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Women achievers of India

There are number of Indian women who have surmounted their difficulties and
problems. Government of India and other organisations have installed awards in
recognition of such women who are known as Women Achievers of India. I am sharing
with you their life sketches here which should inspire and motivate young ILites who
are in despair with problems.

Government of India, at the instance of Shrimati Sumitra Mahajan, Minister of State of

Women and Child Development, has decided to recognize and honour the services of
such women who have made outstanding contributions in the life of the nation. This will
encourage them further to carry on their work, and to motivate and inspire hundreds of
such voluntary women workers throughout the country. Five National Awards, to be
known asStree Shakti Puraskars, were instituted in 1999, in the name of five
illustrious daughters of India - Kannagi, Mata Jijabai, Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar, Rani
Laxmibai of Jhansi and Rani Gaindiliu. Each award shall be presented annually and shall
carry a cash prize of rupees one lakh and a citation in scroll. The awards shall be given
every year for outstanding contributions made by five women.

Adarsha Mata Puraskar (Since 1976): When the head of the family, who had
occupied the highest position like the Diwan or the Chief Justice in the then Indian
Princely states, passed away prematurely, the traditionally trained housewife rose to
the occasion and shouldered the onerous responsibility of bringing up her children in a
novel way and thus fulfill the unfinished desire of her husband of imparting vocational
guidance and support for career development. This she did by starting a home industry
and gradually handed the responsibility to her teenager sons who were still students.
This is the story of Matoshri Maisaheb Parkhe who was a woman of surprising foresight
and conviction for her times. This story has inspired many a Women Entreprenuers.
"Adarsha" means Ideal and "Mata" means Mother in Marathi. This Puraskar was
instituted with a feeling of indebtedness and express gratitude towards such women
with great conviction and who have strived hard under adverse conditions to shoulder
the responsibility of the family. To make her children happy and successful in life and
ultimately good and responsible citizens of the society. It aims to recognize their
enormous sacrifice, conviction and to thank them. The felicitation includes and
certificate of honour, a memento and a cash portion. The life sketch of the Awardee
Mother is presented to the audience and willing family members also speak at the
occasion. It is a short and brief function, an effort targeted towards encouraging,
recognising and felicitating such good elements in society.

Life sketch of Mrs. K.V. Rabiya:

Mrs. K.V. Rabiya was born in 1966 in a poor Muslim family in a remote village,
Vellilakkadu in the backward district of Malappuram in Kerala. She lost the use of her
legs when she was a first year student at the College, but despite the handicap she has
built up a movement of community service and has spearheaded a strong adult literacy
campaign in Kerala.

She started her own voluntary organisation called CHALANAM that was at the forefront
of universal literacy campaign in Kerala. CHALANAM is also running five schools for
physically handicapped and mentally retarded children in Malappuram District. Apart
from the literacy camps, Mrs. Rabiya has conducted a number of awareness classes for
women and also organised health camps and blood and eye donation camps.

Mrs. Rabiya has inspired awareness against alcoholism, dowry, family feuds,
superstition and communalism. A documentary film 'Rabiya Moves' and more than
hundred articles published in newspapers and journals have highlighted her contribution
in changing the social life of Kerala.

Her continuing successful and unparalleled literacy mission along with the various
services for welfare and development of women has earned Mrs. K.V. Rabiya the
Kannagi Stree Shakti Puraskar, 1999.
In the list of Women achivers of India, next I am giving the life sketch of the famous
actress and dancer Sudhachandran.

A classic case of inner resolve, she overcame her disability after she met with an
accident and lost her one leg, with the help of a prosthetic 'Jaipur Foot' to become one
of India's most highly acclaimed dancers. Her famous films 'Nache Mayuri', 'Mayuri' etc.
are great achievements with the artificial leg.

Her public recital in Mumbai on 28 January , 1984, which heralded her comeback into
the dancing arena after two years, was met with thunderous applause. Her success was
followed by invitations for shows from all over the world, and she performed in several
European countries, Canada and the Middle East. Films happened, and so did television.
Today, she is the talk of the town, courtesy her innovative character of Ramola Sikand
in Balaji Telefilms' late-night thriller Kaahin Kissii Roz.

This dancer-turned-actor believes each country has its own heroes who have never
accepted defeat. "Like them, I have always believed in asking - 'What next?', rather
than, 'Why me?' If Helen Keller could overcome her handicap, so can I. The seed of
achievement lies in the human mind. When this realization comes, there is no looking
back. Once I decided that my handicap was not going to stop me from dancing, that
was it," begins Sudha Chandran, but quickly adds before the first question, "Please
don't imitate Ramola Sikand too much in letter and spirit both. 'Thoda chalega' but
within the parameters of law. She is a cold-blooded murderess and you can't break the

Excerpts from an interview given by Sudha Chandran.


Continuing the life sketches of 'Women achievers of India, here is the life sketch of the
great Mrs. Chinnapillai. It is matter of great pride for all Maduraiites and Tamils when
the then Prime Minister of India Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he visited Madurai paid
his compliments to Mrs. Chinnapillai.

Mrs. Chinnapillai was born in Pullisery village, Madurai District. She has been deeply
involved in organising and working with co-agricultural labourers for undertaking
various agricultural operations on a collective basis to maximise the benefits.
She was the founder of a number of Kalanjiams (savings and credit groups) of poor
women and was instrumental in forming Vaigai Vattara Kalanjiam, Appantirupathy,
which is the First Federation of Rural Women Savings and Credit Group in India. This
has a membership of over 40,000 women. The linkages that she has established
between the Kalanjiams and the banks and other financial institutions like NABARD,
HUDCO etc. has resulted in promotion of income generation for hundreds of poor
women to get them rid of the clutches of money-lenders.

She led many struggles to establish the rights and entitlements of poor women against
landlords, moneylenders, politicians and officials. The most notable was the right for
fishing over the village tank, which was controlled by the landlords.

Her selfless and untiring service for the poor women in the South has earned her Mata
Jijabai Stree Shakti Puraskar for the year 1999.

Next in the list of 'Women achievers' is the life sketch of Brahmacharini Kamala Bai.
Hers is a real saga of a lady surmounting all odds to succeed in life and make a mark.

