On 15th August, 2020, India will welcome its 74th year of Independence amidst the pandemic and lockdown. This year, the celebrations will be unique in their own way, given that public parades and gatherings are restricted. What will be the same is the celebration of all the patriots that fought for the country’s Independence, like Gandhi, Bose, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Nana Sahib, Sarojini Naidu, Annie Besant and Kasturba Gandhi. And while we revere the greats, we also want to pay tribute to those who continue to fight for our Independence even today, in their own little ways.
From equal rights and a seat at the table to upliftment and empowerment in society, an Independent India still has many daughters who are fighting for basic rights and suffering at the hands of patriarchy that’s followed us down the generations.
So whether it’s the 1942 monochrome image of women walking during the Quit India movement, or the HD photos of women leaders and activists leading tides of change in 2020, there are always a select few people who are silently working to support your cause.
Well, we want to make them known (in case you don’t already). As a woman in the India of 2020, here are 12 extraordinary naaris who are still fighting for your freedom and independence in various walks of life.
Vani Kola, the Indian venture capitalist and listed as one of the most powerful women in Indian Business by Fortune India, has been committed to helping women along the path of entrepreneurship. Born and educated in Telangana, she holds a degree in electrical engineering from Osmania University, and a Masters in engineering from Arizona State University. She is the founder and Managing Director of Kalaari Capital, one of our country’s leading early-stage venture capital firms. Not only is she a proponent for India’s digital opportunity to create next-gen large scale companies but also a philanthropist. Having spent 22 years in Silicon Valley, she has gained enough experience to invest in companies which have a future potential. Her famous investments at Kalaari Capital include Myntra, Cure.fit and Snapdeal, among others.
- Vani has been helping Indian women get a seat at the table and have their ventures funded without gender bias.
- In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Vani along with other senior leaders have been spearheading an initiative called ACT Grants to combat this crisis. This grant which already had a corpus of Rs. 100 crore had disbursed Rs. 60 crore to 50 different ventures.
- Vani engages in multiple programs that promote women in business, including Women Entrepreneurship in India, Call for Women Pathmakers, and Together for Change.
Laxmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor who hails from New Delhi, is making women proud all across the nation and beyond. She was just 15 when the 32 year old Nadeem Khan and three others threw acid on her face in Khan Market back in 2005. Little did they know that nothing was going to stop this warrior. In fact, back in January, a movie starring Deepika Padukone playing the role of Malti in Chhapaak, a film by Meghna Gulzar, was a biographical take on Laxmi’s life.
- In 2006, Laxmi filed a PIL in the Supreme Court along with another acid attack survivor Rupa, seeking an amendment to the existing provision of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Evidence and Criminal Procedure code to deal with acid attacks, along with providing compensation to the victims.
- After a long battle, in 2013, the Supreme court granted the amendment and issued new restrictions on the sale of acids.
- In 2014, she won the United States Department’s “International Women of Courage Award” and in 2015 she founded the “Stop Acid Attack” campaign along with journalist Alok Dixit.
- She is now an activist for acid attack victims and a motivational speaker for women everywhere who are looking to be inspired.
Bhasin, an Indian developmental feminist, poet, author and social scientist, began her work back in 1970 focusing on gender, education, human development and media. The South Asian coordinator of “One Billion Rising”, Kamla Bhasin resigned from her job with UN back in 2002 to to work with Sangat, where she is both a founding member and an advisor. After earning an M.A. from Rajasthan, she went on to pursue Sociology of Development at the University of Münster in West Germany with a fellowship. However, when she came back to India, she worked for water development in the rural areas.
- Reportedly, Bhasin was the first woman to ever chant the Azadi song in India. She spoke about how capitalism was as an agent of the patriarchy for objectifying women’s bodies.
- She brought about a cultural change and provided new groundwork on feminist theories in India.
- Once Bhasin realized that caste and feminism were inter-sectional in the country, she started working for the Seva Mandir.
- With various books and booklets on patriarchy and gender, she now helps NGOs understand the importance of gender equality and various gender issues.
