Women have played an integral role in Indian history from ancient times. We find that in the Vedic or Upanishadic age Maitreyi, Gargi, and others ladies of revered memory have taken the places of rishis through their skill in discussing about Brahman. In an assembly of a thousand Brahmanas who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnabalka in a discussion about Brahman.
In pre-independence times also, women have led the charge for educational and social upliftment causes. In 1950, India was one of the few countries in the world to grant universal adult suffrage to its citizens. Women paved the way for a young India’s development. And today, we see women leading our Government, businesses, sports, armed forces and ven in real rocket science. Women are breaking the glass ceiling and setting our standards higher every day.
The Nari Shakti Puraskar, instituted in 1999 is a way for us to recognize women who have exceeded expectations to challenge the status quo and make a lasting contribution to women’s empowerment. The Government of India confers these awards on individuals and institutions in recognition of their service to the cause of women. The outstanding contributions in the field of women development & upliftment by way of being role models are of primary consideration in identifying the recipients of Puraskar.
This year’s Nari Shakti Awards are being conferred on women and institutions that represent a variety of fields. Having received an overwhelming number of applications, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has chosen candidates who are leaders in sectors as varied as social entrepreneurship, art, horticulture, yoga, environmental conservation, journalism, dance, social work, science and technology. Women have made a mark in each of these sectors both at the national and international level, proving to the world that gender is not a limitation to success. These awardees are breaking new frontiers in emerging fields such as building social enterprises, promoting organic consumption and working for the creation of a sustainable environment. It is encouraging to see women lead this charge, making lasting impressions that will set the course for future developments.
These awardees have challenged stereotypes associated with women, by being torchbearers in fields such as space research, railways, motorcycling and mountaineering. They have not only made inroads, but also excelled in sectors that have historically not seen the participation of many women. The Scientists and Engineers from ISRO, Ms. Mumtaz Kazi, the first diesel train driver, Ms. Pallavi Fauzdar, the motorcyclist & Ms. Sunita Choken, the mountaineer are examples for young India to follow in their footsteps and pursue their dreams, no matter what they may be. In fact the winners represent the face of a changing global India.
The Government has awarded women and institutions that are working for the cause of vulnerable and marginalized women, including those facing violence, improving the Child Sex Ratio, providing livelihood opportunities to encourage women’s economic independence, working for the development of women farmers and bringing real development to the remotest corners of the country. The institutions Chhanv Foundation, Shikshit Rojgar Kendra Prabandhak Samiti, Sadhana Mahila Sangha and Dr. Kalpana Sankar through her organization ‘Hand in Hand’ have worked at the grassroots level for the betterment of women in the society.
The awardees have proven that innovative ideas can often transcend situational limitations. Facing a lack of financial avenues, women have leveraged social media to raise funds; in the aftermath of natural disasters they have found unusual ways of rehabilitating locals; with a lack of economic opportunities, women have tapped into the digital economy; in the face of health challenges, women have adopted and popularized alternative treatment practices; and faced with social ostracism, women have taken their lives into their own hands and set an example for others to follow. One of the awardees, Ms. Smita Tandi collects money through social media and helps those who require medical treatment, Dr. Nandita Shah founder of SHARAN has a vision of diabetes free India, she assists in reversing diabetes by using food as medicine and Ms. Kalyani Pramod Balakrishnan, a textile designer has helped poor weavers by promoting traditional crafts. They show us that no challenge is insurmountable if one has the courage to take the road less travelled.
A quality common to all the winners of the Nari Shakti Puraskar this year has been their perseverance and will to go the extra mile. Government and non-Governmental organizations have worked for decades to improve the quality of life for all in their regions. People have left the comfort of their homes and lives to lead the fight for a cause, taking others along with them. Change often comes slowly, but these women and institutions have demonstrated that a committed effort will eventually lead to a positive outcome. The awardees has shown that one can achieve anything if one has determination, Ms. Tiasa Adhya and Ms. Bano Haralu fought to impose ban on hunting of fishing cat and migratory Amur Falcons in their respective regions. Ms. V. Nanammal, a nonagenarian yoga enthusiast has taught yoga to many people, now her students are teaching yoga across the world.
The Nari Shakti Puraskar this year sets a high standard for our country. The awardees are examples of motivation, dedication, innovation and the belief that an effort made with the right intention can lead to an improvement in the lives of millions. Let us inspire more people to join the effort to make a better India.
*Author is Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development, GoI. Views expressed in the article are authors personal.