Brahmacharini Kamala Bai

Brahmacharini Kamala Bai was born in 1923 at Kuchaman town of District Nagaur of
Rajasthan. She was married at a tender age of 12 and was widowed barely two years
thereafter. Being totally illiterate, she found herself in wilderness, without any help or
support. She joined Sri Mahavir Mumuksha Mahila Ashram, an orphanage for ladies,
where she learnt to read and write. She went through the scriptures and became well
versed with the history and culture. Very soon she developed an inner urge and
motivation to spread the message of literacy among the women and the girls in the
backward areas.

At the age of thirty, she started her own Adarsh Mahila Vidyalaya with barely six girls.
The school today has strength of 2000 girl students mostly from the backward and
tribal segments of the society. She has also set up a girl's hostel at her own initiative,
which accommodates 650 girls.

Brahmacharini Kamala Bai has been successfully mobilising financial resources by

motivating philanthropists. Nearly rupees two crores have been spent on the
construction of school and hostel buildings, which were mobilised through small
donations. At present, her organisation has an annual budget of about rupees 65 lakhs.
She has also started B.Ed. course for teachers to prepare them for spreading literacy
and vocational training course for girls to make them economically empowered.

For her extraordinary and outstanding contribution towards the removal of illiteracy,
more especially in rural and tribal areas, the Rotary International Award was given to
her in 1998. She donated the award money of Rs. 2 lakhs for the betterment of literacy
programme for women and a Trust was created to help the needy and poor students.

Brahmacharini Kamala Bai's dedication to her life's mission for spreading literacy and
empowerment of women and girls, especially in the backward and tribal areas, has
earned her the Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Stree Shakti Puraskar, 1999.

Next in the list is Smt. Kinkri Devi. Smt. Kinkri Devi was born in 1940 in village
Ghaton, located in a most backward area of Tehsil Sangrah of District Sirmour,
Himachal Pradesh. She is the daughter of a poor scheduled caste farmer. Confronted
with the grim scenario of reduction of forest cover and resultant depletion of fire wood,
degradation of agricultural land due to reckless limestone quarrying in the hills and
contamination of drinking water, Smt. Kinkri Devi waged a relentless war against
powerful vested interests and this has made her a living legend in the recent history of
Himachal Pradesh.

Through a local voluntary organisation named people's Action for People in Need
(PAPN), Smt. Kinkri Devi took up the case against the powerful mining lobby and sat on
hunger strike in front of High Court in 1987 till the Court agreed to take up the issue.
Initially, the 48 mine owners of Sangrah area dismissed her efforts as an attempt to
blackmail them but this contemptuous attitude was not to last long, as the court soon
imposed a blanket ban on the blasting in the hills. The powerful mining lobby, faced
with the prospect of closure of mines, even threatened to liquidate her but this frail
woman with indomitable courage refused to be browbeaten. The mining lobby moved
the Supreme Court against the orders of the High Court. Smt. Kinkri Devi defended her
case in Supreme Court too and her rationale convinced the apex court as well. The
feeble voice raised in remote hills of Himachal Pradesh by this woman of substance
reverberated throughout the country when the Hon'ble Supreme Court, sharing her
concern for environmental protection, upheld her version in July, 1995 and decided the
case in her favour.

Recognising the enormity of the task accomplished by her, various organisations

felicitated her in a befitting manner. Today the nation felicitates her with the award of
Jhansi Ki rani Lakshmi Bai Stree Shkati Puraskar, 1999.
Lilatai Pradkar dedicated her life for the empowerment and education of tribal

Kumari Lilatai Pradkar was born in February, 1925 at Indore, Madhya Pradesh. After
obtaining M.A. and B.Ed. degrees, she joined the academic profession and remained a
teacher for nearly three decades. She was an ideal teacher who became a role model
for many students. She spent the greater part of her salary for helping the needy and
meritorious students who could not pursue their studies due to financial constraints.

She remained an intern in the Vivekanada Kendra, Kanyakumari and served in the
Medical Center of the Kendra for two years. As the years passed, she got more and
more involved with her voluntary works and felt an inner calling that she has to devote
full time into it. She took retirement from her job to work full time for the advancement
of the cause of education among the backward tribal people of Madhya Pradesh.

The tribals of Madhya Pradesh, known as the aboriginals of India were steeped in abject
poverty, ignorance and malnutrition and subjected to exploitations of moneylenders
and intermediaries. Although Government had introduced many schemes for the
welfare of the tribal people, the benefits of many of these schemes were not reaching
them due largely to the illiteracy prevailing among them, particularly among the
females. With her background in education, Lilatai decided to focus her work on training
and literacy among the tribal girls. In 1975, she set up the Vanabasi Kalyan Ashram for
Women in Raigarh to offer vocational training to women for upgrading their skills in
traditional and non-traditional occupations. In the following year, she started the
Nivedita Vanabasi Kanya Chhatravas in the same district to provide boarding and
lodging facilities to the tribal girl students.

In 1980, Lilatai shifted her work among the Bhils. She established the Vanabasi Bal
Sanskar Kendra in Bagh, Madhya Pradesh. In 1990, she started the Maharani Durgabati
Kanya Chhatravas which provides hostel facilities to the girl students for pursuing their
studies in higher classes.

In recognition of her services to the cause of education and empowerment of women in

the backward and tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, Kumari Lilatai Pradkar is being
awarded Rani Gaidinliu Stree Puraskar, 1999
Continuing the list of women achievers, here are three outstanding women.

Dr. Kanwal Viku ,the Chief Medical Officer in CGMS was the only Indian Women in the
worlds coldest continent,Antarctica for 16 months.

The continent has daylight for months in the winters.The temparature reach minus
58 c.The skua bird heralds summer.The sun rise after winter is a time for
celebration..The sun rise for just four minutes;it rises from the east and sets in the

Dr. Viku was assigned the job of medical checkups of members.However she found time
to walk 14--15KM everyday,climbing nunatics(hill peaks) and looking down deep
crevices. We salute 51 year old Dr.Viku for her courage and determination to venture
into the Antarctica,rough it out and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Sonia Puri a consultant has been given Special Millenium Award instituted by Bharat
Nirman for her work with visually handicapped as a psycho-therapist.

