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Special Content


Issue no 49, 05 March - 11 March 2022

Women Achievers Share Thoughts to Inspire

As we celebrate Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav we remember the journey of 75 years in which we significantly progressed as a nation in the socio-economic and political sphere. Thousands of patriots, including women, laid down their lives to achieve the freedom we enjoy today. The valiant patriots were also visionaries who imagined an India where women would have equal rights and equal access to the benefits of the hard-fought independence. However, achieving this goal needed perseverance on the part of all stakeholders including policy-makers, activists, educationist and more so the Indian women themselves. In this issue of Employment News, we spoke with some women achievers who, in their own specific ways, have helped and inspired Indian women to not only enjoy equal rights but also become equal partners in nation-building.

Padma Shri Kariveppil Rabiya

Accepting who you are is one thing, but embracing your weaknesses and using them to uplift yourself is what sets you apart. Such is the story of Kariveppil Rabiya-Padma Shri 2022. Confined to a wheelchair due to polio and having been forced to drop out of college, Rabiya started an adult literacy mission in her own small way before the Kerala government launched the State Literacy Campaign in 1990 to which her contribution is most prominent. Rabiya is also the founder and president of a volunteer organisation, Chalanam, which runs six schools for the physically disabled and mentally retarded children. Speaking with Employment News Rabiya tells the story of her journey from having to drop out of college due to her physical disability to becoming the mascot of Kerala’s literacy campaign.

 Question: What motivated you to take up social work and what kind of difficulties did you face along the way?

Kariveppil Rabiya: From my childhood, I was an avid reader and read a lot of books on science, literature, history, religious scriptures as well as novels and poetry. I also read autobiographies of personalities who inspired me a lot. Thus, it came naturally to me to engage in knowledge-sharing activities like tutoring the illiterate. Later, I took it up on mission mode and started schools for the disabled and adult literacy program for illiterate women of my area. We face issues of financing different activities like training of differentlyabled persons. The setting up of training facilities, trainers’ salaries and food all come at a considerable cost. Support groups have been formed to collect donations. We also gather fund by selling books published by Chalanam Publications. We face hostility from some minor quarters, but I do not hold grudge against them as most of the people, especially my colleagues are extremely supportive.

Question: How do you assess the progress of women empowerment in the Indian society?

Kariveppil Rabiya: During the earlier days of the literacy campaign, bureaucrats often came and visited the classes. During their visit, women, especially Muslim women used to hide behind the others. They seemed skeptical about what they could achieve through literacy. They felt nothing but despair. I employed tactics like narrating to them stories of successful and respectful women like V T Bhattathiripad and Kasturba Gandhi. Some women even resisted literacy and argued with us. It took a lot of effort and persuasion for them to come out of their shell and embrace change. We convinced them that bureaucrats are not to be feared and that they are there to serve us. We even taught them how to put their points across in a dignified manner. With time, the same women began responding positively. They became aware of their rights. Later, many became conscious advocates of the right to respond and speak out. Today, the scenario has considerably changed. Women are making progress in the field of education. In older times, a woman could not imagine looking after a family while pursuing a career. Today women do it with élan. It has helped them give not only themselves but also their families better lifestyle.

(Interviewed by Gopakumar P, Kerala-based journalist)

Padma Shri Eli Ahmed

Eli Ahmed, an author, scriptwriter, director, lyricist, costume designer, actress, as well as social activist is credited for having conceived and published Orani –the first and only women’s magazine in the North East. Since the 1970s, Orani has contributed immensely to the cause of women empowerment in the North East, especially Assam, by highlighting the lives and achievements of influential and inspirational women of the community from distinctive professions and backgrounds. Ahmed was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2017 for her contribution to literature and education. Speaking with Employment News, Eli Ahmed shares her inspirational story of how she used Orani and other forms of literature as the medium to educate, inspire and empower the women of the North East.

Question: Please share with us your experiences during the process of imagining and executing Orani. Tell us about the journey of this magazine.

