Women of mettle: Taking evil head on
On Dashami, the last day of Durga Puja, we pay a tribute to fearless, invincible women who have waged war against evil in real lifemore lifestyle Updated: Oct 03, 2017 16:43 IST
Never surrender is her motto: Mamta’s husband threw acid on her while she was sleeping. “My own husband did this to me... what could be worse?,” she says. The man wanted a vehicle as dowry and when he didn’t get one, he decided to ruin Mamta’s life within seconds by dousing her with acid while she was sleeping. “He would sexually assault me at night, beat me for hours, deny me food and sleep and torture me,” she recalls. Her husband also took away her son, and she craves to see him once. Despite living such hell, Mamta didn’t break down. She works with the NGO, Make Love Not Scars and she has devoted her life to the cause of acid attack survivors. “There’s so much pain...physical and emotional. It’s very tough to start life from scratch. I sit with survivors and make them realise that life is not over. When you don’t surrender, we feel very proud of yourself, and that gives you the power to carry on,” she says.
Helping rebuild life: For Tania Singh, 25, life is a constant battle against institutions that are supposed to offer care and support to acid attack survivors but they never do. Tania was studying management in Singapore. One day, she came across a heart-rending picture of an acid attack survivor on the page of an organization called Make Love Not Scars. As she read about the state of acid attack survivors in India, she was left totally shocked. She decided to come to India and join the NGO, Make Love Not Scars. “Government, hospitals and police centres are supposed to provide assistance to acid attack survivors but that happens rarely.,” says Tania. She often comes across cases that can leave a person extremely disturbed. But her job involves handling such cases with courage. This January, while shooting a documentary, Tania visited a slum to meet the family of a two-year-old boy who had been attacked with acid. “This was a very difficult case. The two-year-old had been kidnapped by his mother’s stalker who attacked the child with acid and threw him in the dustbin. The police found him and called us. No hospital was admitting the child because they were afraid of the medical costs. The law states that acid attack survivors are to be given free treatment if their injuries are life threatening. The child could have died, but the hospital didn’t care. The institution that is supposed to save lives became the cause of our agony. We had to file an FIR against the hospital to get him admitted. One can imagine the depth of atrocities acid attack survivors face. The helplessness of their families is clearly etched on their faces,” says Singh. Fighting for the rights of acid attack survivors and helping them rebuild their lives is certainly not easy, but Tania, along with Ria Sharma, the founder of Make Love Not Scars, has devoted her life to the cause. “Saving lives is a heavy burden to bear...these people depend on us and that’s not a responsibility I can evade,” says Singh.
Telling stories that no one wants to hear: The greatest battles are not fought against countries, but against a mindset. Prison reforms activist Vartika Nanda has been fighting this battle for more than a decade. Nanda has been working tirelessly to transform lives of prison inmates, who have been deemed unforgiveable by society. While they live in the confines of prison, Nanda teaches them various skills such as painting, writing and singing to make life less wearisome. She also organises motivational training for inmates to reinstill confidence in them so that they can land a job once they are released. This is no mean feat. Most of the inmates have difficulty getting a job because of the tag ‘prisoner’. But Nanda is not the one to give up easily. Battling regressive mindsets in our society, she ensures that these inmates get an opportunity, a second chance. “People look down upon prisoners. There’s a lot of stigma attached. They are disowned by the society,” says Nanda. No wonder, Nanda’s work draws severe criticism from various corners. Recently, her website was hacked by haters who had been trolling her for her work. But Nanda is not the one to give up. “There are many prisoners who want to start their lives from scratch. They repent their mistake and I firmly believe that do deserve a second chance. Life is about falling down and getting up again,” says Nanda.
Shooting down patriarchy: Prakashi Tomar aka ‘Shooter Dadi’ is one of the world’s oldest sharpshooters in India. The 80-year-old has won various medals at the state and national level. This woman is not just a sharpshooter; she has been courageously fighting patriarchy throughout her life. She has waged a battle against women suppression. She hails from a small village, Johri, in Uttar Pradesh. “In my village, women weren’t even allowed to speak in front of men, let alone hold a gun in their hands. They had absolutely no rights.” But thanks to dadi’s rebellion, the tide has turned. From encouraging young women to pursue the sport to giving it back to the trolls, Prakashi Tomar stuck to her guns. She took up sharpshooting at the age of 60. Initially, she kept it a secret from villagers. But things changed when she brought home prestigious awards. Now, shooter daadi is an inspiration for all young women in her village who want to champion the sport.
Living life on her own terms: Noor Enayat is a lesbian Muslim who is fighting for the rights of the LGBT community. No wonder, bigots hate her to the core. But that’s something that bothers her the least. “I don’t advertise my identity. But if people want to have opinions about me, they are most welcome,” she says. The 32-year works closely with LGBT rights NGOs and Delhi Queer Pride Committee. Her social media campaigns draw a lot of flak, and that makes her pledge to fight for equal rights stronger. “People believe that the LGBT have no right to exist. I have become thick skinned and immune to hatred,” she says, as she carries on her battle.
Fighting for an equal world: Born a man, transgender activist Rudrani Chettri, has been bravely campaigning for equal rights for the transgender community. Rudrani has run various sensitisation campaigns to change this notion. Through her modelling agency, Rudrani helps fellow transgenders embrace their true identity and be proud of who they are. Rudrani also helps re-establish transgender women who have faced the worst kind of atrocities in life, which includes rape and torture by policemen. “It’s a very tough fight. A trangender is a criminal in everyone’s eyes. It’s unthinkable for many that even transgenders are fellow human beings,” she says. But, she is undettered. “A typical day involves fighting police cases, counselling sucidal transgenders, looking for job opportunities, and making the world believe that being different is no crime.”
Fear doesn’t feature in her dictionary: DCP PCR, Monika Bhardwaj has taken up several complicated cases, and each one has left her with unforgettable lessons. “With every case, I have emerged stronger. It’s about having unflinching faith in oneself and one’s values,” she says. Bhardwaj made headlines for leading a police team that very quickly and efficiently apprehended two juveniles who had kidnapped a three-year-old girl from a Ramleela function in Nihal Vihar and raped her. Bhardwaj was earlier posted in Pondicherry. The gritty officer took an MLA head on and arrested some men who had allegedly gang-raped a 21-year-old woman. The MLA had allegedly doubted the rape survivor’s character, and has gone to the extent of labelling her a sex worker.
Concept: Shara Ashraf
Text: Abhinav Verma and Prerna Gauba
Styling: Prerna Gauba
Outfits: Tanira Sethi, Vajor.com, Indigene, Péro by Aneeth Arora and Nomad
Makeup: Naina Arora
Accessories: St Erasmus, Vajor.com, Apala by Sumit and Naani’ki