14 Mass Movements Led By Women In India That Made A Difference To Women’s Lives

Mass movements led by women have focused more on positive change in women's lives, and give space for women's voices to be heard. Here's a list of 14 such movements in India.

Mass movements led by women have focused more on positive change in women’s lives, and give space for women’s voices to be heard. Here’s a list of 14 such movements in India.

Movements that were lead or driven by women, had agendas that fought for the oppressed as well as for the society as a whole.

What differentiates these movements from the other movements that lacked the participation of women in leading and driving roles is that, the issues that were considered insignificant by the opposite gender were put forth by the women, intending to create a society where everyone can exercise their rights, live with dignity and without fear. It gave rise to many women leaders and ideas that the country desperately needed.

The women’s movements provided a platform for women to come together to raise their voices as one big force to reckon with.These united protests created a strong bond among women, a sisterhood that formed a strong front against the evils that they were fighting against. It showed that women were no less when it came to fighting to get their rights, and in many movements, they showed that they can fare better than their male counterparts, giving confidence to young women and girls that with the right leadership and guidance, they can also make staggering changes for the betterment of the lives of the oppressed.

The patriarchal society had made women fight hard for some of their basic rights. Some of the mass movements that were started by women and/or spearheaded by women are given below:

The #MeToo Movement

In 1997, Tarana Burke wished she had said “me too” to a girl named Heaven after hearing about her sexual abuse. That’s how the Me Too Movement began in 2006, to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse in the society.

It wasn’t until October 2017 since the phrase “Me Too” became a viral movement in the form of the hashtag #MeToo, mainly in the US and became viral in India in October 2018, when celebrities starting calling out their abusers on social media, creating a huge uproar and more women coming with their stories on sexual abuse.

The movement has gained momentum with support from politicians, lawyers, judges and members from various public institutions. It has given a platform for the victims to have their voice heard, and mainly, has bared the faces of assaulters of various backgrounds for the world to shame. We can expect that this movement will bring positive changes in country to a light on the horrors that many of the women who had kept it in the dark till now.

Never miss real stories from India's women.

Register Now

Find out more here and here.


Imposing oppressive rules in the name of protecting women gave rise to PinjraTod. Hostels in the country were sexist, and discriminatory towards women, right from setting early curfew, that sometimes included reduced time at the library, so women can be protected from the evil outside the protection of hostels at night (according to the college/hostel administrations). These curfews were off limits for men as for the administrations, it’s easier to control women and curb their freedom than addressing the predatory behavior of men towards women.

After a summer break in 2015 , Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in Delhi issued a notice for female students that they can’t stay out later than 8 pm. What started with an open letter by a student to the Vice Chancellor of Jamia, the PinjraTod movement continued to grow into a city wide petition creating a debate on curfew, moral policing, higher prices for women’s hostel and on creating sexual harassment committees in universities.

The petition was submitted to Jan Sunwai, a public hearing to air complaints and to submit petition, at JantarMantar on 10th October 2015. ‘FYI Smriti Irani’ was a protest by PinjraTod outside MHRD to gift Irani, who had claimed”Women in India are not told what to wear, whom to meet and where to go.”, several hostel rulebooks that invalidates the claim.

Apart from raising slogans, and gathering in public places, wall art and graffiti also became a mode of protest of the PinjraTod, whenever the rights of women were being trampled. On 7th May 2016, DCW issued notices to 30 universities, colleges, and institutes acting upon the report submitted by PinjraTod.

Find out more here and here.

No Conditions Apply

If there’s any dehumanizing practice that persists in India despite the abolition of sati (self-immolation after husband’s death) and the passing of widow remarriage act, scraping of IPC 377, it’s the way widows, trans-gender/sexual, lesbians and sex workers are shunned from many rituals and celebrations in the society, citing the long standing superstition that they bring bad luck.

Sindhur Khela is one such celebration where widows, sex workers, trans-gender/sexual women, lesbian and single women were not included. It’s celebrated like a game where Vermillion (sindhur) is smeared on goddess Durga, and on married women, followed by sharing of sweets on the final day of Durga puja to bid farewell to the goddess.

Kolkata Times, the metro edition of The Times of India, invited women of all walks of life to the campaign #NoConditionsApply to break the patriarchal practice of allowing just married women to celebrate Sindhur Khela. The #NoConditionsApply hashtag, and the Two dot selfies became viral, showing support for the shunned part of the society that they too belong, and that they too can celebrate, coming together as one.

The white and red sarees, with Sindhur smeared on the faces of women who were once barred from the celebration, looked as bright as they can ever be as the women gathered for the celebration. For the first time in 400 years, they were able to break one of the most patriarchal practice, giving hope that the practices similar to this one can be broken too, if the marginalized section of women decide to break the barriers.

Find out more herehere, and here.

