amrita”, she raised funds for displaced Kashmiri migrants and 40,000 US Dollars for the victims of the Latur Earthquake.
Shabana Azmi is a Member of the National Integration Council under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister and the Advisory Council of the Endowment Campaign for the Chair in Indian Studies, Columbia University.
She is also a visiting Professor at the University of Michigan and has addressed several universities including Harvard, Columbia, U.C. Berkeley, MIT, University of Chicago, and the University of London on the need to relate communal harmony to issues of social justice.
Having worked in 140 films as well as in theatre, Shabana Azmi believes art should be used as an instrument for social change. She has been involved in movements for the rights of women, social development, reproductive health, housing for economically weaker sections of society, public health and efforts against HIV/AIDS stigma.