Sampat Lal Devi
This 54 year old self-proclaimed commander-in-chief of the Gulabi Gang which operates in Bundelkhand in Uttarakhand has been lauded as an activist and a feminist. In a world where women experience violence of all sorts, Sampat Lal Devi and her Gulabi Gang follow strategies that are extremely sustainable. Devi and her gang was formed quite spontaneously when she once witnessed a farmer mercilessly beat up his wife. When she went to help, the farmer turned around and abused her. She had then rallied a few women back to the man’s house and thrashed him until he had begged for mercy.
- Gulabi Gang was formed in 2006 by Sampat Lal Devi and till today, it has around 2,00,000 women as members who pay a membership fee, and in return are given a pink saree and a stick as a uniform.
- It works against the violence of women in the rural parts of India where violence is still quite prevalent.
- From helping Dalit women to protesting against honor killings, she has been fighting against all the injustices which have been going on in the notorious lands of Bundelkhand.
A part of BBC’s list of 100 inspiring and influential women from across the world (2018), Viji Penkoottu created the women’s union called Asanghaditha Mekhala Thozhilali Union (Union for workers of unorganized sectors), as a part of a women’s group in Kerala. A large number of saleswomen in Kerala were surprisingly scared to even drink a glass of water during their duty hours. The reason being that the shops they worked in didn’t provide them with toilet facilities. As a result, a large number of women became victims of urinary diseases and infections. The male dominated macho trade unions overlooked this for years until Viji Penkoottu came into the picture and fought against this unjust system.
- She won the basic rights for women working as saleswomen and the “Right to Sit” during the working hours.
- Viji had been working as tailor in Kozhikode prior to her involvement in activism. In an interview she recalls how indifferent and apathetic these trade unions were towards women.
- Sharing a deep empathy towards the labourers from a very young age, Viji led her movement by holding numerous strikes and rallies against this injustice and finally saw victory.
Medha, an alumnus of TISS, a premier institute of social science research in India, is recognized as one of India’s famous social activists working on issues which are raised by the tribals, dalits, farmers, labourers and women. She is the founding member of the 32 year old people’s movement called NBA or the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The NBA is actively engaged in working for justice for the people who are widely affected by the construction of the dams, especially those whose houses will be submerged and haven’t been rehabilitated yet.
- An advocate of human rights, Patkar founded her campaigns based on two important tenets of the Indian Constitution: the rights to live and livelihood.
- Medha was born to socially active parents and since childhood was imbued with a sense of justice and freedom. In 1990, she led the NBA members and around 3,000 people displaced by dam projects on a march from Madhya Pradesh to the Sardar Sarovar dam site. Though the march was stopped by Gujarat police and pro-dam activists, her struggle didn’t end there.
- She continues to work till today with the local communities to develop alternatives for energy generation, water harvesting and education.
- She has also created a system of residential and day schools in the villages of Maharashtra.
A member of the anti-globalization movement, Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, an environmental activist and a food sovereignty advocate. She is one of the leaders and board members of the International Forum on Globalisation along with Jerry Mander, Ralph Nader and Jeremy Rifkin. After studying Physics in the Panjab University at Chandigarh, she graduated as a bachelor of Science in 1972. Apart from writing and speaking extensively in the fields of agriculture and food, Vandana has fought through her activist campaigns for intellectual property rights, bioethics, biotechnology and biodiversity. In one word, you can call her a lady with a green thumb assisting grassroots organisations of the Green movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
- She created Navdanya in 1991 which was a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources and the promotion of organic farming in India.
- Along with her team, Vandana Shiva challenged the biopiracy of Basmati, wheat and neem. Her first book titled as Staying Alive also helped change perceptions on third world women.
- Shiva worked against the production of golden rice, a breed of rice which was genetically engineered to biosynthesise beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.
- Apart from all the major breakthroughs that she has achieved, Vandana is also a leading figure in the global Eco-feminist movement.
This Independence Day is not just about celebrating grown up women who have made it big but also child activists like Licypriya Kangujam. You may know about Greta Thunberg, the Swedish Climate activist but did you know that Licypriya is also one of the youngest climate activists globally and that she hails from India? For two years now, Licypriya has been campaigning for climate action in India.
- Kanjugam has been campaigning to pass new laws to curb India’s highest pollution levels and to make climate change literacy mandatory in all schools.
- Inspired by Greta, Licypriya had also started spending a week outside the Indian parliament to draw attention from the Prime Minister to change the climate law in India.
