The Article 14 of our Indian Constitution demands equality for all and prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex, caste, religion or race but is that really the reality we see? We are a country where Goddesses are worshipped but women are molested and killed, daughters feet are touched on Ashtami but female infanticide is a rampant issue that still exists. This double standard exists because of the patriarchal mindset that runs deep in our culture. Indian culture has been known to prefer the male child historically and this preference doesn't see caste or race, it just discriminates against women.
At a point where you are at the bottom of the hierarchy, it is an uphill battle for women to fight for their equal rights. The wave of feminism not only empowered women to claim spaces that were rightfully theirs but it also has helped many women to rise in positions of power so they are able to help countless other women. These 6 Indian women are stellar examples of courage, fierceness, compassion and most importantly they’re great feminist role models-
Sampat Pal Devi
Born in Uttar Pradesh, Sampat Pal Devi had witnessed patriarchal oppression first hand. The daughter of a shepherd, she was married to an ice-cream seller at the age of 12 and by 20 she had already given birth to 5 children! Once in her village in UP, she witnessed a man brutally beating his wife and not knowing that this incident would change her life forever, she rushed to the woman's aid. As she begged the man to stop beating the women, she was abused too. However, the very next day she returned with a lathi and 5 other woman and gave the man the thrashing that he deserved. Soon the news of this much needed intervention spread and she received requests from multiple woman who’d ask for her help in similar situations.
This led to the birth of The Gulabi Gang-which consisted of women dressed in pink sarees armed with lathis (rods) that fight for women’s empowerment and rights by standing up towards any potential abusers by being united and using the power of sisterhood. Since 2006, Devi and her gang have tirelessly worked towards women’s liberation and this is seen in their mission statement which reads - Support and train women to enhance their basic skills to become economically secure and develop (sic) confidence to protect themselves from abuse through sustainable livelihood options.
Devi left no stone unturned in fighting for her cause. In fact, she even beat a corrupt police man who had abuse and attacked her and she even dragged a corrupt government official out of his car to show him the despicable condition of the roads! She and her gang of sisters have protected women from all and any sort of oppression and violence and she even encourages men to join them in this cause. Her support for local industries also help women earn a livelihood and become independent. Her relentless dedication to uplifting the women’s movement is applause worthy and has shown no signs of stopping.
A senior advocate at the High Court of Bombay as well as a human rights activist, Indira Jaising has been the face of the women’s movement since the 1960s. The first woman to be designated as a senior advocate at the high court, Jaising has fought many cases aimed at uplifting and empowering the cause of woman. From the Air India case where she demanded equal pay for both men and women to cases where she helped women fight for equal inheritance rights as well as against dowry, she has been a forefront runner in this cause.
One of her most well known achievements is her work on creating a new law on domestic violence. The Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act, 2005 states that women have the right to reside in a shared household as well prevents them from becoming homeless when they face violence or abuse. This law has prevented countless women from facing violence simply to avoid loosing their house.
Jaising was even elected as an Indian representative at the United Nations on the committee for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women and served there between 2009 and 2012. She was even the first woman to be appointed Additional Solicitor General of India in 2009. She will always be remembered for her efforts to create laws that would uplift women and empower them to fight against any injustice that is done unto them.
The first woman judge at the Delhi High Court, Justice Leila Seth has various accolades under her belt that were used to champion the cause of uplifting women. Being the first woman to become the Chief Justice at a state High Court, her passion, courage and fierceness paved the way for Indian law to support the cause for India’s daughters. Known to carve out a path for feminism in India, she herself had faced immense discrimination at the workplace simply for being a woman. Even after being appointed as a senior judge, she realised people would refer to her as a ‘lady judge’ whereas her male colleagues were simply referred to as ‘judge’. She set out to challenge these patriarchal mindsets which inherently put women down and undermine their power and abilities.
She was an integral part of the 5th Law Commission of India from 1997 to 2000 and was instrumental in changing the backward inheritance laws for women. Regarding The Hindu Succession act (1956), the law finally gave daughters the right to own ancestral property too ! She was also known for her commitment towards human rights issues and often spoke up about human right violations.
Being one of the 3 panel members of the Justice Verma Committee following the atrocity of the Nirbhaya gang rape case, she helped set up a 631 page recommendation just 30 days after the setup of the committee! Being fairly progressive in nature, she made sure to add recommendations that would aim to make rape laws more gender neutral with ‘special emphasis that the survivors of any gender (males, females, transgenders) be allowed to seek remedy’.