Eli Ahmed: Actually, publishing a women-centric magazine was not in my original plan. Rather, the idea was to publish a magazine with poems and short stories. But later, sensing what the society needed most at that time, I changed my plan and decided to focus only on the women of Assam. Many famous personalities including Jnanpith Awardee Mamoni Raisom Goswami authored articles for Orani. Many special issues of Orani highlighted the achievements of inspirational Assamese women like Nalinibala Devi, Aideu Handique, etc. Similarly, Assamese women who made a mark as doctors, engineers, singers, actors, were often the focus of my content. As of now, Orani comes up with four issues in a year and each issue specifically focuses on women achievers and the different difficulties women of current times face and battle with. During the lockdown, the magazine published articles about the struggles of women from different walks of life. One recent issue of the magazine was published on women cops. Now, I am preparing to publish a special issue on women involved in petty jobs. I firmly believe that literature plays a major role in empowering women.

Question: India is celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. What is your vision of India@100, especially in the context of women empowerment?

Eli Ahmed: Celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav is a proud moment for us. I was so young when our country achieved independence. A tri-color hoisted on August 15, 1947 is still with me. It is a treasure for me. In the next 25 years, we need to work more strategically to achieve the goals we have set for women empowerment. For the all round development of the society, we must have to stress on empowering every woman of the country. I strongly believe that merely conducting seminars or public meetings to discuss the issues of women will never empower us. The goal of women empowerment will be fulfilled only when every woman will fearlessly raise her voice against atrocities and injustice. Especially cases of rape have been on the increase, but very few women come out to voice their concern against such crime. One way to break the shackles of women folk is to encourage them to hone their talent like I have been doing in Assam for a long time now. By instilling freedom and confidence in them, we will be able to engage every woman in the process of nation building. I wish every woman in India will become self-dependent when India steps into 100 years of independence. Every woman must get the scope to enjoy Independence.

Interviewed by Hemanta Borah, Assam-based Journalist)

Padma Shri Draupadi Ghimirey

For the past four decades in Sikkim, Draupadi Ghimirey has been working relentlessly for the cause of physically challenged people. Through her NGO, Sikkim Viklanga Sahayta Samiti, Ghimirey has changed many lives. For her dedicated social service, Draupadi Ghimirey was conferred the Padma Shri in the year 2017. Her NGO assists physically challenged persons in getting artificial limbs so that they can lead a normal life like any other Indian citizen. So far, she has provided over 2,500 artificial limbs free of cost to the needy, over 600 plastic surgeries and numerous post burn surgeries with the help of specialists from outside the State. From 2014 onwards, the Samiti has been helping the needy for fitting of mayo electric upper limb prosthesis at College Park Healthcare India, Gurgaon. The program is sponsored by the Department of Health, Government of Sikkim. Ghimirey also plans to start a Composite Rehabilitation Centre (CRC), at Resip in South Sikkim, for providing skill development training to physically challenged persons. Speaking with Employment News, Draupadi Ghimirey shares wha inspired her to take up social work.

Question: What motivated you to establish the Sikkim Viklanga Sahayta Samiti?

Draupadi Ghimirey: Before founding this NGO, I was serving as a Nurse in the Indian Army. I was posted near Indo-Burma border. During this period, my father’s foot caught gangrene and had to be amputated. During the treatment, I had to stay back home as my younger siblings were of very tender age. To take care of my father, I had to resign from the army. It was around the year 1982. After immense hardships and delay, my father got an artificial limb fitted in Lucknow, but it was not comfortable. Later, we took him to Jaipur where he finally got fitted with a much lighter artificial limb, but soon tragedy struck and we lost him. This troubled me immensely and I tried to find solace in social work.

Question: How difficult was it for you to operate out of a far flung state like Sikkim?

Draupadi Ghimirey: In the year 1991, I took the first batch of three people to Jaipur for getting artificial limbs. However, the financial assistance provided by the State was not sufficient. As I narrated our difficulty to a doctor at the Samiti, he gave us the address of Gujrati Samaj in Jaipur which made artificial limbs available to my patients. This continued for a while. I approached the then Chief Minister of Sikkim Shri Pawan Chamling in 1996 and it was decided to set up artificial limb centre in Sikkim itself. Though the camp was a grand success, the problem was yet to be resolved. Many minor issues evolved like loosening of nuts or nails etc.