- She brings about a symbolic device called SUKIFU (Survival Kit For The Future) to curb air pollution. SUKIFU is a kit designed from trash which provides fresh air to the atmosphere when the pollution rate is high. The best part about SUKIFU is the fact that it’s a zero-budget kit.
- To help the Kerala flood victims in 2018, she even donated her savings of Rs. 1,00,000 to the Chief Minister.
Sunitha Krishnan is an Indian social activist and a chief-functionary and co-founder of an N.G.O called Prajwala that aims to rescue and rehabilitate sex-trafficked victims back into the society. Krishnan is known throughout the country for her massive contributions in areas of anti-human trafficking and social policy. In 2016, she brought back home India’s fourth highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri.
- Krishnan has been rescuing and sheltering both women and children in one of the largest rehabilitation homes in India.
- Prior to working in Prajwala, Sunitha became involved with the housing problems of the slum dwellers. She stalled the scheme of the beautification project by the Musi river.
- In the early years, she sacrificed most of her belongings and jewellery to make ends meet at Prajwala. However, this didn’t stop her from pursuing what she truly believed in. The organisation’s second-generation prevention program operates in 17 centers and has helped prevent thousands of children of prostituted mothers from entering the sex trade.
- In 2003, she drafted recommendations for rehabilitation of victims of sex trafficking in Andhra Pradesh, which was then passed by the State Government as a policy.
This 29 year old child activist from India stood up against death threats to save victims of child marriages. In one of her interviews, Kriti mentions, “I dedicate my life to helping these defenseless children from their families who force them into the most barbaric circumstances because of tradition. When I picked up this young girl, she was hiding behind a tree at 4 am in a desert in the middle of Rajasthan, absolutely terrified. She had been pushed to her limits, and preferred to risk her life out in the desert than stay with her family. As soon as she got in the car she hugged me tightly. She couldn’t speak as she was crying so much.”
- Kriti Bharti today is the founder of the Saarthi Trust, a charity set up to prevent victims of child marriages in India. Apart from saving girls, she has also managed to provide them with education, develop numeracy and literacy skills and basic life skills.
- She has annulled 29 marriages and stopped approximately 900, which involved both boys and girls. Kriti thereby was added to the World Records of India Catalogue.
- This child-bride saver has been working day and night, non-stop to fight against such prejudiced and evil practices in our country. Apart from saving children, she has been uniting them with their families wherever possible or else lets the law take its course.
Trisha Shetty, the founder of SheSays is known for her activism for gender equality. Born in Mumbai, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Psychology from Jai Hind College, University of Mumbai. After completing her law degree, she was selected as a special member from the Obama Foundation Scholar and completed her one year specialized training at Columbia University.
- Trisha takes a youth-led multidimensional approach to advance gender equality.
Shetty was also co-contributor to the Sunday Times bestseller Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (2018), a collection of short stories by activists and female leaders to raise money for the United Nations initiative Girl Up.
- On International Day of the Girl Child, Shetty assisted Michelle Obama to launch the Global Girls Alliance under the Obama Foundation. Shetty joined other celebrities including Zendaya, Karlie Kloss and Jennifer Hudson on Today and urged viewers to take a stand for marginalised girls.
At just 20 years of age, Suhani formed Myna Mahila, a foundation to help impoverished women in the slum dwelling areas of her city, Mumbai. Jalota was just 23 when Forbes named her as one of Asia’s 30-Under-30 Social Entrepreneurs. From Stanford’s Department of Medicine, she is currently embarking a PhD in health policy. The Myna Mahila foundation provides affordable sanitary products to women in the rural areas. This millennial hails from a family which values the status of women and it’s more of a family calling for her.
- Suhani understood at a young age that if she went on the right path, her dream of changing the condition of the slum-dwelling women in Mumbai could actually be achievable.
- She became extremely involved in women empowerment not just in the rural areas but also throughout the country.
- Her foundation came up with a scheme to sell sanitary pads door-to-door to women who would normally not leave their homes or go to a pharmacy to buy them from the male clerks. As soon as they got to know these women, they reached out and the women started opening up and exploring things outside the confines of their husbands’ world. They learned that if women were confident to talk about their periods and menstrual hygiene, it could break the silence surrounding domestic violence or sanitation.
Now that you’ve come across such brave and heroic change makers of India, this Independence Day, let’s all celebrate the victory of these fighters and how they are still fighting for your freedom.