Tuesday, 8 March 2011

100 years of International women's day - part two: Ten women leaders who made a difference in Andhra Pradesh

By Syed Akbar

Durgabai Deshmukh, founder of Andhra Mahila Sabha

A 12-year-old girl in her fifth class returns home after meeting Mahatma Gandhi. She burns her party frocks and decides to wear khadi clothes. It was 1921 and the place Kakinada. The young girl was 
Durgabai, who later became the face of women in India's freedom struggle.
Durgabai mastered Hindi in just a few months and taught it to local volunteers to prepare  them for the annual session of the Indian National Congress at Kakinada. She established Balika Hindi Pathasala when she was just 12 and continued as its principal for the next 12 years. This small step towards educating people, particularly girls, later grew into Andhra Mahila Sabha, championing the cause of downtrodden and old women.
And it was Durgabai, who single handedly organised the salt satyagraha movement in  Chennai in 1930. The British government jailed her for one year for leading the satyagraha. Even in jail, she taught Hindi to fellow prisoners.
Moved by the plight of women in jails, she studied law to become a leading criminal  lawyer.
Though Durgabai hailed from a small coastal town, she held important positions including  the membership of the Constituent Assembly, Parliament Steering Committee and the Planning Commission. As chairman of the Central Social Welfare Board, she introduced condensed education courses with special benefits 
for women, reform of jails, rehabilitation of criminals and commercial sex workers.

Princess Durru Shehvar, fought against purdah

Princess Durru Shehvar, daughter-in-law of Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan, opposed the purdah system and led the Women Volunteers' Corps. The royal women did not make public appearance in those days but 
Princess Durru Shehvar, who believed in the uplift of women, inaugurated the Hyderabad airport.
She actively participated in women's meets and encouraged other women to take active part in them. The princess was the president of the Hyderabad State Women's Conference.
Wherever she went, the princess told women that they should earn their own living without  depending on others. Princess Durru Shehvar initiated a number of measures in the erstwhile State of Hyderabad to uplift downtrodden sections of society, particularly Muslim women. She continued with her social activity  even after the police action and merger of Hyderabad with the Indian union.
Much to the chagrin of religious leaders and orthodox families, Princess Durru Shehvar set up specialised training centres for women to make them financially independent. In her later part of life, Princess Durru Shehvar opened an exclusive hospital for children and others to provide affordable healthcare to the poor.

Princess Niloufer Khanum, champion of child health

Princess Niloufer was issueless. But she ensured that women should not suffer from the social stigma of being
"barren". Moved by the plight of one of her maids, who died in labour, due to lack of  specialised medical facilities in Hyderabad in those days, young Princess Niloufer decided to build a top class hospital 
for children and women.
She spent all the money she received towards her "mehr" (dower) after her divorce on  building Niloufer Hospital. Today it is the largest hospital of its kind in the government sector in Asia with advanced training in a number of medical faculties including cardiology.
Princess Niloufer got specialised training as a nurse during the second world war and this training helped her a lot in understanding the suffering of the common man.
Like her first cousin Princess Durru Shehvar, Princess Niloufer was active in women's movement in then Hyderabad state. She held the post of the president of All India Women's Conference and the Hyderabad State Women's Conference.

Prof Shanta Sinha, anti-child labour activist

It's indeed a Herculean task to identify six lakh child labour, send them to school, monitor their education and ensure that they complete schooling. Prof Shanta Sinha has achieved this taunting task through  her MV Foundation in Ranga Reddy, Nalgonda and other districts in Andhra Pradesh.
Prof Shanta Sinha, who won Ramon Magsaysay award for community leadership, is credited with introducing the concept of residential bridge course camps for children and parents in rural areas. Her strategy succeeded and today the State has only a few child labour. As many as 50,000 child labour participated in the 
bridge course camps.
Also championing the cause of bonded labour, Shanta Sinha's MV Foundation ensured that as many as 25,000 bonded child labour were released from employers and sent to school. As chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Shanta Sinha has initiated a number of measures to safeguard the educational interests of children.

Muppala Ranganayakamma, champion of gender equality

Muppala Ranganayakamma has always proved that pen is mightier than the sword, through her lucid writings on gender equality. Even those opposed to gender equality could not but follow Ranganayakamma's communist philosophy that men and women are equal. All her writings highlight the subjugation of  women, even as urging them to fight back for their rights. She believes in social reform through literature.
A staunch fighter against casteism, Ranganayakamma in her novel, Balipeetham, drives home a strong message for marriages between the so-called upper castes and dalits.
Born in a remote village in West Godavari district, Ranganayakamma grew to the status of  a literary icon in Telugu. All her writings reflect her feminist viewpoint. Initially she was attracted to Marxist  philosophy, and is now synonymous with women liberation and feminism in Telugu literature.
Ranganayakamma created a flutter through her three-volume, "Ramayana Visharuksham", where  she praises
Goddess Sita for her endurance.