It was then that I along with Dr. Savitri Hamal, Dr. Sashi Pradhan and 3-4 nurses decided to form a society for the physically challenged people and named it the Sikkim Viklanga Sahayta Samiti. Apart from providing artificial limbs, we also help people get cleft-lip surgeries free of cost. Serious cases are referred to a hospital in Agra. Recently, Siddhi Bank has offered to sponsor a high-tech prosthetic limb manufacturing German-American machine. From May 2022, we would be shifting our centre from Gangtok to Bermiok where both the Jaipur Foot and the prosthetics based on GermanAmerican technology would be taken up. We are also working towards capacity building and training of the physically challenged persons to make them self reliant.

Question: As the nation is celebrating Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav what is your perception of the current status of Indian women?

Draupadi Ghimirey: Sixty years ago, when girls wished to enroll in school, they were not allowed by their families on the pretext that they would learn to write love letters to boys. But the times have changed. In the context of Northeastern states, we find girls excelling in every sphere of life, be it education, business, or administration. Education was not that easy during our time, yet many of my contemporaries are in good position in the administration and elsewhere. Though we have progressed immensely in terms of access to education, there are many areas that we need to turn our focus to. Girls go missing and we are not able to trace them. Cyber bullying has increased. Early marriage is another issue that we need to look into. Further, I think there needs to be equal political representation of women. The efforts and success stories of women in general need to be complimented and encouraged by all.

(Interviewed by Shovan Kumar Mitra, D R Dulal, Sikkim-based journalists)

Padma Shri Deepa Malik

With faith in mind and passion at heart, Deepa Malik gave a new meaning to the word sports. Not letting an accident define her entire life, Deepa Malik became the first ever Indian to win a medal at the Paralympics by bringing home silver in Shot Put in Summer Paralympics held in 2016. She has won medals in swimming, does motor sport rallies and has earned international accolades in shotput, javeline throw and discus throw. She was conferred with Arjuna Award in 2012, which is considered to be the highest laurel for the Indian sports community. She became a Padma Shri in 2017. A brand ambassador of Clean India as well as an ardent proponent of Disability Inclusive Accessible Infrastructure, Deepa Malik has broken many stereotypes and emerged as an iconic figure for Indian women. In an interview with Employment News, Deepa Malik shares her definition of a truly empowered woman.

Question: What is your definition of an empowered woman?

Deepa Malik: A truly empowered woman not only fights for her rights but also understands her duties towards the society and the nation. The Constitution of India guarantees equal rights of men and women and prohibits all kinds of discrimination. It is now upon us as women and equal citizens of the country to make ourselves Atmanirbhar by pursuing education and skill development, thus contributing to the economy at large and to the welfare of our families. To emerge as successful modern women, we need not blindly ape the west. A truly independent woman is one who balances life and work and contributes to nation-building while holding on to Indian values and culture.

Question: What is your vision of India@100?

Deepa Malik: My vision of India@100 is an all inclusive, all end to end accessible India and an India which is the sporting powerhouse of the world. I want to see India hosting the Olympics. Also, I want to see India not considered a third world country but as a full-fledged developed country with a strong economy, great growth pace and also a world leader in securing, preserving, and promoting our heritage and culture.

(Interviewed by Sidharath Jha, Delhi-based journalist)

Rajat Kamal Tarali Sarma

The history of Indian entertainment industry is male dominated. And even today, gender inequality is very much present throughout the music, TV and film industries. That's all beginning to change. Slowly but surely, women are fighting their way to the top, staking claims in the entertainment world. Tarali Sarma, Assam’s most celebrated female musician is an icon of this phenomenon. Extremely popular for her soothing voice, versatile Tarali not only sings but also composes her own music, writes her own songs. Her heart touching lyrics are deeply meaningful, winning her many awards and accolades including the Rajat Kamal - Indian National Film Awards for best playback singing in the year 2003. Speaking with Employment News, Tarali Sarma recalls her journey from a meek, unconfident struggler to a tough and talented achiever.

Question: You have been associated with the music industry for more than two decades now, how do you see the growth and achievements of women in the industry over these years?

Tarali Sarma: I think over the years, people have started accepting women as not only a singer but also as music director, as lyricist, which is definitely a welcoming sign. I have been in the industry for more than 20 years and the way I started was different from the way I am working now in terms of my own mindset as well as that of the industry and the public at large. When I started, I was insecure. I did not know whether people would accept me or not. But I never thought of giving up because I had the passion to cling on to my dreams. I always loved creating music, singing and writing, but now I do it differently, with much more confidence. Today, I enjoy the acceptance of my fellow musicians, colleagues, my listeners and by the society at large. They not only respect me as an individual but also as a professional who deserves that respect and recognition.