Dr. Priyanka Mishra ,the 28 year old DSP of Bhind, and the first women police officer
to be posted in the Chambal range has taken the dacoits as a challenge for
herself.Gajjar one of the dreaded dacoit of the area has put up a price of Rs-5 lakhs for
her head.

Bhind is Priyanka's first field posting and after the relative firmness of her previous
posting in Bhopal, she is enjoying the rough and tumble.

Air Commodore Padmavati Bandopadhyaya, after 32 years in the Air Force, is at

55, the first woman Air Commodore in the Air Force. And that is just one of the firsts in
a long string of achievements to her credit.
Commissioned into the Air Force in 1968, Bandopadhyaya was the only woman in her
batch of officers.

Graduating in 1967, she was the first woman to enter the field of aviation medicine.
She was the first woman officer to have successfully completed the course offered by
the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington.

She and her husband, Wing Commander S.N. Bandopadhyaya, were the first husband
and wife team to be awarded the Vashist Seva Medal for their work during the 1971
Indo-Pak war:

She was the first Indian woman officer to have conducted research in the Arctic region.
And she was the first woman to be made a fellow of the Aerospace Medical Society of

Coming from a conservative Tamilian family, educated in Tamil, when she joined the
AFMC, Bandopadhyaya thought she had been paradropped into a whole new world.
Suddenly she was with people who ate with forks and knives, spoke in English and sang
English songs. She could only eat using her fingers, spoke little Hindi or English, and
knew no English songs. Today, Bandopadhyaya prattles in Bengali as well - a language
she picked up after marrying a Bengali Air Force officer.
Trained in Carnatic classical vocal music ("like all south Indian children", she insists),
Bandopadhyaya is fond of listening to music and likes mythology as well.

These days, her work as Commandant - entailing a whole gamut of administrative work
- takes up most of her time. She does her yoga everyday and cooks elaborate meals -
fish fries for the non-vegetarians and sambar for her vegetarian self - on weekends.
Next in the list of 'Woman achiever of India' is Fatima Bi from Andhra Pradesh.

Fatima Bi

This lady from Andhra Pradesh justifies the 33% reservation for women in the
Panchayat posts. Elected as the 'sarpanch' from Kalva in Kurnool district of Andhra, she
brought about a small revolution in her limited domain. Placing women's empowerment
high on her agenda, she encouraged the women in her village to save a rupee from
their earnings on a regular basis. Within a year the 260 women in her small group had
saved almost Rs. 2 lakhs and were doling out loans to others who needed them. Today
they are all financially independent because of this small but regular saving and of
course, because of Fatima Bi. The United Nations has recognised her small but
significant contribution and granted her The United Nations Race Against Poverty Award
in 1998.


The following women achievers are of a different category. Only perseverance, bravery,
love, affection, self-confidence, goal and the resolve made them great.

She gave her Liver to her son. Liver transplantation is a very difficult procedure. She
gave life to her son, by coming forward to donate her Liver.
The medical world says this is the first successful Liver transplantation in South India!
Maya belongs to Kerala.

Her husband left her and she had four sons. She did not lose heart and She started a
small roadside hotel (Idly shop) and raised her four sons.
Today her first son, an MBA runs a big food catering enterprise.

Accident took away both her hands and legs. She did not lose confidence.
Bearing the pains with her artificial limbs she took 1137 out of 1200 in her 10+2
exams. And her dream is to become an I.A.S,

Her father, a fisherman became invalid, This girl affected by polio took the boat in her
hands and goes fishing daily to support the family and make her sisters and brothers’
life happy and educated. She is not afraid of sea for fear, but worries that if the sea is
rough, she cannot do her job.

She has been looking after her husband, who is in Coma. She has two children. And she
looks after them and takes care of them. Love and service like a Nurse and a true

Girl studying +2 lost her father. And her mother who was sick was also absconding.
She has a sister studying in 8th and a brother in 5th standard. She did not lose heart.
She did servant-maid work in house, begged them and she also continues her
There is a proverb in Tamil “You can work hard and even beg to get education and

For 22 years she had suffering from muscular atrophy and losing her organ failure even
today. She goes on a wheel chair and works at the Andhra Mahila Sabha. Sure we are
all fortunate with all our organs and physique in good condition.

Her daughter is invalid and dumb and in wheel chair always. She took the initiative and
through “speech and communication therapy, made her daughter achieve good resiluts
in the school.

By birth she had very short hands. Her dream was to become an I.A.S. She got a merit
seat in Madras IIT, but refused it. And her dream is to become an I.A.S. She says –“
We are what we think and become that.” Sure we wish her to be an I.A.S. Or may be
she already is.

Generally men only sing celestial or bakthi in Siva temples called “Oduvars”.
And she belonged to a lower caste not supposed to do that. The lady from Trichy,
Malakottai fought against poverty, the tradition that males and upper caste should only

And she is the perfect example that women, if they have will and knowledge, perfection
and perseverance can equal men to sing on Lord Siva.

After all Lord Siva gave his half to women. Sure God does not discriminate. Men only do
all things to bad (sometimes good) to women.

There are lot of women all over the world who are skilled and shine.

Thanks to, “Aval Vikatan”, an exclusive women magazine in Tamil

Neerja Bhanot, the brave 23-year-old air hostess who, risking her own life, saved the
lives of passengers in a hijacked PAN AM flight in September, 1986. She was seriously
injured by the hijackers’ bullets while shielding three children. Neerja was awarded the
Ashok Chakra posthumously.

An award has been named after her called the Neeraja Banot Award and it is given to
women who have shown exemplary courage in their personal lives.
One of the Neerja Bhanot award winner for the year 2000 — Alice Garg from Jaipur —
has been engaged in a constant battle against injustice. The life of Alice not only inspire
but also underline the significance of service and sacrifice — the two qualities which
describe this woman best.
Starting from scratch, Alice has been braving one odd after another to get justice for
exploited women. She has courted fear with a vengeance and has gone ahead to
accomplish her chosen missions. She know courage is resistance to fear, not absence of
it. Today, she has many reasons to justify her existence, and each reason is more
powerful than the other.

