When she was teenager, she took on a wife-bashing drunkard in her neighbourhood. At 72, she has come a long in her fight for the rights of women, especially single women, and empowerment.
Meet Shanti. Born in Rajasthan, married at the age of 14 years to a mason and worked with him on sites. At the age of 16, she realised the objective of her life.
“I once stopped a drunkard from hitting his wife in my neighborhood. An NGO worker saw me protesting and asked me if I wanted to join them. I readily accepted the offer. Since then, there was no looking back. It’s been 40 years since I am fighting for the safety and empowerment of women across the country,” Shanti told Hindustan Times during her visit to capital.
Shanti, who dedicated 40 years of her life to women empowerment by working with NGOs of national repute like Action India in Delhi, was felicitated by Mahila Samakhya, an NGO, in Deharadun.
Along with her, the NGO also felicitated other women achievers - Indu Singh, the principal of MKP (PG) College Dehradun, Uma Prakash, a social activist, Sujata, the secretary of State Women’s Commission, Beena Kala, activist, and Madhuri Barthwal, a cultural activist.
Bold, energetic, and fearless, Shanti upped the bar for women safety in Delhi. However, it wasn’t easy to become an activist. Her husband opposed the decision initially. But, later when he fell sick, the responsibility of two daughters and four sons came on her shoulders. Working with NGOs provided her better remuneration than as a mason. So, he allowed her to work as an activist. Shanti was 36 when her husband died.
His death brought her face to face with society’s attitude towards widows. To be the change, she refused to follow orthodox culture, which didn’t permit widows to don make-up, enjoy life and freedom.
Instead, she continued to live a happy life with her children. She was an illiterate, but took up studies passionately.
Concerned over the fragility of single women in society, she fought for their rights. As an activist, she sensitised people to change their attitude towards single women whether widow or else. She pressed for re-marriage of widows. Besides, she advocated rights of single women deserted by husbands. She also educated people about the rights of daughters and daughter-in-laws.
“I have fought for the respect of single women in this society. Those whose husbands are no more or those whose husbands have left them without an official divorce, all such single women are entitled to happiness and freedom. If they want, they should be allowed to re-marry,” she said.
As an activist, she firmly believes that middle-class women need to be educated about their rights as they are the most difficult ones to reach out to.