Question: How empowered do you feel by the kind of love and appreciation you gather from your audience?

Tarali Sarma: The vibes I get from all quarters is positive and nothing else. There is respect, there is admiration and there is love for my work and my kind of music. This is very uplifting and inspiring. I think this is a beautiful sign of being positive, being empowered. Every woman deserves respect for what she is. Whether you are a lawyer, a sportsperson or even a housewife, women are as important as their male counterparts.

Question: India is celebrating 75 years of Independence this year. What is your vision of India@100, especially in the context of women empowerment?

Tarali Sarma: I am very proud that India is celebrating 75 years of Independence. When we get to the 100th year, I envision an India where everybody respects everybody. Everyone should have their own space but at the same time there should be a collected forum where each individual is given equal opportunity to voice their opinions. We should achieve complete equality among all caste, gender and class. I also want my fellow citizens to become more compassionate and tolerant while adopting a progressive approach. In the context of women empowerment, I think there should come a time when an individual is not viewed as a man or a woman but as a human who deserves equal respect.

(Interviewed by Santanu Rowmuria, Shillong-based journalist)

Padma Shri Gamit Ramilaben Raysingbhai

Access to a clean-living condition and sanitation facility is everyone's fundamental right. Many people in parts of India still practice open defecation, wherein, women suffer the most due to lack of proper sanitation facilities. One of the primary pillars of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is to promote the social inclusion of women by improving sanitation, especially in marginalised communities. Gamit Ramilaben Raysingbhai, 52-year-old tribal social worker from Gujarat, has taken this mission forward with her dedicated efforts which have led to the transformation of nine villages to open defecation-free villages. She also created more than 300 sanitary units and held awareness events on open defecation, women empowerment and sickle cell disease in the tribal belt of Tapi, Gujarat. She has been conferred with the Padma Shri 2022. Employment News asked Ramilaben what women empowerment means to her.

Question: What is your perception of women empowerment in India?

Gamit Ramilaben: We have made tremendous strides in empowerment of the Indian women as evident from the existence of successful and influential women in all fields including in business, art, space, sports, healthcare, science and technology, politics, and social service. What is yet to be achieved is an environment in which women get equal respect within their families and the society in general. We require lending more focus to providing better education, safety, and health care benefits to women. We should completely do away with social evils like dowry, sexual harassment, and domestic violence, only then will our society progress in the true sense.

(Interviewed by Vartika Tomar, Delhi-based journalist)

Padma Shri Prabhaben Shah

Prabhaben Shah became a freedom fighter at the age of 12 when Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement in 1942. Even after India attained Independence, her sense of service towards the country and her fellow citizens did not diminish. She is credited to have established the Daman Mahila Mandal in 1963 providing a platform for women to speak up and learn about the importance of basic education. The organization was revolutionary in itself as during that time women still observed the ‘purdah’ system in such rural areas. The Daman Mahila Mandal, with the help of crowd funding channels, set up two English and Gujarati medium schools each in Daman. Apart from education and women empowerment, Prabhaben went on to work in various social sectors like health, natural disaster relief operations and relief operations during the wars with neighbouring countries. Although she retired in the late 1990s, she continues guiding the new generation and giving her inputs in various matters. For her selfless and immense hard work, Prabhaben was awarded the Padma Shri in January 2022. Speaking with Employment News, Prabhaben says she revels in the fact that Indian women have contributed tremendously to India’s glorious journey.

Question: How do you see the journey of Indian women as we march towards 100 years of Independence?

Prabhaben Shah: Modern Indian women like Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams, Nita Ambani, Chanda Kochhar, Late Smt. Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani, all have made us proud and inspired the generation to come. Likewise, we have Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman – a well educated, smart, and dedicated politician presenting the Budget in Parliament. This is a great achievement for a country. Even during the early days of the Indian civilization, women played illustrious roles and with the advent of modernism, great women like Raziya Begum, Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibai, Savitribhai Phule, Kasturba and many others left their marks. They are still alive in the annals of Indian history – a proof that India has always valued and respected its women. The need of the hour is to draw the attention of today’s youth towards our rich history and culture. Doing this will make it easier for us as a nation to achieve bigger and better goals.

