The term ‘Vagina Warrior’ was coined by Eve Ensler, the writer of the ‘Vagina Monologues’, to signify a person who’s fighting to end violence against women. This Women’s Day, here are some Indian vagina warriors who’re tirelessly fighting to build a more socially just and gender-just society, free of violence and discrimination.
Bela Bhatia has been instrumental in unraveling state oppression against adivasi women in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. Her work has led to the first ever FIR filed under Section 376(2)(c) of the IPC in the Bastar region – against security personnel for gang rape. In January 2017, her home near Jagdalpur was also attacked, with a mob demanding that she evacuate immediately. Her fight for the rights of adivasi women indicates the shameful layers of oppression that exist in Indian society, albeit under a thick blanket of silence.
[Read more about atrocities faced by tribal women in Bastar: “Will Put Chilli Up Your Vagina”: That’s How Tribals In Bastar Are Threatened By Police]
In a state ridden with conflict and the oppressive AFSPA, Binalakshmi Nepram works to empower survivors of violence, and has spearheaded a movement towards disarmament and peace, with women voices at the centre of it. She has been conferred with the prestigious Ashoka Fellowship for her work, and has made the issue important for policy makers. She continues to speak boldly against violence in the region, on issues like rape at gunpoint, gun control and more.
One of the most inhuman forms of treating women in India is shown by the sickening practice of manual scavenging. It is a form of violence where hundreds of women – Dalit women in particular – are engaged, and oppressed every day. Ashif Shaikh’s Jan Sahas has led a nationwide movement against this practice, liberating over 14,000 women, and training over 200 female survivors of sexual violence as ‘barefoot lawyers’, to help others.
Firebrand trans activist Akkai Padmashali has been at the forefront of the fight for equal rights for trans people in India. A survivor of sexual violence herself, she has empowered hundreds of others through her work and organisation ‘Ondede’, and openly speaks against the violence trans women face in toilets, public spaces, offices, and more. She has broken several norms and has been conferred with a prestigious Karnataka State Award, as well as the Ashoka Fellowship.
Zakia Soman and her team at BMMA have done pathbreaking work towards empowering Muslim women in India, as well as against oppressive laws. She has brought to light the violence and discrimination faced by thousands of Muslim women in India, and openly speaks out against the patriarchy that puts down women in the name of culture and religion.
Robin Chaurasiya was forced to quit the U.S. Air Force because of her sexuality, after which she campaigned to change the oppressive ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Her experience inspired her to come to India and start an NGO for children of sex workers and victims of trafficking to empower them to become leaders. She is a bold voice against the discrimination and violence faced by sex workers, and has impacted thousands with her work.
A feminist and social entrepreneur, Meenu Vadera’s work has empowered survivors of domestic abuse to break free from violence, and train as cab drivers. She has started Delhi’s first cab service run by women, and has pioneered the concept of ‘Women in Wheels’. She also writes and engages frequently on various issues surrounding women’s rights.
India’s first trans person to get an engineering degree, Grace Banu has smashed rigid gender norms, and continues to fight for trans and Dalit rights. A strong voice against the glaring problems with the Transgender Rights Bill 2016, Banu has petitioned the government for reservation rights, and Constitutional rights. Progressive changes in the Bill can lead to equal rights for thousands in India. Banu has also addressed the intersection between caste and gender, stating how a minority caste and minority gender are doubly oppressed in India.
For 15 years, Lalibai worked as a manual scavenger, cleaning others’ excreta with her bare hands. She was forced into the practice at the age of 10. In 2002, she met Jan Sahas’s Ashif Shaikh, who convinced her to give up the inhuman practice. Today, she works on a farm and has formed Garima Shakti Sangathan, a group that is encouraging women in nearby villages to give up manual scavenging. Through her efforts, more than 160 women have been liberated from this caste-based violence. “We now feel capable of fighting for our rights on our own. If somebody is beaten up, we go to the police station without fear. We know our rights. If somebody wants to demand something from the panchayat, we call all Dalit women and then go the panchayat,” she says.
A fiery human rights campaigner and social justice activist, Shabnam Hashmi has been fighting for women and minority rights for the past many years. She was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. After the 2002 Godhra riots, Hashmi interviewed over 50 gangrape survivors, and fought against atrocities committed on Muslim women. She continues to be a strong force against communal and oppressive forces in India.
One of the biggest forms of discrimination and stigma that lakhs of women still continue facing in India is because of a natural bodily process – menstruation. Manipur-based Urmila Chanam is relentlessly campaigning to end this stigma and spreading awareness when it comes to sexual and menstrual health.’Break the silence’ is her motto, as she travels across India and works with several women, health workers and ASHA workers. She has also been conferred with the Voices of Our Future (VOF) global award by World Pulse for her exemplary work.
For over two decades, Shruti Nagvanshi has worked to empower women and children in rural areas, especially in U.P. Through People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), she fights for the rights of marginalised communities and has boldly taken a stand against caste and gender-based violence. As the founder of Savitribai Phule Women’s Network, Nagvanshi is also one of the leaders in the fight against the Hindu conservative patriarchal system. She is empowering many women in eastern UP to become young activists and advocates for change, and has worked on over 3,500 cases of discrimination against women, children and Dalit community. Her work has also led to government intervention, and has been taken note of by policy makers.
By no means is this an exhaustive list – there are so many other inspiring Indians fighting against gender-based violence. Help me add to this list. Who are the vagina warriors whose stories you’d like to tell? or publish your story on Youth Ki Awaaz today with ‘My Vagina Warrior’ in the title!