Know more about the life of these wonderful Indian women and what they achieved in various facets of Indian society.

8 Women activists who brought changes in the country

“Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right. Get Up, Stand Up, don't give up the fight!” – The spirit of activism is probably best encapsulated in this simple lines sung by the music prophet Bob Marley. Our country had its share of iron-willed ladies who have, over the ages, stood up against the oppressors and fought for what they believed in. These are ladies who inspired and continue to inspire the nation with their determination, bravery and achievement. Let us have a peek into the lives of these inspiring Indian women activists and learn how they made India a better place. 

1. Aruna Roy: A civil servant by profession, Aruna Roy was a prominent activist who worked for the empowerment of the labourers and farmers. She is also known for her efforts in bringing in more transparency within the bureaucracy through her key role in the landmark Right to Information Act. She is well decorated for her achievements, notably winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 2000. 

2. Medha Patkar: With a trade union leader as her father, a social reformer as her mother and a post-graduate degree in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Medha was probably destined to be an activist. She is now almost synonymous with the Narmada Bachao Andolan, but much before this movement, she had already left her job to work full time towards the welfare of tribal and farming communities in Maharashtra and Gujarat. 

3. Irom Chanu Sharmila: Also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, Sharmila single-handedly raised awareness about the flipside of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and the need of repealing it. She has brought international attention to the sufferings of common people caused by the secessionist conflicts and is regarded as a global protest icon. She ended her 16 year-long fast when the Supreme Court questioned the immunity enjoyed by security personnel under the AFSPA.

4. Indira Jaising: Indira Jaising is a celebrated lawyer who is also well known for her women’s right and human right achievements. She founded Lawyers Collective, a human rights organisation, with her husband in 1981. She was also active in framing the Domestic Violence Act. She has pursued activism at a professional level as well, notably representing the victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and fighting countless cases on environment-related issues, child rights, women issues and social justice. 

5. Mahasweta Devi: Mahasweta Devi’s body of work, written in her mother tongue Bengali, is a testament to her involvement with the tribal population of West Bengal and surrounding areas. She collected, documented, treasured and gave voice to tribal history, culture and tradition and also to the oppression and injustice that they faced. Her (almost) maternal relation with the Sabar tribe of Purulia, West Bengal is the highlight of the part of her life dedicated to tribal rights.

6. Anasuya Sarabhai: After studying in London School of Economics, Anasuya Sarabhai took the unusual path of activism, with women’s labour rights as the focus area. She was the first female leader of a trade union in India and founded one of the oldest unions in India for textile workers when she founded the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association.

7. Savitribai Phule: Savitribai founded a care centre for pregnant rape victims back in the 1800s, quite a reformist step when we look back at it today. She also started the first girl’s school in India in 1848. She is one of the most well-known social reformer of the 19th century which is reflected by the fact that the University of Pune has been named after her.

8. Mother Teresa: With a Bharat Ratna and a Nobel Prize to her name, the status of Mother Teresa in India and even globally is unmatched. With a life dedicated towards the care of the sick, poor, orphan and destitute, Mother Teresa and her organisation Missionaries of Charity benefited thousands of lives. It is, therefore, little surprise that she was declared a saint by the Vatican.

This selection is in no particular order and doesn’t dare to put the effort of these ladies ahead of the hundreds of others who have had equal, if not more, impact on the face of Indian society. Nevertheless, we hope that the lives of these influential Indian women inspire you to achieve your own life goals.