(Interviewed by Sidharath Jha, Delhi-based journalist)

Padma Shri Rahibai Soma Popere

The role of women in India’s agriculture sector is indisputable. The twin role of a farm labourer and of a home-maker takes a heavy toll on their overall wellbeing. Despite leading such challenging lives, some women still nurture and execute their passion for social service. Rahibai Soma Popere is one such iconic woman. Hailing from an impoverished tribal background, Rahibai did not get any formal education; instead, she was engaged in farming and cattle – rearing since a tender age. Agriculture was her family’s sole source of income. Despite many hurdles, Rahibai learned about agrobiodiversity, wild food resources, and traditional farming – all considered critical to achieving seed sovereignty and nutritional security. She learned all these by practice and experience alone as she was uneducated. Two decades ago, Popere began preparing indigenous seeds and delivering to her contacts across Maharashtra. Soon, she came to be known as a Beej Mata. Rahibai has achieved a remarkable feat by designing her own water harvesting structures, including a farm pond and a traditional jalkund. Rahibai now teaches farmers and students about crop selection, soil fertility practises, and pest management, among other things. While Rahibai’s efforts are making a visible impact at different district and state levels, they make a significant contribution towards genetic diversity in India’s agricultural sector. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2020. Speaking with Employment News, Rahibai Soma Popere shares what her vision for India is.

Question: As the country is advancing towards 100 years of Independence, what vision do you have for the country?

Rahibai Soma Popere: I wish to see that every farmer gets his due by the time we celebrate 100 years of Independence. Because, it is the farmers that can build a ‘Strong India, Healthy India’. For this, we need to have an overarching campaign for food security by encouraging increased production through organic and traditional farming in order to ensure adequate supply of toxin-free foods. This is the only way to achieve a malnutrition-free India. Every village should have a bank of native seeds. We have to provide incentives to the farmers for using traditional techniques and native, organic seeds.

Question: What is your perception of the current status of Indian women?

Rahibai Soma Popere: There is a lot more that needs to be done in terms of the rural women. It is a common practice in most of rural India that women fulfill all the roles of a caretaker while also working in the fields. Women are burdened with the daily task of fetching water from far-off sources, cooking, cleaning, looking after the children and the elderly etc. It is expected that only women do such duties. On top of that, women also have to face the torture of their husbands who contribute very little to running the household. Therefore, I strongly advocate banning of alcohol and all intoxicating products nationwide so that women do not have to face the misdemeanor of the men in their lives. Also, in order to provide relief to rural women, drinking water supply should be ensured to each household, greater financial allocation and autonomy should be given to Self Help Groups and efforts should be made to provide women with alternative sources of income based on farming. We have a lot left to do in order to achieve a country where women are fear-free and healthy.

(Interviewed by Vartika Tomar, Delhi-based journalist)

Padma Shri Padmaja Phenany Joglekar

India has a rich cultural legacy laced with various art forms including architecture, painting, sculptures, literature, craft and music. Each form of classical art has a story behind it, a reason and a purpose, which makes us ponder the complexity of it. With that being said, we as a society like to go above and beyond to preserve our history and culture and doing so requires people who are dedicated, passionate and unrelenting in their approach. Indian women have played crucial role in preserving our rich cultural heritage. Padmaja Phenany Joglekar is one among the many icons who have toiled hard to preserve Indian classical music. Not only has she enthralled the connoisseurs of Hindustani classical music with her soulful performances world over, but she has also been successful in making the art form popular among the current generation. Speaking with Employment News, the Padma Shri 2001 says the Indian woman will be truly empowered the day she is given the right to choose her course of life.

Question: How do you see the status of women in the Indian classical music industry?

Padmaja Phenany Joglekar: Women in the music industry have always had an important role. There are many illustrious examples like Bharat Ratna Lata didi, MS Subbalaxmi, Kishori Amonkar, just to name a few. But there could be many many more if the society changes its mindset towards empowerment of women in terms in giving them the freedom to make decisions about their career, passions and the kind of life they want to lead in general. As India moves from the 75th year of Independence towards the 100th year, I am very positive that the status of women will become stronger. Giving the freedom to women to choose what they want to get out of their own lives will influence other social changes as well.

(Interviewed by Sonal Tupe Mumbai-based journalist)

The views expressed by the interviewees are personal.