Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Independant Women
It is often said that the status and position of women in society is the best way to understand a civilisation, its progress and its shortcomings. In case of India, women have come a long way from women sages and scholars in the Rig Vedic period to women in the armed forces, IT sector, politics , industry and other significant areas while balancing their role as a daughter, wife and mother. This journey towards modernization has not been easy.

Women have had to fight the traditional Indian male-dominated society to emerge as stronger and independent entities. While all these are positive developments, cases of rape, harassment at workplace and dowry deaths are rampant. Illiteracy and ignorance about their rights are still prevalent among a majority of the women. However there are some women, who defy all odds to stand up for themselves and make their presence felt.

Here are some of the ever-encouraging women, who make a positive role-model for all Indians.

1. Women behind Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad :

A women's organisation of the women, by the women and for the women. It was started in 1959 with 7 lady members with a borrowed sum of Rs. 80/- at Girgaum in Mumbai.
The turning point of this Institution was in 1966 when it was registered under the Bombay Public Trust Act 1950 and also registered under Societies Registration Act, 1860 and got recognition from Khadi & Village Industries Commission as a village industry.

The objective of the Institution is to provide employment to the ladies to enable them to earn decent and dignified livelihood. Any women who can render physical work in this Institution without distinction of caste, creed and colour and agrees to abide by the objective of the Institution can become a member of the Institution from the date on which she starts working.

Besides Lijjat Papad the Institution has other products like Khakhra, Masala, Wadi, Detergent Powder & Cakes, Bakery Products & Chapaties. At present it has 63 Branches & 40 Divisions and gives self-employment to about 40,000 sister members all over India with Sales turnover of Rs. 300 Crores which includes Rs. 12 Crores of Exports.Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad posted a turnover of over Rs 118 crore from the sale of papads alone in fiscal 2003-04.The co-operative posted a turnover of Rs 288.47 crore for the year ended March 2004.

"The success behind this large turnover is the hardwork of women working towards this," says Jyoti J Naik, president, Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad. This Institution, over the years, has paved the way for village women to become self-reliant and self-confident. Lijjat has provided them the right platform to improve their status in society.

2. Dr. Kiran Bedi :

Kiran Bedi is the first woman police officer (IPS) of India. She has set a glorious record in the various tasks assigned to her, and made a name for herself in a male dominated profession.
In July of 1972, she became the first female police officer in India when she joined the Indian Police Service. Her honesty drew attention, although it was not always appreciated.She was well aware that the police were often the biggest violators of human rights. Yet, she believed that it was the police who were in the best position to be the champion of human rights. She applied this philosophy in every stage of a career as a traffic cop, a narcotics officer, an anti-terrorist specialist, and an administrator. Bedi felt that the police should do more than just catch the bad guys and put them in jail. She saw her role as a police officer as an opportunity to help people, to show them the way to a better life.

The greatest challenge to her philosophy came in 1994 when she was promoted to the rank of Inspector General of Prisons and given the responsibility of managing the largest and most notorious prison in the Asia Pacific area. Tihar Prison held approximately 8,500 prisoners, mostly male. Besides her professional contributions, two voluntary organizations founded and supervised by her - Navjyoti, set up in 1988 and India Vision Foundation in 1994, reach out to thousands of poor children daily for primary education, women for adult literacy; provide vocational training and counseling services in the slums, rural areas and inside the prison apart from treatment for drug addiction. She and her organizations today stand nationally and internationally recognized, with the latest award being given by the United Nations - the Serge Sotiroff Memorial Award for drug abuse prevention.

Her greatest achievement may be the effect her achievements have had on Indian women who see Kiran Bedi as a role model and a hero. Bedi has shown them that with hard work and determination, they can overcome ancient stereotyping and make their dreams come true.

3. Shabnam Ara Begum

In a rare achievement, 26-year-old Shabnam Ara Begum has become India's first woman qazi. She is the Muslim marriage registrar and honorary qazi of Nandigram village in West Bengal's East Midnapore district, about 170 km from Kolkata, where, despite a few voices of protest, people have accepted her in this traditionally male position. Since her appointment in December 2003, Shabnam has conducted over 770 marriages. Apart from a small honorarium, she gets a minimum of Rs 100 for her efforts. This means that in 20 months, Shabnam earns nearly Rs 1 lakh -- a large sum for a villager, let alone a woman.