I Will Go Out

Since the New Year–2017 celebration came to a stop,Newspapers and TV channels were filled with the news of mass molestation that happened in Bengaluru, Karnataka on the Eve of New Year. What started as a celebration, turned into a nightmare for the women in the crowd who were molested, as their cries fell into deaf ears.

The Nation shook when the news fell into their ears, and the women were not taking the blame upon themselves for celebrating. Abu Azmi, a politician from Maharashtra, ignited the anger in women by commenting on media blaming the women for getting molested in public.

On 21st January, 2017, a march was organized by a group of people who thought that women had equal rights to public places as men, and with the help of social media, thousands of women joined the march across 30 cities and towns to reclaim the public places. The movement slashed the idea that some public places are not for women, especially after sunset.

Find out more here and here.

The Chipko movement

Chandi Prasad Bhatt, a social worker, started a small workshop in Gopeshwar, Uttar Pradesh to make farm tools for local use. However, as the forest resources were contracted out to big companies, the abusing of the resources lead to landslides and created ecological imbalances. The villagers protested in small groups, leading upto the protest with drums and slogan-shouting on 24th April 1973, sending the lumbermen back from the forest, making it the first confrontation of the movement.

On 25 March 1974, Gaura Devi, head of the village Mahila Mangal Dal, with 27 women, went to protest the felling of trees by contractors, by confronting with the workers and hugging the trees when the confrontation failed. This news spread like wildfire and many people from several villages joined the protest, which lasted four days until the contractors withdrew. A committee was set up by CM of UP, which ruled out in favor of the villagers.

The participation of female villagers en masse played a vital role in turning the movement into a successful one, putting the movement as a fore-runner to many other movement against deforestation in the country.

Google has dedicated a doodle for the 45th anniversary of the Chipko movement on 26th March 2018.

Find out more here.

SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association)

Women of the unorganized sector in Gujarat earned through their own labour, such as artisan works, handicrafts that were diminishing, or small businesses such as selling vegetables, animal husbandry, etc., not getting welfare benefits like that of the organized sector, where employers have work, income, food and social securities.

Ela Bhatt, a civil rights leader, wanted to organize self-employed women so their skills can be organized them to forming full employment and toto form an union, as the state laws protected industrial workers and not the self-employed women. She organized these self-employed women into a union under women’s wing of TLA(Textile Labour Association formed by Gandhi in 1918) in 1968.

Later in 1972, she founded and established SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association), she acted as its general secretary from till 1996. SEWA, based in Ahmedabad, India, is the largest organization consisting of informal workers with 30,000 members in 1996 growing to a massive 1,919,676 members in 2013.

SEWA has a co-operative bank in which the board members and the bankers are from the association, and the loan rates are also set by members, with the funds coming entirely from the members. The women in the organization feel more confident as they get support in the form of health insurance, childcare, housing, and right to assets, bringing focus to the economic significance that the unorganized sectors make in the country, reviving the indigenous sector.

Find out more here.

The Gulabi Gang

The Gulabi Gang is a gang of women in pink who come to the rescue of women victims of violence and thrash the abuser in the absence of police intervention. The rescue might sound movie-ish but it’s an active vigilant group in North India, having its first appearance in Banda district in UP.

Founded by Data SatbodhSain in 2006 due to the lack of police response to domestic violence, the organization grew to an estimated 2,70,000 members in 2014. This organization doesn’t stop at violence against women, it also fights against corruption, child marriage, and dowry deaths.

The word of mouth reputation that the Gulabi gang gained, whose members are women aged between 18 and 60, helped them spread their good work in socially and economically impoverished regions where the police fail to take the right action.

Find out more here.

Nirbhaya Movement

Nirbhaya: the name that would send chills down the spine of many of us who followed the news in 2012, about the gang rape and torture of a medical student in Delhi on 16th December 2012. For those who were living in denial that rape culture was not part of the culture, the Nirbhaya case jolted the country, evoking a movement unlike any other.

Public places all over the country were soaring with protests by women. Some protests were silent, and but many were not so silent, that the legal system had to bow down to the demands of the protestors.

They took in 80,000 suggestions from law makers, NGOs and other institutions, and created many laws including 20 years as minimum sentence for gang rape, and six new fast-track courts exclusively for handling rape cases. Though the conviction rate stays below 1%, the number of women reporting the crimes had increased since the movement.

Google placed a white candle below its search bar in the US marking its tribute.

Find out more here and here.

Save Silent Valley Movement

In 1928, the Kerala State Electricity Board proposes a location along the Kunthipuzha River ideal for electricity generation, and the Planning Commission approves it on 1973, threatening to bring an end to around 8 sq. km. of evergreen forest by submerging it. Romulus Whitaker, founder of Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank, was the first to bring attention to the issue, with KSSP (A voluntary science group), gathering people to protest the planning commission’s approval.

