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2014: 15 Small Wins for Indian Feminism

It is by incremental changes, and not a revolution, that the world becomes a better place

In a year full of despair, there were moments of pride and happiness for feminism in India. We select some of our favourite news stories from 2014

Group of Women

It hasn’t been easy being a woman in India this year. Our Global Gender Gap Rank fell down to 114, the year was bookended by horrific instances of sexual violence against women, and somewhere behind the sensationalist headlines,  37% of Indian married women continue to suffer from domestic violence. Meanwhile, we elected in a right-wing Government which, in spite of some of the lip service it has provided to women’s issues, continues to couch their message in patriarchal rhetoric.

All of this together would make anyone despair. But there are slivers of hope. Even in this increased reportage of sexual harassment, there is a deeper understanding that what is happening across the country is wrong. In the outrage against every new incident is the beginning of a revolution of sorts. And while so much remains full of darkness, there are also pockets of light and good news.

MBRB picks its favourite 15 pieces of news for Women in India from the year that went by.

Arundhati Bhattacharya paves way for working women everywhere as the first woman chairperson of SBI

The higher echelons of Indian Banking have seen their surprising share of women achievers- none more so than Arundhati Bhattacharya, State Bank of India’s first woman chairperson since 2013.  In 2014, she ranked 36th in Forbes List of Powerful  Women, and in her one year at the top she has made the lives of women working in SBI much better by constituting policies such as a two-year sabbatical to pursue higher education and a transfer policy that brings them closer to their family.

Interestingly, in another news story, Nishi Vasudeva became the first woman to head a blue-chip PSU when she became the Chairman and MD of HPCL earlier this year.

Deepika Padukone says No to Media’s Exploitation of Women

Turns out that Deepika Padukone was a lot more interesting than anyone gave her credit for ! Her argument with Times of India laid bare media’s hypocrisy when it comes to the way we treat our women, and by picking up the cudgels of feminism when she was at the top of her game, she ensured she received the support of the entire filmy fraternity!

While skeptics may argue that by  she lost her own high ground by dancing to Lovely right after she spoke up on behalf of women everywhere, we beg to differ. In a male-dominated industry where actresses have nearly no choice but to do a Lovely or a Chikni Chameli to stay relevant, it is refreshing to have performers who have the agency to draw a line between their professional lives and personal exploitation.

Saina wins the China Open Super Series Premier

Not since Sachin Tendulkar have we as a country relied so much on one person to bring us sporting glory, and Saina Nehwal does her job with such élan! She is not afraid of being temperamental and outspoken, is unnervingly focussed, and over the last eight years has continued to reward her fans who wake up at crazy hours to look for a streaming feed of her matches in different corners of the world.

What’s more, by popularising the sport,  she has helped inspire other rising stars such as PV Sindhu – the first Indian woman to win a Singles medal at the World Championship!

Her persistence was rewarded when she won the China Open Super Series earlier this year, and we’d hate to add to the extreme pressure she puts on herself, but dare we hope for an Olympic Gold soon?

Women scientists ‘man’ India’s mission to Mars

That image of women in sarees high-fiving each other in celebration as the Mangalyaan reached the Mars Orbit has done more to encourage young girls enter into the STEM field than any amount of lectures or Governmental grants could.

Huma Qureshi and Sonakshi Sinha strike out against size-ism.

Beauty comes in more than one size and shape. And in a vapid world full of details about star diets and how women lost their pregnancy weight in 30 seconds, it is refreshing to have two beautiful women acknowledge just that.

Huma’s radiant Femina cover stood out from the clutter of overly-photoshopped monthly issues, and when Sonakshi took to Instagram to say “get over it”we couldn’t help say “You go girl!”


Women Make Up Artists Allowed to Work in Bollywood

Our law books remain a curious mix of the arcane mixed with the modern and of prejudices coded in legalese. But the abolishment of a decades old law that prohibited women from working as a make-up artist in Bollywood, proved resoundingly that we have the power to change the laws that discriminate against us. As the judges said:

We are in 2014, not in 1935. Such things cannot continue even for a day

Dutee Chand Takes A Stand Against Gender Testing

In a year in which Indian women boxers were forced to undergo pregnancy tests, and Serena Williams was called  ‘one of Williams brothers’ by a clueless Russian official, it is refreshing to see Dutee Chand take a stand against institutional sexism and protest the controversial testosterone test which bans some female athletes from competing professionally.  Dutee doesn’t want to change the way her physiology works, she doesn’t want to conform- she just wants to run.