Watching Alice Garg talk is like watching a dormant volcano swell up with lava. She
seems to hide a tempest behind her calm exterior. One cannot but help wonder how the
frail 61-year-old woman could have waged a war against well-connected criminals. Alice
is credited with exposing many infamous cases of sexual exploitation against women in
Rajasthan, including the Bhanwari Devi gangrape case which hit the headlines a few
years ago and the J.C. Bose case, which sends shivers down the spine.

Alice has also helped in the rehabilitation of more than 4,000 migrant labourers, who
now dwell in the Jawahar Nagar Katchi Basti in Jaipur. Alice says: "In 1975, the
government demolished the slums, thus uprooting thousands of people. We, at
Balrashmi, commiserated with them. The government was not prepared for their
rehabilitation. So every time the government demolished the slums, they came up
again. I helped them secure water and electricity connections. That was the first time I
invited the government’s wrath."
The story of Ashammafrom Andhra Pradesh, another Neeraja Banot winner, a socially-
marginalised woman who has been fighting for her rightful place in society, too follows
along the same line.

At 35 years of age, Ashamma has nothing to share with the world expect tears. She
comes from Karni village in Mehbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, where women
belonging to the lower caste are considered objects of entertainment. Ashamma was
made to undergo the jogini ritual when she was seven years old. As per this custom,
she was married off to the village deity. Recalls Ashamma, "Since the day of the
initiation, I have not lived with dignity. I became available for all the men who inhabited
Karni. They would ask me for sexual favours and I, as a jogini, was expected to please
them. My trauma began even when I had not attained puberty."

At 11, Ashamma attained puberty. As soon as the news spread, men hounded her all
the more. She was forced to sleep with countless people, some of whom were much
older than her. Still in her teens, Ashamma delivered a girl child. "I bore the child from
the man I loved, but he did not marry me. Later, I escaped from the village," she says.
But all the time she was reminded that she was a jogini and should not act like a

During those days the Andhra Pradesh Mahila Samatha Society was running sanghams
in villages. These forums voiced the concerns of sexually exploited women. When
Ashamma heard the views of its leaders, she was impressed. She swore to fight against
the baseless custom of jogini.

In 1997, Ashamma became the head of the sangham which operated in Karni. As the
leader of the forum, she discouraged the practice of jogini. Her mission revolved around
thwarting the attempts of villagers to initiate young girls into this evil practice. She still
remembers how hard she had to fight in order to save a nine-year-old girl in her village
from becoming a jogini. The police had refused to help her and no one in the village
was prepared to cooperate with her. But Ashamma sat in protest until she succeeded in
preventing the initiation ceremony.

The two courageous women -Alice Garg from Jaipur and Ashamma from Andhra
Pradesh were awarded for their services to society in Chandigarh on April 28. The
award money comprised Rs 1.5 lakh each. The commitment of these women to their
respective cause was evident from the fact that both of them donated a part of the
huge sum to their respective societies. Ashamma kept Rs 50,000 for her child and
donated the rest to her sangham. Alice donated the money to Rustamji Trust which is
dedicated to the amelioration of the plight of the poor.
Kiran Bedi
Dr. Kiran Bedi was the first female recruit to join the Indian Police Service, in 1972.
Born in Amritsar, Punjab, in 1949, she has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the
Government College for Women, a Masters degree in Political Science from Punjab
University, a Law degree from University of Delhi, and a Doctorate in Social Sciences
from the Indian Institute of Science, Delhi. She is also a former all-India and all-Asian
tennis champion, having won the Asian Ladies Title at the age of 22.

Kiran Bedi has had great influence on the Indian Police Service, especially in the areas
of narcotics, traffic and VIP Security. She is most famous for prison reforms that she
instituted during her term as Inspector General of Prisons at the Tihar Jails in Delhi.
These included: detoxification programs, improved nutrition and sanitation, literacy and
language classes taught by prisoners, yoga, prayer, meditation, legal advocacy by
prisoners who were lawyers, tree-planting inside the prison and acting upon prisoner

Kiran Bedi has also established two voluntary organizations, Navjyoti, and India Vision
Foundation, which aim to improve the lifestyle of poor people and drug addicts.

Bedi is the recipient of numerous awards for her achievements, including,

President's Gallantry Award, 1979

Woman of the Year Award 1980
Asia Region Award for Drug Prevention and Control, 1991
Ramon Magsaysay Award, 1994
Mahila Shiromani Award, 1995
Fr Machismo Humanitarian Award, 1995
Lion of the Year, 1995
Joseph Beuys Award, 1997
ACCU-IEF Award, 1998
Serge Sotiroff Award (UNDCP), 1999
Pride of India, 1999
Bharat Gaurav Award, 1999
IIT Delhi Alumni Association, 1999-2000

She has also been featured as the subject of books and films.


Alice Garg — founder and secretary of Bal Rashmi ("to raise up, the child or young
ones"). Fearless activist on everything from women's rights to public health. She has a
ready smile, and is completely forthcoming. Her presence is very gentle and reassuring.
We'll meet Alice in her home, also the office for Bal Rashmi, where we'll see her shell
collection — for which she's building a museum. (It will house the only shell museum in
Rajastan. Go figure. It's the desert!). We'll then take off in Alice's jeep to visit a
watershed program and a school in a nearby village.

Divya Mathur
Born, brought-up and educated in Delhi, Divya Mathur worked as Medical Secretary for
nearly 15 years at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, where she
committed herself to help the blind. She is Executive Director of a charity in London,
which helps the blind to be self-reliant. An MA in English, she has diplomas in
Journalism from Delhi and Glasgow. She devised shorthand for Ophthalmology in 1972
to facilitate her work at the Dr Rajendra Prasad Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences.

Recently honoured with the NRI Literary Award (Aksharam), Divya has been the Arts
Achiever of the Year Award-2003 (Decibel sponsored by the Arts Council of England) for
outstanding contribution and innovation in the field of Arts. She was given the
Experience Corps Certificate of Recognition & Merit to mark her contribution in the
community. She was also invited to receive the Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-
Heart Award (Honouring individuals of Inspiration and Dedication) by The Peace
Meditation Mission of the United Nations. She has also won an Award for Outstanding
Achievement in Poetry by the International Library of Poetry.

