Women in India : Inktober

Women In India Inktober


Inking women whose stories need to be told & retold.

You can read about (people who identify as) women who are working relentlessly for some indispensable issues or/and are inspirational. The list is crowdsourced and talks about women whose stories are not as popular as they should be.

Poonam Malakondaiah

From a rare breed of honest bureaucrats is low-profile 1988 batch IAS officer Poonam Malakondaiah. She has proved to be a hard nut to crack for politicians, businessmen and lobbyists wherever she worked – from education to social welfare to agriculture to transport to civil supplies to rain shadow, and finally as commissioner in the panchayat raj department. Seven transfers in the past six years have failed to deter her. For instance, as agriculture commissioner, she dragged the mighty multinational seed company Monsanto to the MRTP Commission, following which the company was forced to reduce the price of BT cotton seeds.

Sunita Krishnan | Prajwala

Social activist, Co-founder of Prajwala, a non-governmental organization that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates sex-trafficked victims into society.
One day as she was organizing the village to teach the children, a gang of eight men did not like that a woman was interfering with what they claimed as “man’s society.” The male dominancy of Indian society influenced the eight men to rape her, beating her so badly that she is partially deaf in one ear. She has had to deal with all that and more. Though violated, she refused to be broken and she gave birth to an institution that assists trafficked women and girls to find shelter.
“What affected me more was the way society treated me, the way people looked at me. Nobody questioned why those guys did it. They questioned why I went there, why my parents gave me freedom. And I realized that what happened to me was a one-time thing. But for many people it was a daily thing.”

Medha Patkar

Indian social activist known chiefly for her work with people displaced by the Narmada Valley Development Project (NVDP), a large-scale plan to dam the Narmada River and its tributaries in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Maharashtra. An advocate of human rights, Patkar founded her campaigns on two basic tenets in the Indian constitution: the rights to life and to livelihood.
She founded the Narmada Bachao Andolan, whose major aim was to provide project information and legal representation to the concerned residents of the Narmada valley.

Through the NBA, Patkar sought help for those rendered homeless and without livelihoods because of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar and other large dams along the Narmada.

In 1996 Patkar founded the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), an agglomeration of progressive social bodies opposed to globalization policies. She was a representative to the World Commission on Dams and also worked with local communities to develop alternatives for energy generation, water harvesting, and education.

Meenakshi Gurukkal

At 74, she is possibly the oldest woman exponent of Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial arts from Kerala.

The ancient martial art form of Kerala, Kalaripayattu, is not a forte of women. But wedded to her art, the oldest woman exponent of the martial art has been imparting kalari lessons for more than six decades.

Whether it is a spear, sword, wood rod or a long steel whip called ‘urumi’, the sari-clad wisp of a woman handles all with the dexterity of a 16-year-old.
Her dedication and skills fetched her a Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award, this year.
More than a third of her students are girls, aged between six and twenty six. Meenakshi’s school welcomes children from all walks of life. “Gender and community are totally irrelevant. What matters is age. The earlier you start, the more proficient you are,” she explains.

Her school runs on a ‘no fees’ principle. At the end of each year, students give her whatever guru dakshina they chose to. Today, some of her students are now Gurukkals or masters themselves.

May we all be and become as dedicated and strong.

Akkai Padmashali

“I Am A Proud Woman Born Without Vagina, Breasts And Uterus”
Akkai Padmashali, Named as Jagadish, fought her identity with her family, with the society and also with herself. She was often beaten up by her parents for wearing his sister’s dresses. Her parents also took her to doctors and healers to cure the problem they thought it was; however, there was no problem at all! It was everything she was born with! With her struggle to recognize her feelings and emotions, she felt the society to live in was too difficult and she tried to end her life at 12.
She not only transformed her life, but is also changing the way our society treats sexual minorities. Akkai was the first in the country to get a driving licence stating her gender as the one she chose. Akkai is founder-member of Ondede (meaning ‘convergence’ in Kannada), an organisation that aims to create awareness about sexuality, sexual diversity and the right to choose one’s sexual orientation. The Karnataka government recently chose 60 people who will be honoured with the prestigious Karnataka Rajyotsava Award and Akkai was one of them.
“Self identity is a process of understanding gender diversity. What I claim is Gender, what society imposes on one’s gender that is called “Patriarchy Power!”

Soni Sori

India’s fearless tribal activist (graphic details ahead)

Soni Sori was a mother of 3 children. Soni Sori taught at an Adivasi school in Sameli gaon, Dantewada, in south Bastar. Soni Sori was alleged to be a Naxal conduit, collecting ‘protection money’ on their behalf from mining corporations operating in the area.

Soni Sori was arrested in Delhi in Oct ’11, by Crime Branch, Delhi Police acting on a ‘request’from Chhattisgarh Police.

Soni Sori had stones pushed inside her during interrogation; in the vagina and the rectum, one after the other till they could push no more. {Mr Garg, the SP who watched as this happened, later received the Police Medal for Gallantry}. She emerged stronger, contesting Lok Sabha elections in 2014 on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket. Sori was in Raipur, planning a protest march from the villages in Bijapur where women had been allegedly raped and molested by security forces, all the way to Jagdalpur, a distance of nearly 200 kilometres; when she was assaulted by a burning chemical smeared on her face.

“I am fearless, the more I am tortured, the stronger I become. If they are successful in silencing me, they would show me as an example to silence everyone else.”


The first Indian woman to win a medal in Paralympic Games and won a Silver medal at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in the shot put.

When told as a 26-year-old that her choice was between paralysis and death, anyone else would have had a meltdown. A budding sportswoman and cricketer for Rajasthan despite suffering paralytic shocks since the age of eight, Deepa, however, faced the impossibility of life head-on. Seven broken vertebrae and frequent MRI scans in the absence of titanium plates could not stop her from taking to throwing the javelin in 2006.

From getting operated upon when her husband was serving the nation in Kargil and getting 163 stitches between her shoulder blades, she has been a real life inspiration for years now. Now the owner of a custom-made motorcycle (for which Kingfisher footed the bill), Malik set a Limca Book record for riding the first special bike for paraplegics in 2009.

“I think the only way multiple surgeries affected my life,” she says, “was that I could not wear clothes with low backs”

Leila Seth (1930-2017)

Leila Seth was the first woman judge of Delhi High Court and the first woman Chief Justice of a State High Court (Himachal Pradesh). Not just that, she was also the first woman to top the London Bar exams back in 1958.

As a member of the Justice Verma Committee, set up after the brutal December 16 gang-rape in Delhi in 2012, Justice Seth had contributed extensively in the roadmap for overhaul of criminal laws and steps to keep women safe. A champion of women-rights, the well-known judge was responsible amendments to Hindu Succession Act giving equal rights to daughters in joint family property.

She critiqued the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Naz Foundation case, which recriminalised homosexuality set aside the landmark Delhi high court judgment reading down section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Her respect for the right to sexual orientation stemmed not just from her personal experience of being a mother to Vikram, whose bisexual orientation she had embraced much earlier, but also because she found the Supreme Court’s 2014 judgment bereft of any reasoning.

October 2017 we're inking women whose stories need to be told & retold.