An Ode To The Fearless Women Who Weren’t Afraid To Take On The System

This year, I wanted to celebrate women’s day differently. So, I began a women’s day series, where I illustrate and share the stories of one inspiring woman every day. The intention is to document and share stories of fearless and revolutionary women. Let’s admire some women, shall we? Here’s the list till now, read away:

1. Bhanwari Devi

I wanted to begin with Bhanwari Devi. Since I came across her story a while ago, I have wanted to write about her. Her story is full of struggles and hardships, but also of hope and inspiration. She is a social activist from Rajasthan. In 1992, she was working as a Saathin in Women’s Development Project. In her fight against orthodox practices, one particular day, she prevented the marriage of a one-year-old girl child.

Offended by her actions and triggered by the fact that she was a lower caste, the father of the child who belonged to upper-caste along with other Gurjar men gang-raped her. After days of struggle, she finally succeeded to file an FIR, but the court ruled in favor of the accused saying “upper-caste men won’t defile themselves by raping a lower caste”, among other absurd things.

Sadly, she never received justice, and yet, she continues to fight this battle for others and inspire other women to stand up for themselves. Her case was majorly responsible for the landmark judgment of 1997, that laid down the Vishakha Guidelines.

Vishakha Guidelines provided the definitions of sexual harassment at the workplace and established requirements for employers to deal with complaints of sexual assault. Later, in 2013 a proper act was passed, which is known as Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act or POSH act.

2. Urvashi Butalia

A publisher, writer, and feminist, she is the founder of Zubaan Books and co-founder of Kali for Women, the first feminist publishing house of India.

I was introduced to her writings in my college, as it was one of the recommended readings on partition history. I think one of the best things about studying is that sometimes you just stumble upon something you’ve never thought of, and when you read about it, it feels like you’re exposed to an entirely new worldview! Her writings did the same for me. I read an excerpt from her book, ‘The other side of silence’ and I was amazed because I’d never viewed partition through the lens of gender.

In this book, she used intersectionality to view history and establish something called as ‘people’s history’. She mostly relied on oral history to gather the information about partition, and how the events conspired, how they impacted the lives of the people on both sides of the border. It is considered as one of the critical academic texts on understanding the partition. Another interesting fact about the book is that she started working on it in the aftermath of the 1984 riots that brought back the horror of partition.

She has authored several other books as well. Also, she, along with Ritu Menon, who had set up Kali for Women, received Padma Shri for their work in Literature and Education.

3. Iqbal Bano

A fiery woman who openly defied and rejected the dictatorship of Zia Ul Haq and his radical Islamist ideas in Pakistan. He banned all the works by Faiz, and also imposed restrictions on women, including wearing Saree.

A fearless woman as she was, to mark her protest against the repressive regime, she wore a black saree and sang Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ in front of 50,000 people! Moved by her passionate rendition of Hum Dekhenge, the stadium was filled with the chants of ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. Despite the ban on her public performances, she became one of the most powerful voices of resistance. I don’t think one can remember Faiz without mentioning Iqbal Bano.

Iqbal Bano was born in Delhi and later moved to Pakistan where she spent the rest of her life. Along with ghazals she also sang light classical for films. She educated the masses about social and economic inequality and injustices through ghazals and songs. Her rendition of Hum Dekhenge brings chills every time I listen to it. Her voice fills me up with emotions that I can’t even explain.

4. Sudha Bharadwaj

She is known to be ‘people’s lawyer’ and has dedicated her life to protect the rights of the most marginalised sections of people in the mineral-rich conflict-ridden Chhattisgarh. She’s been working continuously for the rights of the workers, farmers, and, tribals. I will not attempt to document her entire life’s work here because that would be endless. But, it breaks my heart to see the apathy of the government and the police. They’re so afraid of the people who fight for justice that they put so much effort into silencing the voices of dissent. They are afraid of strong women who fight for their rights, who challenge the state, and who are fearless.

All the activists who are arrested have been charged under IPC 125 for allegedly making hate speeches and inciting violence, planning the assassination of PM and having connections with Maoists. According to the reports, the charges are fabricated, and the activists are being framed. Recently, the case has been transferred to NIA and had its first hearing. The next hearing would be on March 13. The case is being overlooked because of the current situation. I know it’s tiresome to keep track of what all is going on. But, we have to keep this fight going, and we need to keep asking questions.

5. Parveena Ahangar

She is known as the ‘iron lady’ of Kashmir for fighting against the state violence and human rights violation in Kashmir and the problem of ‘enforced disappearance’. According to the UN, enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity where people are picked up by state officials or on the order of state officials, and they go missing without any knowledge of their whereabouts or existence. This is a term that haunts people of Kashmir and other militarized areas in India.

It is one thing to lose someone, but it is even worse not to know what happened to them. Like so many people in Kashmir, Parveena Ahangar is also a victim of this horrific crime. Her son Javaid was taken by the army in August 1990. After losing faith in the state system, she, along with other parents who suffered the same fate, established Kashmir’s first human rights association. It is called The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). Many international organizations have also recognized her constant efforts against state violence and her fight for the rights of Kashmiris. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

APDP is fighting a battle against the state’s whitewashing of the crimes committed over the years on Kashmiris. APDP has been holding peaceful protests to register their resistance against the continuous violence, and to remember the ones who were lost in the madness of power and politics.

Parveena Ahangar is an epitome of resilience, fearlessness, and strength. Her efforts have given hope to so many individuals. ‘Blood leaves its trail’ is a documentary on her journey that needs to be watched. Besides, there are several other books and films that should be on your list to understand the gravity of the situation.

6. Karuna Nundy

Another woman to join the list of fearless women is Karuna Nundy! A fierce feminist and Supreme Court lawyer who has been working to safeguard the rights of the people. She has made her way to ‘Corporate India’s Fastest Rising Women Leaders’ list. Her report on Anti Rape Laws was crucial for the Amendment in Criminal law 2 Act in 2013 after the infamous Nirbhaya case of Delhi.

Also, she has been fighting to get justice for the families that suffered in the Bhopal gas tragedy. Considered as one of the worst industrial disasters, it is shameful that the main accused, Warren Anderson, was never convicted in the case, while the families still wait for justice. Karuna Nundy is one of the most powerful voices in our country today who are fighting for the democratisation of speech women’s rights, internet freedom, etc. Recently she was named in the ‘Forbes’ Self Made Women 2020‘.

Isn’t it wonderful to have women who speak their minds, fight against inequality and give us reasons to believe in the world? Here’s to the unapologetic feminist who takes down misogyny and patriarchy one case at a time.

*This is not an exhaustive list, and I will keep making additions to it. You can follow me on instagram for the updated list.

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