A nominated Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Divya aims at addressing the cultural
aspirations of the Indian community and promoting Indo-British dialogue at the level of
thoughts and shared experience. In 1992, she joined hands with the team chosen by
Minister (Culture) and Director, Mr Gopal Gandhi, to establish The Nehru Centre in
London, where she continues to enjoy working as its Senior Programme Officer. She
has helped organise thousands of programmes in the last thirteen years. The
magnitude of her organisational skills can be seen from the number of programmes she
has helped organise - over six hundred programmes in the last three years only.
Suzanna Arundhati Roy

Writer and social activist

Roy was born in Shillong, Meghalaya[2] to a Keralite Syrian Christian mother, the
women's rights activist Mary Roy, and a Bengali Hindu father, a tea planter by
profession. She spent her childhood in Ayamenem in Kerala, and went to school in
Corpus Christi, Kottayam, followed by The Lawrence School, Lovedale in the Nilgiris,
Tamil Nadu. She then studied architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture,
New Delhi, where she met her first husband, architect Gerard DaCunha.
Roy met her second husband, filmmaker Pradip Krishen, in 1984, and became involved
in film-making under his influence. She played a village girl in the award-winning movie
Massey Sahib.
Roy is a cousin of the prominent media personality Prannoy Roy[3] [4] and lives in New

Arundhati Roy was awarded the 1997 Booker Prize for her fiction The God of Small
Things. The award carried a prize of US$1 million and a citation that noted: 'The book
keeps all the promises that it makes.'

In 2002, she won the Lannan Foundation's Cultural Freedom Award for her work "about
civil societies that are adversely affected by the world’s most powerful governments
and corporations" and "to celebrate her life and her ongoing work in the struggle for
freedom, justice and cultural diversity."

Roy was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize in May 2004 for her work in social campaigns
and her advocacy of non-violence.

In January 2006 she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi award for her collection of
essays on contemporary issues, The Algebra of Infinite Justice, but she declined to
accept it


Vandana Shiva

Social ativist

Vandana Shiva completed her Ph.D. in the Philosophy of Science in 1978. After that she
did research at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore until 1982, when she
left to set up her Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource
Policy in her home town of Dehra Dun in the foothills of the Himalaya.

Shiva's record over the last 10 years has been that of the totally committed, very
productive and effective activist-advocate-intellectual. As an activist she has co-
ordinated, supported and learned from grassroots networks on a wide range of issues
across India. As an advocate, especially in international fora, she has proved one of the
most articulate spokespersons of counter-development in favour of people-centred,
participatory processes. As an intellectual she has produced a stream of important
books and articles, which have done much both to form and address the agenda of
development debate and action.

Her Foundation is an informal network of researchers working in support of people's

environmental struggles, part of the objective of which is the articulation and
justification of people's knowledge. In the last 20 years the Foundation has done
important work in a number of areas.

Her book Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival (Zed, 1989) has had an
international impact. She was a co-chair of the 1991 World Congress on Women and
Environment, and she directed a dialogue on 'Women, ecology and health' with the Dag
Hammarskjold Foundation, leading to a volume of Development Dialogue edited by her.
Most recently Shiva has launched a global movement called Diverse Women for
Diversity, for the defence of biological and cultural diversity

She is the receipient of International Right Livelihood Award in 1993.


Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar

The Banyan Tree symbolises shelter, support and hope. In Chennai an organisation
called The Banyan has been providing all this and much more to destitute and mentally
challenged women. And those who have nurtured this tree are Vandana Gopikumar and
Vaishnavi Jayakumar, two women who have opted to devote their lives to this cause.

A Non-Government Organisation, The Banyan has reached out to more than 300
mentally ill destitute women abandoned on the streets of Chennai. Currently it houses
80 women, and 220 inmates have been successfully rehabilitated and reunited with
their families since the inception of this organisation.

What inspired them to take this step? It was bitter reality that drove Vandana and
Vaishnavi to realise their dream ahead of its time. Says Vandana "When visiting
Vaishnavi my close friend in college, I witnessed society's indifference to the plight of a
naked, mentally ill destitute woman, lying in absolute distress outside the campus".
While the college authorities proved helpful, mental health organisations and NGO's
were reluctant to admit this lady in desperate need of medical and psychiatric attention.
"One finally did admit her but a subsequent follow-up visit revealed her absence and
the woman was again back on the streets. This left us disillusioned".

Getting started was no easy task. "To start with, convincing our parents was very
difficult. Although there was no opposition from our families, there was apprehension
and doubt". Now, eight years down the line, The Banyan has grown with the financial,
emotional and physical support of their families.

Vandana and Vaishnavi have both received a number of awards in recognition of their
services. They assert, "There is no greater happiness for us than receiving letters from
the families of these women, grateful for the return of a family member
Zena Sorabjee is the Chairman of the Baha’i House of Worship. She is also the
Chairman of the Lotus Charitable Trust and Lotus Hospitals Trust.

She has represented the Indian Baha’i community at the UN Millennium Conference for
World Religious Leaders and the Baha’i International Community at various UN

Travelling throughout India, Zena has assisted in the establishment of primary schools,
the education of girls, and the transfer of technology to rural India. For her social work,
Zena has been named Best Social Worker by Nehru Bal Samiti.

Ruth Manorama

Social Activist

Ruth Manorama is India's most effective organiser of and advocate for Dalit women,
belonging to the 'scheduled castes' sometimes also called 'untouchables'.

Ruth Manorama is a Dalit woman. Born in 1952 in Madras, her parents escaped the
worst consequences of being Dalits by becoming Christians. In 1975 Manorama took a
Master's degree in social work from the University of Madras and has trained in both
the community organisation methods of Saul D’Alinsky and the conscientisation
methods of Paolo Freire. In 2001 Manorama was granted an honorary doctorate "for the
distinguished contribution made to church and society" by the Academy of Ecumenical
Indian Theology and Church Administration.
Manorama has been consistently associated with a range of issues – the rights of
slumdwellers, domestic workers, unorganised labour and Dalits, and the empowerment
of marginalised women. She stresses the interconnectedness between these issues, and
the common cause that marginalised people share the world over.

