Aljazeera’s women of substance

Sonia Ghandi (Washington Post)

Sonia Ghandi
(Washington Post)

Aljazeera has recently run an feature on prominent Indian women.

« Indian women have made their mark in various walks of life despite facing societal prejudices and institutional hurdles.who have made their mark in various walks of life despite facing societal prejudices and institutional hurdles. India is a country of almost half a billion women, but the majority of them have to fight for space in a largely patriarchal and conservative society where the other half, men, wield insurmountable influence. Despite the odds, many women have left their mark. Modern India’s script cannot be complete without taking note of their contributions. They are at the forefront of social movements, hold important political positions, and have boosted the corporate sector with their enterprise. Women, including those in the diaspora, have also scaled the heights of success, winning leadership positions in various multinational corporations and charting their own entrepreneurial path. »

Role Models: Women of substance by Aljazeera

From politicians to sportswomen, here is the list of sixteen women recognised by Aljazeera for achieving remarkable success in their respective fields.

  • Sonia Gandhi, the widow of late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is said to be the most powerful person in the country. The Italian-born leader heads the Congress party, which rules the country as part of a coalition.
  • Mamata Banerjee is the current chief minister of West Bengal state and a regional heavyweight. Popularly known as Didi (sister), her slogan of paribortan (change) led her party Trinamool Congress to end leftist rule of more than 30 years in the eastern state.
  • Mayawati is an icon of Dalits – Hinduism’s former untouchables. In 1995, she became India’s first Dalit woman chief minister when she won elections in Uttar Pradesh. She stands accused of squandering public money while in office for constructing her own statues.
  • Nirupma Rao is currently India’s Ambassador to the US. She became the second woman foreign secretary (after Chokila Iyer) in 2009. She is also became the first woman spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs when she was appointed to the post in 2001.
  • Aruna Roy is social activist and a pioneer of right to information movement.  She resigned from Indian Administrative Services to work for social and political campaigns. She was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2000.
  • Teesta Setalvad is a civil-rights activists and journalist. She gained national prominence after she took up the cause of the victims of the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat state. She is a lightning rod of criticism for powerful leaders she wants booked for the violence.
  • Irom Sharmila is a civil-rights activist based in the Indian state of Manipur. She has been on hunger strike since 2000, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a legislation that controversially grants immunity to Indian troops in « disturbed areas ».
  • Soni Sori, a tribal school teacher working in a remote village in India’s Chhattisgarh state, was arrested in 2011 on charges of working for the Maoists, who are fighting against the government. She is still held in jail.
  • Arundhati Roy became first Indian woman to win the Booker Prize for her novel « God of Small Things », which sold about six million copies. She could have become a darling of the middle class, but instead chose to give her voice to India’s marginalised groups.
  • Barkha Dutt is one of the most popular broadcast journalists, India’s equivalent of Christiane Amanpour. A taped conversation she had with a corporate publicist seemed to show her in poor light. But Dutt remains a huge draw for viewers of NDTV.
  • Chanda Kochhar is the CEO of ICICI Bank, India’s biggest private bank. She is largely recognised for her role in shaping India’s retail banking sector. Fortune magazine has listed her among the top Powerful Women in Business.
  • Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi, the chief executive officer of PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage company in the world, is one of the biggest success stories among India’s diaspora. Last year, her pay package was worth $12.6 million.
  • Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the first biotech entrepreneur and one of India’s richest women, with a net worth of $625m. She started Biocon, a biotech company, in the garage of her rented house in the southern city of Bangalore at the age of 25.
  • Ela Bhatt is best known for starting the Self-Employed Women’s Association of  India (SEWA), a trade union for women which has now more than 1,000,000 members. She is a pioneer of such grass-roots movements as microfinance and cooperatives.
  • MC Mary Kom, also known as Magnificent Mary, boosted India’s sparse medal tally when she won the bronze medal in Women Boxing at last year’s London Olympics. She has punched her way to five World Boxing champion titles and won a medal in each one of the six world championships.
  • Saina Nehwal won the Bronze medal at the London Olympics last year, becoming the first Indian to win a medal in Badminton at the Olympics. Saina has risen to the top in a nation starved of sporting heroes. She was the first Indian to win the World Junior Badminton.



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