Shabnam's appointment did not go undisputed. Mozammel Hossein, a resident of Nandigram and claimant to the post, challenged her appointment in the Calcutta High Court saying: "There is no provision in the shariat for appointing a woman as qazi. Under Islamic law, women are not allowed to carry out tasks performed by men. All over the world, only men are qazis." He also pointed out that, at the time of her appointment, Shabnam was below 25 years-the minimum qualifying age for a qazi. The court however refused to interfere in the case and, on July 21, 2005, the matter was referred to the inspector general of registration (judiciary) for adjudication within three months.

The appointment of Shabnam Ara Begum as qazi - a cleric who can conduct a wedding ceremony - is being seen as a step towards the emancipation and empowerment of Muslim women.

4. Bachendri Pal

Bachendri Pal was the first Indian woman to climb to the summit of Mt. Everest, in 1984. She was independent and fearless, and first tasted the excitement of the high altitudes when a group of 12-year-old classmates climbed to 4000m (13123 feet) during a picnic, could not come down by nightfall, and spent the night there without food or shelter. At 13, like most Garhwal girls she was expected to leave school and help in the house, but she studied on her own at night until her determination impressed her family to let her finish high school. She still earned money by sewing in her spare time. The principal of her school persuaded her family to send her to college, where she beat both boys and girls in rifle shooting and other competitions. Her B.A. thrilled her parents, who wanted her to be the first girl in the village with a higher degree. She eventually an M.A. in Sanskrit and then a B.Ed. In spite of these achievements the job offers that came in were only for low-paid, temporary, junior-level positions, so Bachendri applied to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering for a course.

She was judged the best student in the course, and marked down as 'Everest material', much to her surprise. In an advanced camp at NIM in 1982, she climbed Gangotri I (6,672 m/ 21900 ft) and Rudugaira (5,819 m / 19091 ft). Her mentor was Brigadier Gyan Singh, director of the National Adventure Foundation, who set up an Adventure Club for young women to learn mountaineering skills. It also provided an instructor's job for Bachendri, whose family was under economic pressure. India's fourth expedition to Everest was scheduled for 1984, and only four women in the world had ever scaled the peak. The '84 team consisted of seven women and eleven men, and this was Bachendri Pal's first real expedition.

She is a member of the governing body of IMF, HMI, NIM, National Adventure Foundation, Vice Chairman of Seven Sister's Adventure Club, Uttar Kashi and All India Women's Judo and Karate Federation, and President of Lioness Club India. She is the Manager Adventure Programmes, Tata Iron & Steel Co. Ltd. The then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had presented the 1986 Ladies Study Group Award to her in recognition of her outstanding contribution in the field of Mountaineering. She has been awarded Padmashree, Arjuna Award, IMF Gold Medal, and cash award from U.P. Government and TISCO.

5. Mrs. Simone Tata

Simone Tata has several firsts to her name:the first businesswoman to introduce cosmetics to Indian consumers, the first businesswoman to start the practice of beauty salons in the country, the first to introduce a 100 per cent private label store in the country. She started India's first indigenous beauty company, Lakme, in 1962, and was appointed as its first MD in 1964 and also assumed its Chairmanship in 1982.

After she sold off Lakme to Hindustan Lever in 1996, she wasted no time in snapping up the Indian operations of Littlewoods, including the Bangalore store and sourcing operations. The aim was to create a national fashion retail chain that was to make good fashion available at affordable prices. Trent Ltd. is now an all-India chain of 'Westside' stores.

Simone Tata says she's looking at the possibility of introducing in-store labels in the lifestyle and home furnishing categories. Some of Westside's current clutch of brands include Gia for larger women, Stone River Classic for teens, Westsports sportswear and 2-fast-4-you for young men.

She is also the Chairman of the Sir Ratan Tata Institute and a Trustee of Children of the World (India) Trust, Bombay. She was awarded the Udyog Ratan Award in 1988, designated as 'a Woman of Decade'.

6. Mrs. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

She can be easily considered India's bio-tech queen and the richest woman in the country. This bold, enterprising and assertive woman entrepreneur best personifies the changing face of the Indian Woman. A woman with a fiery ambition, deep-rooted confidence and staunch foresight, her aim was to build a world-class institution using India's own scientific talent. Her multi billion dollar, Biocon India Ltd. has successfully come a long way from the little operation that it was in 1978.

Today she heads the leading biotech firm in India, Biocon India Ltd., a company that has evolved from a maker of enzymes to a major pharmaceutical enterprise producing everything from insulin to antibodies. When the company went public in March of this year, its shares were oversubscribed by 33 times on opening day, and it now has a total stock-market value of $1.2 billion.

