The journalist who took on her powerful editor and ensured that sexual harassment in the workplace became a national issue, the schoolgirl who offered herself as hostage so kidnappers would spare her juniors, the novice politician who came in from nowhere to upset the big and mighty... 2013 was truly the year of the 'aam aadmi', and 'aurat' if you will, a year of struggles, heralded and unsung, that took took on heroic dimensions. They are the people who became beacons of hope, setting examples and forcing a rethink on many issues that challenge us today. dna takes stock of the year that was, the men and women who made a difference in ways big and small
Women, no longer so gentle
India is a long way away from giving its women their due place in national affairs and society. But the process has begun as women fight patriarchy and obsolete laws, breaking through rings of fear. For this, dna salutes the women and the many initiatives that set change in motion
Speaking up: Tehelka case
As 2013 wound to a close, sexual harassment in the workplace was an issue out in the open and former high-profile Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal was behind bars in Goa. The credit for this went to a Mumbai-based journalist who risked her job, career and reputation to complain that Tejpal had sexually assaulted her in a lift during the much-discussed THiNK fest in Goa. Though the woman did not file a police complaint, the Goa government registered a case against Tejpal and charged him with rape under the new tough laws that had expanded the definition of rape earlier this year after the Dec 16 Delhi case. In a much-welcomed ripple effect, the wide publicity for the Tejpal case forced many organisations to set up committees to look into complaints of sexual harassment and also encouraged working women and others who had long suffered silently to speak out.
Rape is not the end of life: Shakti Mills rape case
It was a cold winter night when a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern was raped by a group of men and left for dead on a Delhi street. Eight months later, the horrors of gang-rape came back to haunt India as another woman, just a year younger, was attacked by five men in the deserted Shakti Mills in the heart of busy Mumbai. The August 22 incident not just put in focus women’s safety in the country’s financial capital but also the courage of the young journalist whose testimony helped nab all five accused.
“Rape is not the end of life; I want to get back to work,” she was quoted as telling a National Commission of Women member who visited her in hospital. The spirited response made her not a victim but a survivor, a hero in every sense – and an example for all.
Legal framework: Tougher laws
The crimes may have continued but this was the year the legal framework to protect women was strengthened as the movement for change following the December 16 gang-rape united government and civil society in a synergy rarely seen before. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was passed in March, providing for a tougher law to tackle rapes and cases of aggravated sexual assault, and also including crimes such as acid attack, stalking and voyeurism. The definition of rape was expanded and punishment enhanced to death. Four months later, the Supreme Court ruled on acid attacks, clamping down on the sale of acid and ordering higher compensation for victims. If the March laws were prompted by the extraordinary civil society struggle, the apex court verdict was the result of a petition filed by acid attack survivor Laxmi. Truly a remarkable year when women spoke up – and were heard.
Taking on corruption: Durga Shakti
The IAS officer captured headlines when she revealed the underbelly of illegal sand mining in Gautam Budh Nagar district, which fell within her jurisdiction, in Uttar Pradesh. She was suspended on the allegation that she had allegedly demolished the wall of a mosque in Greater Noida, though her suspension was revoked later. She has since been reinstated as the joint magistrate of Kanpur. The doughty fighter is the kind of bureaucrat needed to cleanse the system, said her many supporters.
The banking and financial services sector in India has emerged as the one field where women have breached the glass ceiling. With women heading ICICI Bank, Allahabad Bank, Axis Bank and HSBC, there are today more women heading banks in India than anywhere else in the world. The welcome trend continued this year with Arundhati Bhattacharya’s elevation as chairperson of State Bank of India (SBI), and Chitra Ramkrishna’s as MD and CEO of the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) this March. This is a significant triumph for Indian women considering SBI and its subsidiaries hold 22% of all bank deposits in India and disburse 23% of all loans, and NSE has a listed capitalisation of $1 trillion.
It’s all about goals: Kusum
It’s a long journey from Jharkhand to Spain, but football helped 15-year-old Kusum and her 17 teammates from Yuwa, a rural Jharkhand-based NGO, achieve their goals. The Yuwa team, which uses football to empower girls, became an inspiration for all women in the country, when it won a bronze medal at the Gasteiz Cup in Spain in July. Kusum was determined to make it big off the field too. After seeing her older sisters married off at an early age, she was determined to carve out a different future for herself. She won a scholarship to a private school and became the class topper in her first year. “Football has taught me to be confident; earlier I would run away even if someone asked me my name. Today I have so many answers,” she said at the recent TEDx event in Mumbai.
Banking on women: Bharatiya Mahila Bank
With a vision to empower women economically, Bhartiya Mahila Bank ,the first all-women bank, was inaugurated in November. Headquartered in Delhi, the bank will have male and female account holders but will give loans mostly to women and will provide low-cost education loans. Though some are of the opinion that the bank treats women differently, it is a step to involving women further in economic activity and providing them with equal access to financial services. The phenomenon is a novel one in India, though it is still in a nascent stage