Badass is not bad. Badass is good – especially when it is being used for women in India. It signifies courage to subvert the ‘givens’, freedom of voicing your mind and demanding your rights. There are many who you have read about, still more you have seen in news discussion panels. But here are 6 lesser known badass Indian females who you did not see enough on prime time but who certainly were made of the same metal that badass is all about:
6. Bhanwari Devi
It is a heart-wrenching story, and one which deserves mention as much as the protagonist. Bhanwari had become a saathin, a grassroots worker employed as part of the Women’s Development Project (WDP) run by the Government of Rajasthan, to take up issues related to land, water, literacy and health, back in 1992. But brewed up controversy when she wanted to stop child marriage. The same year, she was gangraped, and the trial pronounced the accused not guilty. Bhanwari refused monetary compensation to avoid allegations that she had cooked up the rape story to get money. Her only wish? The rapists restore her dignity by accepting that they had raped her, which never happened. Here is a woman who risked her life and showed courage in seeking justice in spite of social boycott. It was for the first time in such a conservative region that a woman was not ashamed of rape and spoke openly about it. Bhanwari Devi’s case shaped the women’s movement in Rajasthan, and emboldened other rape victims to come forward and lodge complains against their rapists. Because of her incredible resistance against the status quo, the Supreme Court of India passed the historical Vishaka Judgement, a law which prohibits lousy instances of physical/verbal conducts with females at workplace. Apart from awards and recognition, the movie ‘Bawandar’ was inspired by her story.
5. Rukhsana Kausar
Rukhsana’s story is inspirational to say the least and absolutely heroic without comparison. She is 10th grade drop-out who (hold your breath!) has been awarded the National Bravery Award for her daring act of killing LET militant leader at her residence using an axe and an AK47 rifle. Yes, you read that right. With the help of her younger brother, Aijaz, she chased the other militants away and contacted the police afterwards. And no, she had never picked up a rifle before this incident. If this act of badass-ness does not deserve awards and felicitations, what does?
4. Irom Chanu Sharmila
Rightly called ‘Iron Lady of Manipur’, Irom’s story is an iconic example of public resistance. On hunger strike since 2000 against AFSPA and asking for its repeal, Irom is force fed through naso-gastric intubation. She has been in and out of trials for attempted suicide, but not many news cameras have reached her house. Irom has won many awards for advocacy of peace, democracy and human rights. Sadly, her dream of a peaceful Manipur continues to evade her.
3. Sampat Pal Devi
This woman not just increased the sales of pink coloured saris by founding the Gulabi Gang in 2006, she gave women from her milieu a comfortable avenue for complaint redressal. Sampat Pal Devi created this all-women brigade in response to widespread domestic abuse of women. What Gulabis do? They visit abusive husbands and beat them up with lathis (believe that!). They have been instrumental in stopping child marriages, protesting dowry and unfair or tardy methods of government functioning. Kim Longinotto made the movie ‘Pink Saris’ based on their story.
2. Amrita Sher-Gil
For someone known as India’s Frida Kahlo, ‘badass’ is just a very unartistic word to be using. But read on! At the age of nine, she was giving concerts in piano and violin in Shimla. She married her Hungarian 1st cousin (you heard that right!) and moved with him to India from Europe, because she felt her destiny as a painter lay here. Known for her many affairs with men and women, both, Amrita was courage and freedom personified in those times. She died young, but her art, influenced by Mughal and Pahari schools of painitng, continues to influence generations of artists the world over.
1. Kittur Rani Chenamma
History may not be your favourite subject but sit up and take note, please. Kittur Rani was the queen of the princely state of Kittur in Karnataka. In 1824, which is 33 years before the First War of Indian Independence of 1857, she led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of Lapse. She was martyred and is remembered to this day as one of the earliest Indian rulers to have fought for independence. And yes, this was much before Rani of Jhansi picked up her cudgels, the venerated icon of bravery and valor we know about.