Here are the inspiring stories of brave, talented, and confident Indian women who never gave up or gave in and carried on their mission successfully, benefiting not just themselves but many others…
Her name means ‘gentle breeze’ in Urdu. And 30-year-old Sabbah Haji is the fresh breath of air that has bypassed Jammu & Kashmir for two decades, but is now back in the inhospitable heights of Doda district. Four years after she quit the comfort of her content-writing job in Bangalore, she’s in the thick of an incredible transformation. In 2008, Haji went back to her village of Breswana, a remote settlement of 1,500 people. “I felt there were far more relevant things I should be doing back home, instead of earning and spending in a lather-rinse-repeat cycle month after month,” she wrote on her blog.
The commerce graduate from Bishop Cotton, Bangalore, spent the next few months setting up Haji Public School (HPS). From two rooms of her father Saleem Haji’s home in May 2009, HPS today has its own building and nearly 200 children on its rolls, besides two branches, in Parsholla and Shadiwan. Four years on, HPS has Classes I to V with no dropouts. Striking a happy mix of modernity and tradition between her Levi’s and hijab, she says it helps that she likes village life: “It’s simple and the people are real.” For Haji, it’s been a happy descent to the uncomplicated-to the delight of watching a child’s face light up with comprehension. (Source)
Born in 1933 to a middle class, well-educated family, Ela Bhatt has spent her life fighting for the rights and welfare of India’s ‘invisible’ workers. Her grandparents worked with Mahatma Gandhi in the non-violent struggle for Indian Independence from the British. Deeply influenced by Gandhi, Ela has followed his ideals all her life. She has pioneered the idea that people themselves, no matter how poor or uneducated, are able to solve their own problems if they organize together to do so. To help provide this, she founded SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association. Called “one of the best – -if not the best – – grassroots programmes for women on the planet,” SEWA proved so successful that it has become a model for micro-finance programs in other parts of the world.
The far-reaching effects of Ela Bhatt’s work have been recognized internationally through many awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1977), Right Livelihood Award (the alternate Nobel Prize) for ‘Changing the Human Environment’ in Stockholm in 1984, Padma Shri in 1985, Padma Bhushan in 1986, Doctorate degree in Humane Letters from Harvard University in 2001, Tokyo Based Niwano Peace Prize in 2010, and in 2011, Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development. (Source)
Bhanwari Devi may be a poor Dalit, from a potter’s (kumhar) family, but in the last two decades, she has become a torchbearer for many women movement in the country. Bhanwari as Saathin (friend) in 1985, as part of her job for the WDP (Women’s Development Project) took up the cause of many issues related to health, land, literacy, water etc. It was however in 1992 when she took up the case of child marriage, that she found herself alienated. The consequences were dire, Bhanwari was gang-raped and a major court case ensued. It was for the first time in the conservative region that a woman was not ashamed of rape and spoke openly about it. She braved social boycott and risked her life for a cause, shaping the women’s movement in Rajasthan. She has also emboldened victims of rape to come forth and demand justice. (Source)
Taking the cue from the Bhanwari Devi case, five NGOs working in the field of women’s empowerment filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Supreme Court to enact laws that would criminalise sexual harassment in the workplace. The Supreme Court issued guidelines that broadly defined sexual harassment at the workplace and made it mandatory for corporations and business establishments to have committees against sexual harassment. On the other hand, the registration of rape cases in Rajasthan went up — not only were there more women speaking out, the police could no longer shirk from filing FIRs. The case also brought attention to the prevalence of child marriage. Much of this change has been brought about by the efforts of women’s groups and other organisations in the voluntary sector, catalysed to a large degree by the Bhanwari Devi case. (Source)
Meena Bindra’s Biba was like many other home-based businesses that housewives do to have an additional source of income or improve on their hobby. What it took to turn that home-based business into a complete corporate empire is truly inspiring. Today Biba, looked after by Meena’s son Siddharth, is cruising even rapidly to a very high growth path.
It was started in 1982 as a simple household business of designing and selling salwar kameez informally just to earn little pocket money. However, little did Biba’s Meena Bindra know that her humble Punjabi suits would take her to the helm of India’s readymade ethnic-wear market. Having two sons and a husband with a transferable job, Meena at the age of 39 started Biba with the help of Rs 8,000 bank loan. Today, her 30-year-old business has been proliferating to the extent that it is planning to post a turnover of around Rs 500 crore for the current fiscal year. (Source)
An acid attack on Laxmi in New Delhi’s busy Khan Market back in 2005 led her family to lose all they had in a gradual turn of events. She was only 16 then. Though unlike many other survivors of acid attacks, Laxmi got immediate help and treatment, her family ended up losing all their finances and resources on her treatment and their fight for justice.