Her work crosses the borders between grassroots movements, mass mobilisation, and
international movements.

Manorama's working life has been spent on organisation building, mobilisation of people
and advocacy on behalf of Dalit women through a large number of organisations. She
- General Secretary of Women's Voice, founded in 1985, to work with women in slums,
struggling for land, shelter and survival rights of the urban poor.

- President of the National Alliance of Women, set up following the Fourth World
Conference of Women in Beijing in 1995 to monitor government performance on its
various commitments to women and lobby for change.

- Joint Secretary of the Christian Dalit Liberation Movement, formed in the 1980s to
mobilise Christian Dalits for affirmative action.

- Secretary of the Karnataka State Slum Dwellers Federation.

-Secretary for organisation building of the National Centre for Labour, an apex
organisation of unorganised labour in India.

-President of the National Federation of Dalit Women (NFDW), set up in 1995.

In addition, she has a number of regional and international roles (Asian Women's
Human Rights Council, International Women's Rights Action Watch – Asia – Pacific,
Sisters' Network). She has also been a member of the Karnataka State Planning Board,
the State Commission for Women, the Task Force on Women's Empowerment of the
Government of India and a number of other state and national bodies.

Ruth Manorama was chosen to be included in "1,000 women for Nobel Peace Prize
Ashminder Kaur Dhadialla, a Sikh lawyer, was born in Nairobi, Kenya on 17
November 1974. She left Kenya as a teenager and first studied science in Canada
before rounding off her law degrees with a Masters at Oxford University in England.
Ashminder participated in the 1995 World Debating Championships and was Secretary
of the Oxford Univeristy Womens Blues Squash Team.
Following graduation from Oxford, Ashminder worked for leading international law firms
and companies, including Clifford Chance LLP in London, however, her key interest
remained in undertaking pro bono human rights work and in preserving Sikh culture,
history and theology.

Away from corporate finance legal work, Ashminder spends a minimum of ten hours a
week on unpaid pro bono work which ranges from assisting in domestic violence
disputes to working with international human rights groups on complex and politically
sensitive cases of alledged genocide or crimes against humainty. Ashminder also takes
a keen interest in legal issues affecting women in her native country, Kenya and the
structure of the Kenyan legal system, and prepares restructuring proposals in this

In 2002, to counter Sikh under-representation at leading Universities, Ashminder

founded "The Sikh Scholarship Foundation", a charity that provides grants and
scholarships to leading Universities, such as Oxford, for Sikhs. The aim is to extend this
programme to other under-represented state-less nations with distinct cultures, such as
the Bushmen of South Africa and the Aboriginals of Austraila by 2009. All Scholars
undergo a parallel programme of study to learn about their own culture, history and
theology and to ensure they are equiped and capable of competently addressing the
various social and relevant issues facing their communities.
Baby Palak: A voice worth millions

She is only 13 years old and she cannot be called a woman yet. I am glad to introduce
a girl who definitely finds a place among the Women achievers of India.

She will sing in Pakistan in aid of children. She has built shelter for sex workers' kids in
Nagpur. When many children her age pester their parents to provide them with all the
luxuries possible, this little girl persuades all parents to forego a little luxury to help
mend the hearts of little children, whose lives would be cut short for want of money for
heart surgeries! While our Bollywood stars charge lakhs of rupees to dance or even be
present at celebrity weddings, here's a young girl who will sing any-where but gives
away all the money to charity!
Fame and adulation can make you go heady, especially if you are just 13 years old. But
Baby Palak Muchhal is different. Having been featured in almost all the print and
electronic media, this child is indeed very modest. Though gentle as a swan, she has a
heart of a lion! A singing prodigy, she has raised more than Rs. 75 lakh for heart
operations for the poor, especially young children.

Going about her mission "Saving Little Hearts", Palak has contributed for 142 heart
operations so far and has 357 patients on the waiting list! 'God has given me some
talent and I should thank him by doing what little I can for the society. Jab tak gaata
rahoongi, tab tak garibon ke liye kuch to karti rahoongi' (I shall keep doing something
for the poor till I keep singing), she says in an interview.
Piu Sarkar


If the eyes say it all, then Piu Sarkar's creations with their large almond-shaped eyes,
speak volumes. Her canvases have lovely women with arresting features, quite
absorbed in their own world. It is almost as thought they have no cares or worries.
"That's quite right," says the self-taught artist, Piu. "I paint women who are enigmatic
and sensual; women who have a mind of their own."

Piu herself seems like an extension of her canvases. She is a lovely person, well read
and absolutely passionate about her work. The latter evolves around stree shakti, which
is the liberation of women that were embodied in mythology and folklore. "The series is
also a story of my journey as a woman. It is not a voice against the man's world but
her existence and evolution from pages of epics to entertainment," she states.

One of her paintings was inspired by a scene from 'Pather Panchali', a Bengali classic.
Charulata or Shakuntala are influenced by old Bengali classics of Bibhuti Bhushan
Bandhopadhaye, Tagore and Kalidas.

"All the women that I paint deal with a similar undercurrent of pressure and need
strength to sustain them. It is here that the shakti comes in," she explains.
Piu admits that images of women icons of Indian mythology have been her real
inspiration as they reflect the social and political strategy of a woman's status from the
past to the society in today's times. "The series of my creations have been influenced
by eyes and motifs of Ajanta Frescoes, Pala Art of Bengal, Mewar Miniatures and
Mathura/ Gandhara Patterns, etc. I have depicted the flavour of Indian Culture and
Classics in an individualistic language and presented it in a contemporary palette of
Indian Pop Art," she adds.

The striking depiction of these women icons have already won Piu admiration from
eminent artist Jogen Choudhury and actress Sushmita Sen. "I did not know that
Sushmita had bought my paintings until much later. She then called me up to tell me
that the image had 'strength' in its eyes," she says.

For the artist says it's going to be women power that will occupy her canvas for some
time. After which she will see what else catches her fancy.

Piu Sarkar has been awarded the 'Woman achiever of Calcutta' recently.


