5 Indian women whose activism has led to change

By Nirandhi Gowthaman|27th Dec 2019
From Vandana Shiva to Kamla Bhasin, here’s a look at powerful women activists who have been the change they wished to see in this world.
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On January 1, 2019, women in Kerala formed a 385-mile ‘wall of protest’ to fight for gender equality. In Delhi and Bengaluru, women formed a barrier to protect men from police brutality. In this year and for decades, several women activists have stood up for the rights of women, the oppressed, human rights, the environment, equality, and more. 


Here is a look at 5 women activists in India who have taken a strong stance and demanded equal rights.  

Vandana Shiva 

Vandana Shiva

A tireless environmental activist, Vandana Shiva was recently named in the BBC 100 Women list. She is a trained physicist and founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, an independent research organisation that researches ecological and social issues.


Vandana is an eco-rights activist whose campaign against genetically modified seeds and protection of native seeds led to the formation of Navdanya - a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds. The organisation has helped set up 122 community seed banks and trained farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture. 


She is also a fierce opposer of globalisation and is a hero for the anti-GMO movement across the world. She was also recognised by TIME as an environmental hero in 2003. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993 and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.


Indira Jaising 

indira jaising

A lawyer and human rights activist, Indira Jaising has been called ‘formidable’ by many especially when recounting her efforts in framing of the Domestic Violence Act (2005). Founder of the Lawyer’s Collective, Indira started her legal practice in the early 1960s and has been working tirelessly for the past 53 years.


Indira was the first female senior advocate in the High Court of Bombay and served as the first female Additional Solicitor General of India. Apart from women’s issues and human rights, she has also taken up environmental issues like protection of coastlines and more. 


She has fought some  of the most high-profile cases in the country - she led commissions in Punjab to investigate the extra judicial killings, police brutality and disappearances in North India in the 70s and 80s, fought for  compensation of victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, and of the victims 2002 riots in Gujarat. 


Vrinda Grover

Vrinda Grover

Recognised by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential women in 2013, Vrinda Grover is a lawyer and human rights activist. She has handled several prominent cases such as Soni Sori rape-torture case, 1984 anti-Sikh riots, 1987 Hashimpura police killings, 2004 Ishrat Jahan case, and the 2008 anti-Christian riots in Kandhamal. She has also taken up cases of domestic violence and cases involving minorities. 


Vrinda has been infuential in the drafting of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 2013, the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 and the Prevention of Torture Bill, 2010.


She is against practices like the two finger test and speaks critically of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the death penalty and more. Her expertise is widely sought after making her a constant expert on news channel debates. 


Viji Penkoottu 

Fiji penkoottu

Viji Penkoottu is a human rights and women’s activist from Kerala. Her contribution to ‘Right to Sit’ struggle in Kozhikode received recognition from BBC when she was named as one of three Indians in the BBC 100 Women list. 


Women working in the shops and malls of Midhayitheru, SM Street were denied basic human rights like the right to sit or use toilets during working hours. Due to the prevalence of such practices against working women in Kozhikode and other parts of Kerala, Viji launched Penkoottu - an all-women’s trade union to fight for basic rights of saleswomen.


Her eight-year struggle led to the passing of the Kerala Shops and Commercial Establishments (Amendments) Act, 2018 which accounted for flexible working hours and a place to sit for women. 


Kamla Bhasin 

Kamla Bhasin

Kamla Bhasin is a social scientist, author, poet, development feminist, and activist. She has worked on several subjects like gender equality, education, poverty alleviation, human rights and peace in South Asia since 1970. She is also part of SANGAT, a South Asian Feminist network and an active member of JAGORI, a women’s resource and training centre. 


In 1979, she began with the Food and Agricultural Organisation for their Freedom from Hunger campaign in New Delhi and worked for empowerment of rural and urban poor.


She has written extensively on patriarchy and gender. Her published works include Laughing Matters, Exploring Masculinity, Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition, What Is Patriarchy?, and Feminism and its Relevance in South Asia. In her literary work and her activism, she envisions a feminist movement that transcends class, borders, and other social and political divisions.



(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)


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