Quoted in the New York Times, Chand said she would not bow to pressure from coaches to undergo treatment to change the testosterone level in her body.

“I feel it is wrong to change your body for sport participation. I’m not changing for anyone. It is like in some societies where they used to cut off the hand of people caught stealing. I feel like this is the same kind of primitive, unethical rule. It goes too far.

Kamla Bhasin Tells It Like It Is

In crisp Hindi, with few concessions for the audience, Kamla Bhasin laid out the issues with Indian masculinity on Satyamev Jayate,  and won herself a legion of fans.

Hopefully she also made a few men rethink their macho posturing!

Indra Nooyi’s Powerful Speech

After all that you want me to do is go out and get the milk, what kind of a mom are you?” And she said to me, “let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house. You know I’ve never seen that crown.”

Nooyi put a uniquely Indian spin to Sheryl Sandberg’s Leaning In debate when she finally admitted how difficult it is for her. Whether you agreed with her or not, there’s no denying that her honesty opened up a conversation that working women need to have!

Indian Women Win Multiple Medals at the Incheon Asian Games

Three cheers (and then some!) to Priyanka Pawar, Tintu Laka, Mandeep Kaur and Poovamma Machetteri who won us a rare Athetics Gold, and to Seema Punia who did the same in Discus, to Mary Kom who continues to be a trail blazer, and to Sania Mirza- who suffers numerous indignities due to our misplaced ideas about femininity and success, and still plays to her best capabilities. And to the many silver and bronze winners from disparate events who show that Indian women can run, shoot, aim, wrestle and compete with the best.

Sulabh International Installs 108 toilets in rural UP

The Badaun rapes served a reminder that  lack of access to proper toilets and sanitation increases the vulnerability of Indian women to sexual harassment. Women often need to walk to remote parts of the village in the cover of darkness, exposing themselves to everyday indignity and an unnecessary danger. Sulabh reacted by building 108 cheap lavatories in the region as a small part of an overall effort to ensure that women have access to good health and sanitation, wherever in India they may be.

A solution instead of silent outrage. That is what makes this step special.

Women react to Yesudas’ “Women Should Not Wear Jeans” in the smartest way possible

The latest in a long list of men who disappoint us with their skewed gender view is KR Yesudas who went on a old-man-diatribe about how women should not wear jeans. These young girls answered him with chutzpah and a healthy dose of laughter!


Gauahar Khan proves a surprising Gandhian!

Ms. Khan has remained a curious lightning rod for our conversations around feminism and femininity. She is an independent and outspoken women who is not above exploiting her considerable sexual appeal and dramatic prowess to get ahead. But when a man slapped her because she doesn’t dress like a “proper Muslim woman”, she responded with great aplomb. Gauahar spoke up for the right of people to wear what they want and live the lives they want to lead, at the same time stating that any protest against ideology should ALWAYS take the form of a dialogue and not an attack.


Mithali Raj one of Wisden’s 5 Greatest Women Cricketers

Her strengths are her touch and timing, a calmness at the crease, and an awareness of what is going on around her. She loves to grab the game and change its course, though the responsibility of being the middle-order rock leashes her in.

Mithali Raj has been selected as one of the 5 greats of the game by Wisden, and just led her team to a historic test victory against South Africa. The season couldn’t be going better for her- so spare a thought for her and her team’s exploits instead of just focussing on the men’s game!

Baal Khade

Look at us, trying to find empowerment in a  Disney Princess Romance!

But Sunidhi Chauhan‘s unapologetic voice, Sneha Khanwalkar’s total bad-assery, and even Sonam‘s ability to poke a fun at her girly image, all work together to make this song one of our favourites from the year. We can’t believe we are doing this, but we have to almost give credit to the Kapoor Sisters for being the only people creating films for young women instead of young men in Bollywood. And if- after ogling at Fawad Khan- they also learn just how much fun girls can have, isn’t that reason enough to celebrate?

Unfortunately, finding 15 moments of pride and celebration took a lot longer than finding 15 instances of shame and outrage would. But one can’t help thinking (and hoping); that the tide is turning. That 2015 will be better for women everywhere-even in India. And what better way than to end the year than to take inspiration from recent Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai’s words:

“We cannot help succeed when half of us are held back”

What did we miss ? Tell us in the comments below, or share your recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. And keep returning to MBRB as we look at some of the year’s most memorable moments in the world of books, pop culture, travel and more.


Photo Credit: jessleecuizon via Compfight cc

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