Dadi Janki born in 1916, has pioneered, exemplified and shared with countless
numbers of people a structured and disciplined method of spiritual development that
has had a profound impact on the lives of millions across the world.

As a founding member of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, joining in

1937 at the age of 21, she became one of the world's first female spiritual leaders. With
an unrelenting search for honesty and cleanliness in her relationship with God, Dadi has
developed an inspiring vision of the unique potential of every human being. This has
enabled her to become a highly effective spiritual entrepreneur.

Since 1974, when she left India for the first time to base herself in London, England,
she has overseen the establishment of centres teaching meditation and spirituality in
over 90 countries.

Dadi Janki was designated a Wisdom Keeper at two United Nations conferences: The
Earth Summit in Brazil (1992) and Habitat II in Turkey (1996), as part of an eminent
group of spiritual and religious leaders advising on the spiritual dilemmas underpinning
current worldwide issues of the environment and human settlement.

Together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, HH the Dalai Lama and Prince Hassan of
Jordan, Dadi is an international Patron of Rights and Humanity, an organisation
promoting respect for human rights. Dadi is also a Global Council Member of the
International Museum of Women.
Dadi has promoted inter-religious understanding and co-operation throughout her life.
She is a Patron of the World Congress of Faiths and a member of The World Council of
Religious Leaders and The Global Peace Initiative of Women.

She is also the founder and President of the Janki Foundation for Global Health Care,
launched in 1997 at the Royal College of Physicians as a charitable trust.

Now aged 89, she still travels extensively, enabling leaders from the worlds of politics,
religion, medicine, science, education, psychology and other fields, as well as
individuals at every level of society, to absorb spiritual strength by renewing their own
link with God
Devaki Jain

Founder of Dawn

Devaki Jain (born in 1933) graduated in Economics from Oxford University and Joined
Delhi University as a Lecturer, later senior fellow at the Delhi School of Economics . In
1976 she founded a research centre the Institute of Social Studies Trust, ISST which
focussed on issues of poverty and gender, with special interest in “work”.

In 1984, as Director of ISST she convened a meeting of women from the South, one
per continent to consider developing a feminist perspective on development from the
South – leading to the founding of DAWN, Development Alternatives for a new Era.
DAWN is to day a visible actress in the global stage.

She has held Fellowships at various Universities, notably at Harvard and Boston (1984)
as a Senior Fulbright Scholar; at Institute of Development Studies , Sussex University
as a Visiting Fellow and at the Scandinavian Institute of South Asian Studies in
Denmark .

She was one of two women, the other being the Late Bella Abzug, to receive
recognition at Beijing 1995, the Bradford Morse award as Founder of DAWN. She
received an Honorary Doctorate for her contribution to international development from
the University of Westville, Durban Republic of South Africa .

Devaki Jain has written extensively on women and development


Sister Nirmala

In steps of Mother Therasa

Sister Nirmala, age 63, is Mother Teresa's successor as Superior General of the
Missionaries of Charity. Born in Ranchi in 1934 to a Brahmin soldier who came from
Nepal, Nirmala Joshi joined the order at the age of 17, after converting from Hinduism.
Her sister, too, embraced Christianity and became a Carmelite nun. After joining the
Missionaries of Charity, Sister Nirmala studied law at the insistence of Mother Teresa,
who often took her along during her tours abroad. The Mother's confidence in her
abilities was evident when she asked Sister Nirmala to open their homes in Panama,
New York and Kathmandu.

She is a modest woman, and when she succeeded Mother she quietly said, "Mother
Teresa can never be replaced. She is gifted with rare charisma that can never be
acquired in one's lifetime." Sister Nirmal is not without her own strengths as well,
however. As spiritual adviser Father le Joly said, "In her, Mother found signs of energy,
dedication, and charisma." When journalists once asked Mother Teresa what made
Sister Nirmala so exceptional, she replied, "She is a Missionary of Charity".
Bhairavi Desai

Most New Yorkers probably don't know Desai, but they know her handiwork. In May
1998, the 27-year-old labor activist went head-to-head with the city's combative
mayor, organizing one of the biggest 24-hour taxi strikes in New York history to protest
city policing of the industry. A history and women's studies graduate from Rutgers,
Desai burned with a passion to take up the fight of the cab drivers, some 60 percent of
whom, like her, are immigrants from South Asia, many of them working up to 80 hours
a week for as little as $18,000 a year without health benefits, or even any certainty
that they will be paid.
Desai's family had emigrated from Gujarat to Harrison, N.J., when she was six years
old. Her father, who had been a lawyer in India, had trouble finding work and resorted
to running a grocery store, and some of Desai's earliest memories were of racist attacks
by skinheads. "I remember being chased down the street," she says. "I remember the
hostility, and that politicized me." After graduating from Rutgers, she joined New York's
Taxi Workers Alliance, where she is now staff coordinator. "I wanted to organize around
issues of labor and class," says Desai. "I wanted to organize the immigrants, and it was
important for me to go beyond what the AFL-CIO was doing. It was important to focus
on life issues and not just the labor."

Desai bridged the ethnic, religious and regional differences among South Asian cab
drivers by emphasizing that everyone is subject to the same difficulties. "We speak
more than 100 languages," she says, "and yet there is a common language of
exploitation that we all know. Because of our common goals, we were able to organize
a common front." Now she plans to organize a South Asian Labor Alliance linking
workers in the U.S. with those on the subcontinent. "Because our countries are
underdeveloped, people are forced to migrate to countries that are often very hostile to
them," says Desai. "It is important for us to have solidarity with workers in the Third
World. They are not the ones who are stealing the jobs."

( Thanks: Bhairavi Desai's profile published in Time magazine)

Aruna Roy

Magsaysay award winner

Aruna Roy, born to Tamil parents and brought up in a totally secular tradition, is one of
those who did. Six years (1968-1975) in the IAS were enough to convince her that
reality lay elsewhere.

In her words: "Frankly speaking, I was not happy with bureaucratic functioning....
There are times when one knows that the decisions being taken by higher-ups are
blatantly wrong, but nothing can be challenged."