Sugathakumari, a conservationist, lead the Save Silent Valley Movement to save some of the oldest natural forests in the country. Her poem “Marathinu Stuthi” (Ode to a Tree) became a symbol of the protest, becoming the opening song of the movement’s meetings.

Petitions, campaigns, and protests spread wildly, mounting pressure on the Central government, where Indira Gandhi declares the Silent Valley to be protected in 1981, with PM Rajiv Gandhi inaugurating the valley as a National Park in 1981.

Find out more here.

Stop Acid Sale

Laxmi Agarwal was just 15 when a group of men threw acid at her, disfiguring her face and body. The reason: she refused to marry one of them. Until then, the news of acid attacks were just another part of the news section, but Laxmi wanted to bring an end to the attacks once and for all.

She gathered 27,000 signatures for a petition to curb the sales of acid and took the issue to the Supreme court, with her campaign, StopAcidSale . The campaigned gained momentum nationwide, with many victims of acid attacks and public, voicing their stance against acid sale. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of her plea and introduced restrictions on the sale of acid, showing a significant decline in acid attacks in the year from the previous.

Find out more here and here.


Another online campaign that brought the attention of the Indian government was LahuKaLagaan, which wanted to the government to stop taxing sanitary napkins. Sanitary napkins were taxed before GST and was expected to be exempt from GST, but to the astonishment of half the population of the country, it was not exempted.

A 12% GST was imposed on sanitary napkins and Arun Jaitley’s twitter exploded with #LahuKaLagaanhashtags, with women demanding that the sanitary product be exempt from GST. The online protest was taken to roads as well, will demonstrations and protests in public places to garner the interest of the government.

A petition by Indian lawmaker Sushmita Dev, comprising over 400,000 signatures, lead a storm of protests online and offline. In July 2018, India scraped its tax on sanitary pads, giving into the petitions and protests, eventually becoming one of the very few countries that has zero tax on sanitary pads.

Find out more here.

Munnar Plantation Strike

The majority of workers in the Munnar plantation in Kerala were women, who were easy to exploit with long working hours, with a pay of just Rs. 234 a day.On 6th September 2015, the workers began a strike with about 5000 workers when the plantation’s management slashed the bonus from 20% from previous year to 10%.

The agitation was lead and organized by women who demanded a hike in their pay, as well as in the salary, refusing to involve men, and the country’s major trade unions citing that men did less labor and the trade unions did little to improve their conditions.

The one and a half month long agitation that spread to other plantations in the state of Kerala was finally called off with the government involving and the management giving into the demands of the workers.

Find out more here.

Narmada Bachao Andolan

In 1985, Medha Patkar was in for a shock when she found out from the Ministry of Environment that a dam that was being constructed on the Narmadha River (Sardar Sarovar dam) was not a sanctioned one. She realized that the people who were going to be affected by its construction had no idea that they would be affected except for the offer for rehabilitation.

Later, the group led by Patrkar also realized that the people were not offered rehabilitation, but a compensation for their immediate standing crops. She organized a 36 day long solidarity march, a 22-day fast and other actions that lead the World Bank to form The Morse Commission, which reported that the Bank’s policy on environment and resettlement were violated by the project, making the Bank pull out form the project in 1993.
The dam was declared finished in 2006, however, Patkar continues her fight for the rehabilitation of the displaced people and for the reception of the compensation that was promised by Narmada Tribunal, which was created to address the dispute between states on sharing the water from Narmada.

Find out more here.

Anti-Liquor Movement

Women from Dubungata, Andhra Pradesh staged protests against growing alcohol dependency, aiming to force out liquor traders. Domestic abuse and squandering income due to alcohol dependency lead to this protest, which created a larger movement, spreading across the state, known as the Anti-Liquor Movement in 1991.

It gathered women from both rural and urban areas, despite religious and caste difference to fight against alcohol abuse, turning the campaign into a platform that determined the outcome of the election in 1994. The TDP took power in the 1994 elections, passing the prohibition law. Though the prohibition saw a partial abandonment in 1997, the movement increased the participation of women in the public sphere for mobilizing effectively.

In August 2015, women from Tamilnadu, who’ve long been suffering from the violence due to alcohol consumption by men, took to the streets to protest. Their demands included a complete ban on sale of alcohol, which was the major revenue for the state.In May 2016, when AIADMK came to power, 500 state-run liquor shops were closed by then CM Jayalalitha and in February 2017, CM Palaniswamy signed to close an additional 500 state-run liquor shops.

Find out more here and here.

Image source: YouTube

Liked this post?

Join the 100000 women at Women's Web who get our weekly mailer and never miss out on our events, contests & best reads - you can also start sharing your own ideas and experiences with thousands of other women here!


About the Author


Curious student for life. Periyar, Ambedkar, & Marx fills my gray matter; but I'm no blind pop-culture follower wearing a Che Guevara on my Tee, but a critical thinker who'll question any regressive read more...

15 Posts | 126,210 Views

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

All Categories