A seven-year-old visually-impaired Muslim girl who can recite the Bhagvad Gita, the first woman president of Allahabad University, an all-terrain driver, a martial arts expert who trains women to be self-dependent – all these and others symbolised women empowerment at the Rani Laxmi Bai Award distribution function on Tuesday.
As the 31 acid attack survivors rubbed shoulders with 40 women gram pradhans representing the talent in the state’s rural landscape, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav (on whose instance the function was organised) remarked, “Each one of you has a story to tell; each of you is a role model.”
Akhilesh appreciated the fact that several women had come forward to contest the Panchayat elections in the state. “It’s good to see this but more of this needs to happen,” he said in what was understood as the CM’s indication of his party fielding higher number of women candidates in UP polls than in 2012.
“It’s time that society, government and family all unite to help and support women,” he said as the four French women who had driven down from Noida to Lucknow in an auto to market the ‘UP is safe’ theme nodded in approval. The French women too were among those felicitated by the CM who said that his government would do everything to help women become self-dependent.
“Some builders from Noida came to tell me that they have offered discount to women in a bid to encourage men to name property in the name of women. That’s a welcome step. I would like more people and businessmen to transfer half of the property in the name of women members,” he said as women clapped.
RIDA ZEHRA, MEERUT
Rida Zehra, 7, born with 80% blindness has never seen the Bhagvad Gita. Ask her if she knows anything about it and she would fold her hands and begin reciting the holy book revered by Hindus. Her father Raees Haider, who sells biryani in Delhi, says he wants his daughter to make it big in life, her visual handicap notwithstanding.
This organisation has been working against trafficking of children and their sexual harassment for the last 25 years. Its work against child prostitution has also found appreciation from the apex court. Varanasi is believed to be the only district in UP where child prostitution has been fully checked. Another Varanasi-based organisation – the Panini Kanya Vidyalaya – set up in 1971 – to teach Vedas to girls along with computers and English as well as martial arts too was felicitated.
This Lucknow-based organisation was felicitated for its work to end female foeticide and its efforts in creating awareness about the PNDT Act.
DIMPY TIWARI, RAE BARELI
This girl from Rae Bareli has been encouraging girls to learn martial arts. A couple of years back, she surprised everyone by telling girls to take to the wrestling ring – which till then was considered to be a male bastion. She has also received several awards in karate and taekwondo.
ARTI RANA, LAKHIMPUR
This woman has trained nearly 800-plus Tharu women in handicraft. The training has helped these poor people earn their livelihood. She has set up nearly 80 self-help groups to train tribal women and help them stand on their feet.
ARTI SINGH, LUCKNOW
This woman has been working to help mentally-challenged women in government-run shelter homes. Her intervention, care and treatment have led to many mentally retarded inmates of this woman shelter home becoming fit and many of them have even been accepted by their families. The Allahabad high court too had praised her efforts.
This woman Gudia is also known as ‘Solar Didi’ in Kanpur for her efforts in creating awareness among people about the need for solar power. She faced immense hardships earlier in life – when her husband died in a road accident she had a two-year-old son to look after and no source of income. Yet, she gradually moved forward and with the help of some NGOs associated herself with the task of creating awareness about solar power as an alternative power source. Today, she is known as ‘solar didi’ for her work.
MOHINI AZAD, GONDA
Mohini was born in a family where liquor was freely consumed. In fact by evening, she used to see her house transform into a local bar. At times, she faced physical and mental torture too. Married to a drunkard when she was 20 years old, she left her house in protest against the ill treatment meted out to her and launched a campaign against liquor. Soon she was able to mobilise the masses and her effort not only saw her own family give up drinking but several other people in hers and nearby villages too gave up drinking.
RUBY SINGH, PRATAPGARH
This girl from Pratapgarh raised her voice against sexual harassment of women at workplace. She used a local paper to spread the word on the issue. Police helped her and soon she had freed her village of eve-teasers and those who sexually harassed women.
This girl helped save a child who was being taken to Nepal. She has been raising her voice against child trafficking. Similarly, Sarita Saxena from Lucknow too was felicitated for her work against female foeticide and awareness on the PNDT act.
MADHURI SINGH, VARANASI
She has been running self-help groups and operating a bank for the poor. Through her bank, she has been providing small loans to dalits and poor. Her effort has helped free the poor and dalits from the tentacles of moneylenders.
USHA VISHWAKARMA, LUCKNOW
She survived a rape-attempt. But instead of being cowed down by that, she set up a Red Brigade. This group is committed to saving women from sexual harassment. Started as a 15-member body, the Red Brigade now has 8,500 members.