Aruna left the IAS to join her husband Bunker Roy's Social Work and Research Centre
in Tilonia in Rajasthan: "I had my schooling in grassroots work in Tilonia. Before that, I
did not even know what a village was!" In 1990, she moved away from Tilonia to join
the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan(MKSS), an organisation of poor farmers, both
men and women.

The MKSS fought for fair wages to workers, and also became centrally involved in the
campaign for the Right to Information (RTI). As Aruna describes it, the RTI campaign—
later to blossom into a full-fledged movement—was born from an agitation for minimum
wages by MKSS in the late '80s.

Sixty per cent of the members of MKSS are women. It is these women and men who
provide the breadth of vision that characterises MKSS. For them, as for Aruna, the RTI
is not just a campaign for the right to information. It is a campaign that links together
all the natural rights of citizenship—to food, to wages, to work, to dignity, and to a life
free of violence.

(Thanks to Urvashi Bhutalia, Outlook India)

The presence of women is essential for, according to Aruna, women instinctively

understand what it is to be marginalised, and, over time, men in the movement have
begun to understand the importance of involving women.

In 2000, when Aruna Roy was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award, she dedicated it
to the 'ordinary' people—both women and men—she works with. Perhaps the most
fitting tribute to this intrepid and remarkable activist came from the women of
Devdungri, where she has made her home, when her mother, herself a remarkable
woman, passed away. The bier was carried by women of all castes, religions,
backgrounds. Her pyre was lit—in an important deviation from the Hindu ceremony
where only males have this privilege—by all the women in her family, giving Aruna, and
her mother, a sense of peace.


Smt. Indu Jain

Smt. Indu Jain is Chairman of The Times Group. She is a spiritualist, an entrepreneur,
an educationalist, a humanist, a patron of art and culture. In her capacity as Chairman
of The Times Group, Indu has since infused new energy into the further growth of
India’s largest media house. The Times Group publishes India’s largest newspapers,
which include The Times of India, The Economic Times and Navbharat Times. In
addition, the group enjoys a dominant presence in magazines, events, radio, the
Internet and television.

Indu’s eclectic cultural interests, social concerns and spiritual inclinations have brought
a whole new dimension to the functioning of a conventional media house. The Times
Foundation, which she founded and carefully guides, has garnered international acclaim
for its, often pioneering, activities in the field of development. An educationalist, par
excellence, she is President of Times Foundation. A humanist to the core, under her
direction, The Times Foundation runs – Community Services, Research Foundation and
Times Relief Fund for disaster relief’s like floods, cyclones, earthquakes and epidemics.

Her measured commitment to several spiritual and charitable causes is well known and
she constantly draws form her deep well of spiritual understanding as she approaches
various issues. This strongly humane, and often decidedly spiritual, approach is another
dimension she has been instrumental in adding to the mindscape of the media in India.

Indu’s championing of women’s causes is also very well known. She actively supports
women’s rights, women’s uplift and the encouragement of entrepreneurship. Indu is
founder President of the Ladies wing of FICCI (FLO).

A patron of literature and culture, she is Chairperson of the Bharatiya Jnanpith

Foundation, which awards India’s most prestigious literary award, the Jnanpith, and
supports endeavours in the field of literature in every major Indian language.

She addressed the United Nations in 2000 at the Millennium World Peace Summit of
Religious and Spiritual Leaders, a speech in which she stressed the need for oneness
among faiths and went on to chair a special session of the conference. Ms Jain is also
the guiding force behind The Oneness Forum, formally launched by the President of
India in 2003. The Forum recently awarded the Mahatma-Mahavira Awards to
outstanding individuals from all of walks of life and is involved in several activities that
seek to bring, and highlight, a sense of Oneness in the world.

Spreading the message of Peace Within First, Indu Jain spear heads a movement to
spread the principles of peace globally.

(Thanks to Times Magazine)

Maya Shahani

Maya Shahani is a Founder Trustee of Women’s Movement for Peace and Prosperity.
She is also a Trustee of Shahani Trust and a Governing Board Member of HSN
Collegiate Board, which runs over twenty prime educational institutes in Mumbai. She is
a Patron of Cancer Patients Aid Association and the National Kidney Foundation. She is
on the Governing Board of the Bombay Mothers and Children Welfare Society and the
Chairperson of the Justice Chainani Elders' Home.
As a Founder Trustee of WMPP, Shahani would like to focus her attention on bringing a
holistic approach to Education. She strongly believes that ethics and spiritual values
along with physical and emotional well being are as important as academic excellence
in an institute of learning. Spirituality, education and health are the basis for a world
order of happiness, success and peace.

Ms Shahani believes that peace and prosperity are interlinked, and one cannot exist
without the other. With this as an objective, she is working on the empowerment of
women in the field of vocational training and entrepreneurship. Along with the Times
Foundation she has taken an initiative in establishing links with organizations like CII
and FICCI to help women and thereby the family and nation to become economically

Medha Patkar

Social Activist

Medha Patkar was born on December 1, 1954. Prior to being a social activist, Medha did
her M.A. in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). She left her
position on the faculty of TISS as well as her unfinished Ph. D. when she became
involved in the tribal and peasant agitations in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and
Gujarat, which eventually led to the organization of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. She
was married once but later divorced amicably.

On March 28,2006, she started a hunger-strike to protest against the decision of the
authorities to raise the height of the Narmada Dam. She ended her 20 day fast on April
17, 2006, after the Supreme Court of India refused the Narmada Bachao Andolan's
appeal to stop the construction of the dam.

On November 8, 2007, the convoy of Medha Patkar is allegedly attacked by activists of

Communist Party of India-Marxist at Kapaseberia in East Midnapore district while she is
on her way to Nandigram to attend anti-land acquisition protests.

Medha Patkar is one of the recipients of Right Livelihood Award for the year 1991.
She received the 1999 M.A.Thomas National Human Rights Award from Vigil
India Movement. She has also received numerous other awards, including the Deena
Nath Mangeshkar Award, Mahatma Phule Award, Goldman Environment Prize,
Green Ribbon Award for Best International Political Campaigner by BBC, and
the Human Rights Defender's Award from Amnesty International. She was also a
Commissioner to the World Commission on Dams.

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