In her book, Talking of Justice: People’s Rights in Modern India, she brought up the issue of how the Indian government refused to change the laws which forced women to stay in abusive marriages. Taking gender equality to the forefront of India law, Leila Seth was instrumental in firming the foundations of feminism in India. Since then, various women have taken inspiration from her and her constant dedication to the empowerment of women.
Dr Veena Mazumdar
Fighting for women’s cause during India’s freedom struggle against the Britisher’s, Dr Veena;s life was the development, of what she liked to call the ‘twin movement’ of women studies and women empowerment. As a fierce academician and activist, Dr Veena was a force to be reckoned with in the filed of Indian feminism.
Frequently called the ‘chronicler and recorder’ of the women’s movement in India, she dedicated much of her life in understanding the plight of women under the patriarchal hand of the Indian system. Through her research, the issue of lack of lived experiences of underprivileged women came to light and le to the establishment of the Centre For Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), in 1980. She was a founding member of the Indian Association of Women’s Studies (IAWS) which brings focus and promotes women’s studies till this date.
Her report ‘Towards Equality’, traced the historical chronology of the women’s movement and their status in India. This report was so revolutionary and ahead of it’s years that it laid the necessary foundations for ‘future movements, critical policy changes, documentation, and government action and accountability towards the women’s movement in India’. The report shed light on the social, economic, and political discrimination faced by women and also brought the declining sex ration into focus.
Known as the ‘grandmother of women’s studies in South Asia’, she should be thanked for some of the ‘norms’ that we take for granted today like - shared responsibilities between husband and wife, equal workplace opportunities and pay and many more. She truly set the strong foundations for strong women by highlighting the plight that women faced in the past and everything that should be done to avoid it in the future.
An activist, sociologist, academician and most importantly, a feminist, Rege’s work centered around Indian feminism. In her paper Institutional Alliance between Sociology and Gender Studies: The Story of the Monkey and the Crocodile, she talks about intersection of sociology and gender in the background of Maharashtra. She also brings up controversial yet important points on the ‘masculinization of Dalithood and the Savarnisation of womanhood’ which essentially critiqus Ambedkar’s definition of caste. According to Rege, Ambedkar defined class by revolving around a woman's sexual and reproductive capacity. She further goes onto explain how Dalit men and moreover women, have been eliminated from the public sphere and called the ‘lowest class’.
Her viewpoints in her papers have often been critiqued as being unidimensional but they bring the plight of Dalit women into the limelight. While Indian feminism frequently looks over the cause of Dalit women, she argues that caste plays an important role in feminist politics and sometimes, against the interest of lower caste women.
Dr. Vandana Shiva
At a unique intersection of feminism and ecology, stands Dr. Vandana Shiva and her contribution to the success of the ‘Chipko movement’. Standing at the forefront of environmental activism, Vandana influenced many women to physically use their body to prevent the machinery from cutting down the trees that were the only source of livelihood for many locals and tribals.
She is an eco-feminist who believes that these two movements are strongly inter-connected as the same mentality that causes destruction of the environment is the same mentality that degrades and look down on women. According to her, ‘domination, inequality and exploitation’ are male-centric and perpetuated onto women and the environment alike. She is also knowing for uplifting the cause of ‘third world’ women who have been affected by the disastrous effects of globalisation and patriarchy.
As an inspiration author, activist and speaker, she has written over 13 books that talk about how globalisation has negatively impacted women as well as men, in developing countries. She believes that sustainability can only truly be achieved once oppression over women and nature is put an end. According to her, “We must acknowledge that we are part of the larger web of life that provides for our survival, and therefore it is imperative that we protect that fragile web of life, not as dominators—men over women and humans over nature—but as partners with every other life form on the planet.”
These Indian women have truly saved the way for future generations to not only take inspiration from them but they have also helped women empower themselves and fight for their own upliftment. Their own struggles and tribulations serve as a guide for us to navigate through a world which is inherently unfair. Their lives have been dedicated to the cause of feminism and women’s movement.
Similarly, Misbehaviour is a film that is set against the backdrop of 1970s London. At a time when feminism wasn't considered ‘mainstrem’, Miss World was the most watched show in the world. It objectified women and perpetuated the notion that a woman's worth is solely decided by her looks. However, the newly formed women’s liberation movement is dead set on destroying this notion by using their newfound fame to invade the stage and destroy the live telecast of the Miss World pageant. When the show resumed it’s telecast, people were shocked at the result- the winner was not everyone’s favourite- Sweden’s Miss Grenada but in fact, a black woman! At a time when the epitome of beauty was considered to be girls with blonde hair and blue eyes, this was a shocking turn of events. The showcase of the shattering of western beauty standards was captured on television for the patriarchs to watch, is the climax that is Oscar worthy!
Catch the film in PVR cinemas!