By Shilpa Raina,
New Delhi : As a child-bride, activist Sampat Pal's mother-in-law sternly instructed her to have dinner only after everyone in the family had eaten. She agreed, but a part of her rebelled against this gender discrimination. And a day came when she could take it no more and ate before everyone else did. That very moment forever changed the course of life.
"My mother-in-law was furious. She scolded me, but I asked her to give me one good reason why I should eat in the end? Where is the rule written?" Pal told IANS.
This one step led to the making of 200,000 grassroots-women activists "Gulabi Gang" that fights against oppression. It is originally from Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh, and is active since 2010.
Things were slightly different for 35-year-old transgender Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi who was sexually abused by a close family member, and was being mocked for her feminine features. But the unconditional support of her family had kept her going all through, till she had the guts to say 'No' to her abuser.
"I was sexually abused by somebody who was a part of our family. It was difficult for me to even go to school and college. People used to call me 'chhakka', 'gur' and what not," recollected Tripathi who champions rights for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
"Whichever man came to my life, abused me. At that time, I was a very different person from what I am today. I could hardly speak then. I was not confident. One fine day, I got the guts to say 'No'. After that no, my whole life changed," Tripathi told IANS.
The story of Fatima Khatoon is also somewhat the same.
She was married to a trafficker and her house was a brothel. Rising in protest, she helped a few girls to flee and joined hands with an NGO to prevent prostitution grow in their area.
"When you sell a girl, you sell her dream. I might not have faced any discrimination, but these girls were too scared to have said 'No'. They needed a voice, and I became their voice," Fatima told IANS.
These three women activists were in the capital recently for a gender conference where they all stressed on the fact that a moment comes in everyone's life when they decide to take reins of life in their own hands and say "No" to the discriminators and abusers.
"It is that very moment when mind becomes free of any fear or outcome, and a person transforms," said Tripathi who has participated in the TV reality show "Bigg Boss 5".
These women have become icons in their respective social-gender based work.
The 55-year-old Pal who comes from a small village in Uttar Pradesh first came to news when a documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain made a film "Gulabi Gang" (2012) on the "pink-sari gang" - as Pal chose this colour to make the gang identifiable and leave its own mark.
But, the gang made more news and a few controversies with Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla starer "Gulaab Gang" (2014) which was based on the workings of the gang.
The recognition of their work has given them more wings and freedom and a platform where their independent voices can transcend regional barriers and encourage women to listen to the "inner self", without submitting to conformity.
"To protect ourselves, women have to stay together in a group and stand-up for their rights. Submission is not an answer, nor is fear, a woman has to be fearless and educated. If she is empowered, only then she can make a difference in her life," Pal said.
Tripathi, however, strongly feels a woman has to first love herself before she thinks of others.
"In life, what we require the most is love, unconditional love. But the problem is, as women, we don't love ourselves enough. Women love their children, their husbands, their homes, their money, their makeup, but how much do they love themselves?" she asked.
"Women need to love themselves in order to feel loved," she concluded.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)