Women who refuse to bow down to the adversities of life are an inspiration. These are the women who, through their grit and determination, battle all odds to undertake some phenomenal work in empowering not only themselves, but their communities too. The Sunday Guardian interacted with five such women who were honourded by Niti Aayog for their exceptional work in preventing violence against women; bridging the gender gap in education; providing healthcare; building livelihoods and enterprises for women; and promoting inclusion for persons with disabilities.
She Built a Hospital
Sixty-five-year-old Subasini Mistry, who now runs a charitable hospital for poor in Kolkata, was left on the streets with her four children after her husband passed away because they could not avail medical help for his ailment. Illiterate Subasini worked as a vegetable vendor, daily wage labourer and a domestic help to run her family. Toiling tirelessly for over 20 years to make both ends meet, Subasini harboured the dream of building a hospital for the poor and needy.
In 1995, Subasini laid the foundation of the Humanity Hospital. The 45-bed hospital provides medical treatment for minor ailments for just Rs 10, while major surgeries are done for Rs 5,000. She has also opened another 25-bed hospital in the Sunderbans area of West Bengal. “We started with a makeshift open clinic where doctors from nearby areas came to attend patients for free. Soon it became a success and from our own savings and donations from generous people we started the hospital. We run on donations and the goodwill of doctors, radiologists and pathologists who mostly work here as volunteers,” said A.K. Mistry, son of Subasini. Subasini is one of the 12 women who was given Niti Aayog’s “Women Transforming India Awards 2017”, organised in partnership with MyGov and the United Nations on Tuesday. Union Minister Smriti Irani and Niti Aayog ex-vice chairman Arvind Panagariya felicitated these women.
Jharkhand’s Lady Tarzan
Nineteen years ago, Jamuna Tudu, popularly known as Lady Tarzan, started her relentless campaign to conserve 50 hectares of forestland around Maturkham village in East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Back then the forests surrounding her village, which have a rich vegetation of Sal timber and are home to rare fauna, were routinely plundered by the forest mafia.
Not deterred by the initial hardships that came in way of mobilising people to take on the intruders, she managed to assemble a band of 25 women from her village to protect the forests. Armed with spears, bows and arrows, she marched these women daily to patrol the jungle in three to four shifts a day—morning, afternoon, evening, and sometimes even late at night. “There have been times when my group was attacked and we all were severely injured. We started with 20 women and now we have over 6,000 members,” Jamuna Tudu said. Recognising her efforts, the forest department registered her band of women activists under the Van Suraksha Samiti.
The department even adopted her village and as a result, the village now has proper road connectivity, water connection and a school. Furthermore, on many occasions the Jharkhand government has chosen her village during Van Mohatsavs. Earlier this year, the President of India awarded her for her conservation efforts. In 2013, she was given the Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award for her conservation campaign in a volatile area affected by the Naxalites. “Who Naxals? They are scared of us. I’m Lady Tarzan for a reason,” Jamuna told The Sunday Guardian when asked about the threats that she might have received from the Naxalites.
Mentoring Women Entrepreneurs
The success story of 32-year-old Kamal Kumbhar, daughter of a daily wage labour and now serial entrepreneur, in the drought affected area of Osmanabad in Maharastra is a living example of the phrase “India is a land of opportunities”.
Kamal laid the foundation of Kamal Poultry and Ekta Producer Company in 1998. Starting with a mere Rs 2,000, Kamal’s enterprise now generates over Rs 1 lakh every month. She has mentored over 5,000 women to set up micro-enterprises and find alternative and sustainable livelihoods.
“Our region is severely affected by drought and that makes agriculture a very unstable source of income. This is why I want all the women in my village and all the neighbouring villages to find different sources of income,” Kamal told this reporter.
Today, Kamal is the proud owner of six business ventures. She is also a part of Swayam Sikshan Prayog’s multi state efforts to enhance access to renewable energy in under-served communities. She claims that her efforts have been appreciated by the Maharashtra government on many occasions.
Earlier this year, Kamal was given the 2017 Woman Exemplar Award by the then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. She will also be flying to the US later this month to receive an award from the United Nations Development Programme.
Maharashtra's Goat Doctor
“Every time people call me Doctor Madam, I feel elated. It’s like my efforts have paid off,” exclaimed Sunita Kamble, the first female goat doctor in the severely drought-affected Mhasvad village in Maharashtra.
As a goat doctor, Sunita Kamble works with her team to protect the community’s livestock and create alternative and sustainable livelihood opportunities for the women. However, her journey wasn’t easy. Sunita recalls how she was ridiculed for nurturing a passion to become a goat doctor. Even after receiving proper training from Mann Deshi Foundation to artificially inseminate goats, people did not take her seriously. “Men used to mock me for carrying around the equipment from door-to-door and women used to think I have have gone mad. But I needed just one chance to show that I am good,” said Sunita.
Sunita persisted and now she works in 50 villages with a team of 13 goat doctors. She says that she has inseminated over 5,000 goats. “Normal five-month-old goats weigh around 3 kg, but the goats I inseminate weigh around 20 kg. As a result these goats give more milk and even have great market value when they are sold off,” said Sunita.
Jet Set Go
Kanika Tekriwal, founder of JetSetGo, was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 21.
However, Kanika, through her grit and determination, not only conquered cancer but also went on to become one of the most successful aviation entrepreneurs in the country. Kanika thinks that cancer is the “best thing” that ever happened to her as it gave her time to strategise and focus on her passion. In 2013, she launched JetSetGo, India’s first marketplace for chartered jets. “I come from a typical Marwari family. If I hadn’t got cancer I wouldn’t be here and would have been married off to someone. It was after my cancer was detected that I breathed a sigh a relief because I knew no one would marry me now and I can just be myself and focus on things that I always wanted to,” said Kanika.
At 28, Kanika has appeared on the BBC’s 100 most inspirational woman in the world. Forbes Asia has recognised her as one of the top 30 under-30 leading entrepreneurs. She has also been listed in CNN’s 20 under-40 achievers, and has also been awarded the National Entrepreneurship Award in E-commerce by Government of India.