Indian women did a lot this decade. From breaking the glass ceiling, sexist rules and smashing the patriarchal notion of “women stay at home,” they have soared high and beyond.
But, not without challenges. Society tried to ridicule them, called them names, and pull them up. But they resisted, standing stronger than ever, raising their voices and making sure everyone knows they mean business.
As we ready for the new decade, MAKERSIndia takes a look at the most influential women changemakers that India saw this decade.
Transgender rights activist Akkai Padmashali has been in the limelight for years now. The Rajyotsava Prashasti awardee is the first transgender woman to have been ever invited to Obama Town Hall, when the former US President was in New Delhi in 2017.
Along with transgender activist Uma Umesh, Akkai filed a petition contesting Section 377 on behalf of the transgender community, which culminated in the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India in 2018.
Akkai also made history by becoming the first transwoman to register marriage in Karnataka, and the couple adopted a baby boy earlier this year.
Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju
This duo’s achievements include the landmark judgement made in 2018 to abolish Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, decriminalising homosexuality in India. Almost a year later, they came out as gay and said they were in a relationship.
Menaka, who holds LLM from Harvard Law School, is also an advisor to international institutes including UNICEF in New York and South Sudan on International Human Rights Law. Arundhati, who holds LLM from Columbia Law School, was part of drafting the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.
Both the lawyers were named among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2019.
Widowed at 23-years, with four children to feed, Subhasini has done several odd jobs – being a domestic help, manual labour, and a vegetable-seller. Her focus was clear – she lost her husband because he was refused care at the hospital due to lack of money, and she wouldn’t let that happen to others.
After what seemed like a lifetime of patience and hard work, Subhasini started her own charitable hospital in a village in West Bengal. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 2018 for providing medical care through her Humanity Hospital to those who cannot afford it.
Indian television and film producer Ekta Kapoor was given two choices by her famous father, Bollywood actor Jitendra, when she turned 17 – to work or get married. And guess what? Ekta decided to marry her work.
In her almost two-decade long journey in the entertainment industry to becoming a household name in India, Ekta Kapoor has produced soap operas that have lasted for a decade and gave opportunities to several newbies in the industry. Recently, she also embraced motherhood– through surrogacy – and is the single mother to a baby boy.
Earlier this year, Ekta was named among India’s top 10 most influential personalities in the entertainment space by Yahoo.
‘Age is just a number,’ and who shows this better than Saalumarada Thimmakka, the 106-year old environmentalist from Karnataka. Having dedicated 66-years of her life planting trees at her own expense, Saalumarada Thimmakka was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019.
Being ridiculed and commented on for not being able to have children, Saalumarada Thimmakka, along with her husband, took to planting trees and caring for them like her own children.
Giving back to the environment, she has planted and cared for more than 8,000 trees, including 400 Banyan trees on a four-kilometre stretch in Karnataka.
Back in 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, came up with the Giving Pledge campaign. It encourages exceptionally wealthy people to contribute a major chunk of their wealth to philanthropic causes.
In 2016, billionaire entrepreneur and Managing Director of Biocon Limited, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, became the second Indian to take the vow after Wipro chairman Azim Premji. Kiran pledged that she would be giving away half of her income towards philanthropic causes, on an annual basis. Her philanthropic efforts are largely directed towards making a difference to global healthcare in the developing world, and she has adopted a number of Primary Health Centres in rural India.
As the Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation, Sudha Murty has several feathers in her hat. Her simple and charismatic smile may often confuse people about her strengths. An engineering teacher and author of more than 90 titles, Sudha Murty has dedicated her life to serving the underprivileged and empowering them through education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and art and culture. She has built more than 2,300 houses in flood-affected areas and set up 70,000 plus libraries in schools.
Sudha Murthy is a recipient of Padma Shri award, the Attimabbe Award from the Government of Karnataka for excellence in Kannada literature, and R.K. Narayan Award for Literature.
Zoya’s directorial ventures in Bollywood may not be essentially female-centric but her female characters stand out for their individuality and depth, since her debut Luck by Chance (2009).
Her biggest commercial success, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara may be about three male friends rediscovering themselves but the supporting female characters hold their own – whether it is the radiant scuba-diving instructor Laila or single-mother Rahila.
Her recent venture Gully Boy was India’s entry in the Best International Film category for Oscars 2020. Zoya has also been a part of web series Made In Heaven and Lust Stories, which received a lot of positive reaction from critics and the audience.
A survivor of an acid attack at the age of 15 by a man whose advances she had rejected, Laxmi Agarwal knew she had to help other women affected by this heinous crime.
Laxmi has dedicated her life to the mission of helping acid attack survivors find a job and lead an independent, dignified life. Through her café, Sheros, in Delhi, Laxmi provides employment to acid attack victims and survivors.
In 2013, following the ‘Stop Acid Attacks’ campaign by Laxmi, Indian Supreme Court ordered to punish acid attacks’ perpetrators with minimum 10 years imprisonment as well as to strictly regulate the sale of acid.
Laxmi also won the International Women of Courage Attack in 2014 from then-US first lady Michelle Obama.