12 Famous Feminists Whose Work Has Made Life Better For Ordinary Indian Women

Posted: September 3, 2018

Some women have made a huge difference to the lives of ordinary Indian women by their unending effort. Here are 12 famous feminists that we look at today.

In a world like ours’ where women face a number of difficulties and tribulations, it has become rather important for famous feminists to stand up and use their voice. Especially since a lot of the women who speak out need support and encouragement.

Who are these famous feminists? And what is their contribution?

Kamla Bhasin

A social scientist and a feminist. Kamla Bhasin has worked on issues related to education, development, media and gender for over 35 years. She began with the empowerment of the rural and urban poor in 1972 and went on to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization for their Freedom from Hunger campaign. Here, she supported NGO initiatives for development and the empowerment of marginalized women in South and South-East Asia. She organized trainings and workshops.

She is currently a part of SANGAT, a South Asian Feminist network, as an advisor. She is also an active member of JAGORI, a Women’s Resource and Training Centre.

She has also conducted workshops for women and men focused on gender, sustainable development and human rights.

Urvashi Butalia

Our next famous feminist is a publisher and a writer.

Urvashi Butalia founded Kali, the first feminist publishing house in 1984, along with Ritu Menon. It was set up as an initiative to increase, enhance and encourage the role of female writers in an Indian society and to provide women with a platform. Later, Butalia went on to find Zubaan books in 2003 which published fiction, general topics and children’s books along with feminist literature.

As a writer, Butalia has written on gender, media, communalism and fundamentalism. Her work has been published in various newspapers and magazines such as Times of India, India Today and Outlook. She has also co-authored seven books. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India is a book by her wherein she interviewed survivors of the partition and various historic texts along with personal belongings such as diaries, letters and essays. Her book emphasizes particularly on the violence faced by women during the partition.

Durgabai Deshmukh

Durgabai Deshmukh was a freedom fighter, a social activist and along with that a social worker, lawyer and politician.

As a public activist for women’s emancipation, she founded the Andhra Mahila Sabha (Andhra Women’s Conference) in 1937. Along with this, she founded the Central Social Welfare Board. She was also a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and the Planning Commission of India. She was the only woman in the panel of Chairmen in the Constitute Assembly.

At the age of 12, she left school to protest against the imposition of English and later started the Balika Hindi Paathshala in Rajamundry to promote Hindi education for girls.

She was also a satyagrahi, and was responsible for organizing women Satyagrahas. In 1958, the government established the National Council of Women’s Education – Durgabai Deshmukh was the first chairperson and thanks to her, many issues regarding female education was brought forth and rectified.

Amrita Pritam

A poet and a writer, this famous feminist refused to accept differential treatment of lower castes. She had written over 100 books of poetry, fiction, essays and biographies.

One of her most famous works is a novel known as Pinjar (1950) where Puro was one of her many memorable characters. The book speaks of the hardships of her character, emphasizing on violence against women. The movie Pinjar, released in 2003, is based on this book and it has won a National Film award as well as a Filmfare.

She is referred to as one of the most important voices for women in Punjab in the 1950s, and is also the first woman to have won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Sunehade. She had also won the Bharataiya Janpith Award (the highest literary award in India) for Kaagaz Te Canvas in 1982.

She also rebelled against the societal norms by maintaining a relationship with her partner, painter and writer Imroz, for 45 years without marriage.

Along with being a poet, writer and feminist, she was a Rajya Sabha member in 1986.

Uma Narayan

Another famous feminist is Uma Narayan, a feminist scholar.

She is a professor of Philosophy at Vassar college and is the author of Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions and Third World Feminism. The book looks at feminism as a concept that is not just ‘Western’ in nature. It emphasizes on the fact that the idea of Westernization, as a whole, needs to be re-examined.

She has also co-edited Reconstructing Political Theory: Feminist Perspectives with Mary N. Shanely and Decentering the Center: Philosophy for a Multicultural, Postcolonial, and Feminist World with Sandra Harding.

Sampat Pal Devi

Born in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, Sampat Pal Devi has witnessed patriarchal norms of society, first hand. For example, a woman was being beaten mercilessly by her husband, Sampat Pal Devi intervention was futile and the man beat her as well. The next day, she came back with five other women and bamboo sticks and beat the abuser.