Hemalatha Lavanam, fought against Jogini system

Jogini tradition had been a scourge of womanhood. Young girls were married to god, so that they could be exploited by men in the village. Hemalatha Lavanam fought against the age-old tradition in parts of Telangana and brought an end to it. Thanks to Hemalatha, there are no Jogini victims today.
Born in Vinukonda mandal of Guntur district in 1932 to eminent Telugu poet Joshua, Hemalatha took up the cause of Joginis, and untouchability in rural areas. Young girls and women were forced into the flesh trade against their wish in the name of Jogini tradition. She  spearheaded struggle for enacting legislation to eradicate the tradition in 1988.
She established a shelter home "Chelli Nilayam’ in 1987 to give protection to women and  girls rescued from the Jogini tradition. She was impressed by  great social reformers like Vinoba Bhave and  Jayaprakash Narayan. She dedicated her life to change the psychology of criminals and helped them to lead norms 
life as others. Hemalatha fought for social change and against superstitions and myths.

Saraswati Gora, social reformer

A few social reformers can equal the contribution of Saraswathi Gora for societal change in Andhra Pradesh. She actively fought for social justice, widow re-marriages, inter-dining by upper caste and dalits, and opposed the caste system.
She along with husband Gora started Atheist Centre in 1940. She was jailed by British government many times during the freedom struggle. She was in the forefront of struggle against untouchability  and caste system.
Saraswathi Gora promoted inter-religious marriages and secularism and was instrumental in the formation of
organisations like Vasavya Mahila Mandali, Samskar and Arthik Samanata mandals.
She was conferred with GD Birla International Award for Humanism and Jamnalal Bajaj National Award for her contribution to women welfare and rural development.

V Koteswaramma, pioneer of girl education

Koteswaramma pioneered the Montessori concept of education in Andhra Pradesh. She launched Montessori educational institutions in Vijayawada in 1955 to provide education to girls. Montessori concept of education is based on research and experience by Italian educationist Maria Montessori. Inspired by 
Maria, Koteswaramma introduced the concept in the coastal region of the State.
She has trained at least one lakh girls in the last five decades. Koteswaramma, who  launched the Montessori concept of education in a defunct school, gradually build it up to an educational institution of  international repute. She won Indira Gandhi Excellence Award, Jean Harris Award, National Udyog Excellence Award among others.
Koteswaramma edits "Illu Illalu", a Telugu monthly devoted to the cause of women and girls. An author of several books, she lays emphasis on personality development in women. She is a champion of women empowerment and outstanding protagonist of women's education. She believes that institutions of higher 
learning should concentrate on imparting quality education to women as a step forward to the over all development of society.

Dubagunta Rosamma, anti-arrack agitationist

When Rosamma took up the movement against sale of liquor in a remote village in Nellore district, little did the Andhra Pradesh government realise that it would soon force a total prohibition in the State. The government came down on its knees, implementing total prohibition.
She stands out as the best example of how a determined woman can face the might of money and political power and succeed. Threats from the powerful liquor lobby notwithstanding, Rosamma led the anti-arrack movement that led to the fall of Congress government in 90’s and forced the successive TD government to clamp prohibition in the state.
Rosamma began her movement by resisting a local arrack contractor and his henchmen from unloading liquor in her village in April 1991. Soon she gathered a band of women and the movement spread to all  parts of the state like a wildfire.
She became a powerful symbol of the anti-liquor agitation. Rosamma was moved by the  plight of women due to their alcoholic-husbands.

Malladi Subbamma, feminist and social reformer

If a woman leader has given a new meaning to feminism in Andhra Pradesh, it's only Malladi Subbamma, author, social reformer and educationist. In the last six decades Subbamma gave a new direction to the women movement in the State.
She played a key role in refining the women movement and took it to its logical end. Subbamma believes that social evils like dowry and alcoholism play havoc with the lives of illiterate and financially  weak women. Taking up the fight against women subjugation, Subbamma minces no words when she blames religion as the 
basic factor for the backwardness of Indian women.
Subbamma stood firmly during the anti-liquor movement in the State and continued the struggle till the government declared total prohibition. She donated all her property to improve vocational training of women in a bid to empower them financially. An author of several books, Subbamma's focus has always been on uplift  of women by motivating them against social evils and subjugation.

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