Laxmi also filed a PIL in the Supreme Court urging for regulation on sale of acid in 2006. In her plea, she had sought framing of a new law or amendment to the existing criminal laws like IPC, Indian Evidence Act and CrPC for dealing with the offence, besides asking for compensation. Laxmi’s counsel Aparna Bhat had, however, invited court’s attention to the Haryana scheme for care and rehabilitation of acid attack victims under which the state government has taken upon itself the entire responsibility for treatment and rehabilitation of acid attack victims. In March this year Laxmi was felicitated by US First Lady Michelle Obama after she won the International Women of Courage Award for successfully leading the campaign against acid attacks on women in India. (Source)
At the age of 24, during one of her film shoots, she happened to meet a young woman who had six daughters and was pregnant with her 7th child. On being asked about her circumstances, the woman narrated in a matter of fact way that she was ready to strangle her newborn if this time it happened to be a girl. She also spoke of sending her 8 year old daughter to work at a brothel so that she could feed the rest of her family. Sonal was so shocked that within the hour, the idea of starting a unique creative school had started taking shape. Within 3 weeks, after a small feasibility study in the area, Protsahan started as a one room creative arts and design school in one of the darkest slums of the country. These slums are described by the best newspapers of the country as ‘ghettoes’.
After about four months, Sonal quit her corporate job to revolutionize the education delivery mechanism for children at the bottom most of the social pyramid. Sonal went door to door in the darkest of urban slums in Uttam Nagar, west Delhi, the same place where she had met the mother who was sending her 8 year old to a brothel, and asked parents to send their daughters to Protsahan. She started experimenting with the innovative approaches of Design, Art, Digital Stories, Photography, Technology & Cinema (the 5 pillars of creativity model) to give young adolescent girls the power to break the extreme cycle of poverty and fight abuse through creative means. Filmmaking, Photography and Madhubani art work grew in popularity in areas which were rubbished as ‘dark spaces’ by most.
An erstwhile communications and advertising person, Sonal is one of the youngest social entrepreneurial woman in India to lead an international non-profit. She is one of the youngest to create mass qualitative impact to those at the bottom most of the social structure by using her 5 pillars of creativity approach. She was chosen as The Youth Delegate in 2011 at The World Bank-IMF, again for Australia-India Youth Dialogue in 2012, and as a keynote speaker at TEDxYOUTH, TEDxJMI, TEDxDTU and several others (Link toTEDxYOUTH talk ).
Chosen as one of the three youngest change makers at the Airtel-Tehelka Think Fest 2012 in Goa, India, she is a youth icon widely recognized by publications and organizations such as the The Hindu, The Economic Times, The Times of India, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Goldman Sachs-ISB 10000 Women Entrepreneur Programme. (Source)
Leila Janah is an award-winning social entrepreneur using technology and lean business methods to promote social justice. Sama means equal in Sanskrit and is the guiding principle of her life and work. Janah is the Founder and CEO of Samasource, a non-profit social business that connects people living in poverty to microwork — computer-based tasks that build skills and generate life-changing income, now part of the broader field of impact sourcing.
In 2011, Janah co-founded Samahope, the first crowdfunding site for medical treatments in developing countries. Janah is a frequent speaker on social entrepreneurship and technology, a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum, and a director of CARE, the global humanitarian organization. Her work has been profiled extensively by Forbes, CBS, CNN, NPR, the BBC, The New York Times, and The New Scientist,in the book Hearts on Fire, and on the cover of Fast Company‘s July 2012 issue. Janah was selected as the 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Social Enterprise Alliance and received a 2010 World Technology Award, a 2012 TechFellow Award, and the 2012 Club de Madrid Young Leader award, presented by President Bill Clinton. (Source)
Vandana Luthra came from a service-class background with no business links and no inherited wealth. When she was a child, she had an obsession to cut everybody’s hair and also experimented with facials on her family members. During her college years, she came across many friends who wanted to lose weight and look beautiful. This made her realize that there is a market for her business proposition. (Source)
A true believer in the concept of three ideologies, transforming the future, transforming oneself and spreading of happiness, Vandana Luthra is the founder and current proprietor of VLCC (Vandana Luthra’s Curls and Curves).
VLCC was first established in the year 1989 and currently holds a position in the list of brand names that are popular all across the world. VLCC is a long chain of gymnasiums and beauty parlors that help and offer toning to the body, different types of fitness solutions for different types of bodies, and beauty tips and products for women, irrespective of the age and figure. Directly or indirectly Vandana Luthra plays an important role in making the confident Bhartiya Naari who might have lost confidence due to their weight and obesity. (Source)