In 2001, her firm was singled out as a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer. Biocon has a string of successes to its credit: It is the country's first biotechnology company to export microbial enzymes to the US and Europe, and to receive ISO 9001 certification. Her strong vision combined with her keen aptitude for innovativeness has helped to transform Biocon into one of the leaders in India's biotech industry and her aim is to 'make Biocon one of the world's top-five biotech companies in the not-too-distant future'.

There are many more women such as Barkha Dutt (Journalist),Sarah Joseph(Writer), Anju Bobby George (Athlete), Sania Mirza (Tennis), Arundhati Roy (Writer and Social Activist), who have done India and Indian Woman proud with their achievements as dynamic Leaders. They have helped in some way or the other to put India on the global map, for being such strong inspiration.

(*Disclaimer - the above information has been complied with the help of various sources.)

Even in our Desi Blog world, there are many women who seem to inspire us in many ways. Some of my favourites and who are well-known and need no introduction -

1. Sonia Falerio (Colour of Water) : Brings news without creating Telhalka. Simply direct and upfront coverage of events...no room for any alterations.

2. Uma (Indian Writing & Animal Rights India) : If you wanna know about books, this is a must blog. Touching write-ups about daily life or events, on the other hand manages another blog concerning Animal welfare issues and stories.

3. Sujatha (Blogpourri) : A mom, an ex-lawyer, a writer and a brand new radio jockey. Beautiful essay like stories about every-day life. Comes up with simple topics but immense meaning.

posted at 9/27/2005 11:01:00 AM | comments (12) | permalink


  1. Good choice of names on the list, except one...Arundhati Roy !!

    Come on, lets get real here !!
     — Anonymous arZan, at 9/27/2005 09:08:00 PM 

  2. Interesting post.. its nice to see sooo many women being pioneers in wat ever they do..!! hopefully many more will follow..
     — Blogger justme, at 9/27/2005 10:43:00 PM 

  3. Arundhati Roy? Come on Sakshi...if Arundhati Roy can make the cut so can Rakhi Sawant :-).

    But nice selection nonetheless.
     — Blogger GREATBONG, at 9/28/2005 02:02:00 AM 

  4. Sakshi
    Good article and good choices, including Arundhati Roy. I think she is a terrific writed. Loved 'GOST'. Also loved her in 'In which Annie gives...'.
     — Blogger chappan, at 9/28/2005 07:37:00 AM 

  5. Chappan

    Agreed on both points. She is a great fiction write. She should stick to that and not become a political commentator and the pseudo voice fo the nation.
     — Anonymous arzan, at 9/28/2005 08:32:00 AM 

  6. Just me - Thanks for your comment. Yes, it is indeed nice to see women..making a difference in the world.

    Sourin - Thank you.

    Arzan - Thanks, after a long time atleast u agreed with me on something..so what if not completely.

    Arzan & Greatbong - Well to be frank, i did contemplate putting Mrs. Roy's name...cause there are many of her view's that i personally dont agree upon. But i came conclusion, not everyone thinks like us...there are many who follow Arundhati Roy..be it for her writings or her stand against social causes. For some women in this country...she has made a difference. Therefore, she does deserve a mention, whether some of us like it or not.
     — Blogger Sakshi, at 9/28/2005 11:00:00 AM 

  7. Sakshi,

    Great list and write-up. IMO Naina Lal Kidwai also deserves a mention. She was the first Indian woman to graduate from HBS.
     — Blogger Kaps, at 9/28/2005 02:38:00 PM 

  8. Kaps - Thanks. I agree, Mrs. NAINA Kidwai stands out as an icon who has succeeded in the predominantly male world of investment banking.

    I shall post part II for this list in the near future.
     — Blogger Sakshi, at 9/28/2005 03:21:00 PM 

  9. http://harassed-husbands.blogspot.com/
     — Blogger Bharat, at 9/29/2005 03:48:00 AM 

  10. I just cant agree with a few comments regarding Arundhati Roy...

    why not Arundhati Roy ? She's a great writer... I dont always agree with her political views but I do appreciate her writing style, the way she expressed her views is undoubtedly excellent....

    and comparing with Rakhi Sawant will not degrade Ms. Roy, but degrades the person who does it.

    BTW : First time in ur blog...and its indeed a great one...
     — Blogger Me, at 10/02/2005 12:52:00 PM 

  11. Avik - I agree with you. Ms. Roy has influenced many thru her writings and social service. And thanks for stopping by.
     — Blogger Sakshi, at 10/02/2005 02:29:00 PM 

  12. Sakshi, thank you! That was so sweet! *ear to ear grin*.
     — Blogger Sujatha, at 10/03/2005 11:14:00 PM 

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