A social activist and the founder of a widely known social organization, many women came to her when they were faced with issues with regard to the men of the locality. In 2006, the organization had turned into a full-fledged movement wherein she felt it necessary to have a uniform and a name. Thus, Gulabi Gang, an army of women clad in pink, was born where they worked for, encouraged and ensured empowerment for women who were voiceless.

Ruth Vanita

An Indian academic, activist and writer.

She specializes in British and Indian history with a specific focus on gender and sexuality.

In 1978, she co-founded Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society, an Indian magazine, along with Madhu Kishwar. It revolves around feminism, gender studies and activism. Manushi is also a publishing house which publishes works about women in India along with novels and short stories which don’t solely concern gender issues or feminism.

She has also written a book Dancing with the Nation wherein she speaks of the journey of courtesans to Bombay cinema. In the book, she analyses over 200 films from the 1930s to present. It emphasizes on the freedom and independence courtesans had wherein they chose their profession, the men they engage with and their financial autonomy. It is also a study of sexuality, gender, performing arts and pop culture in modern India.

Along with all this, she also teaches and writes on Hindu philosophy. Ruth Vanita is now a professor at the University of Montana where she teaches Women’s Studies.

Kavita Krishnan

Kavita Krishnan is the Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. She is also a part of the politburo of CPI-ML and the editor of its monthly publication, Liberation.

Hailing from Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, she is a women’s right activist and has played a role in highlighting issues regarding violence against women after the 2012 Delhi gang rape case of Nirbhaya. She delivered speeches that went viral and influenced people to speak out against rape and violence against women.

Her views on the death penalty and rape have also had an impact on influencing the youth. According to her, punishments such as death penalty and chemical castration do not serve as an effective deterrent.

Irom Sharmila

Irom Sharmila or popularly known as ‘The Iron Lady’ or ‘Mengoubi’ is a civil rights activist, a political activist, feminist and a poet from Manipur. She is also the record holder for the “world’s longest hunger strike” wherein she fasted for 16 years from 5th November, 2000 to 9th August, 2016.

The incident that caused Irom Sharmila to go on the hunger strike was the Malom Massacare. Here, the Assam Rifles military forces had opened fire on 10 civilians at a bus stop, killing them. For this, she has won the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights and has received a lifetime achievement awar from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Medha Patkar

Medha Patkar is a social worker, an activist and a strong human right’s advocate. She has worked on a number of political and economic issues that have been raised by tribals, Dalits, farmers and women facing injustice in India.

She is also a founder member of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Along with this, she has also been a strong advocate for women’s rights in the country and has inspired many women to take a step forward.

Manasi Pradhan

Manasi Pradhan is an Indian women’s rights activist who is the founder of Honour for Women National Campaign which is a nationwide campaign to end violence against women. She is regarded as one of the pioneers of the 21st century global feminist movements and has been recognized, both nationally and internationally, for her efforts in the space.

In 1987, she founded OYSS which focused on the importance of education for women and also helped girl students do better and trained them to become leaders. OYSS women has also organized training camps, self-defence and leadership workshops.

Along with this, she is also the founder of Nirbhaya Vahini and Nibhaya Samaroh.

Elsa D’Silva

The final famous feminist on the list is the founder of SafeCity.

SafeCity makes use of crowdsourced data and technology to make cities safer and also providing equal access to public spaces for women, specifically. The purpose is to create awareness of certain incidents that take place in public spaces based on the reports and information they collect. This is then showed on a map which gives the user the information about the area to let them know whether or not it is safe. It is also useful for the local administration to know the problem areas and take the actions necessary to make it a safer space.

Elsa is a former aviation professional and she served as the Vice President, Networking Planning at Kingfisher Airlines. After the bankruptcy of her company, Elsa went ahead and founded the Red Dot Foundation. SafeCity is RDF’s social project.

The main purpose of RDF is to work for gender equality, eradication of violence against women and women empowerment. The foundation is currently present in Mumbai and Delhi.

Bonus: Meira Paibi

Meira Paibi or the ‘Women Torchbearers’ is a women’s empowerment social movement in Manipur. They are also referred to as the ‘Guardians of the Civil Society’ and came to existence in 1977. The name comes from the flaming torches that the women hold while marching through the cities or towns. Their fight is against the violation of human rights committed by parliamentary or armed forces. They specifically target issues concerning drug abuse, violence against women and AFSPA issues.

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