Meet the SheThePeople Badass Women 2020. They are tremendous women who speak up for themselves. From across genres, film to literature and politics, social impact and more, meet the people pushing for change against all odds. Here’s the SheThePeople Badass Women 2020. They rocked with their attitude, and undoubtedly made headlines and went viral.
This lawmaker from Krishnanagar in West Bengal caught our attention with her maiden fiery speech in Parliament against the Centre. In which she warned that the country was moving towards fascism under the present regime. She was again in the news when she moved the Supreme Court against the Citizenship Amendment Act. She continues to be the voice which holds the central government accountable for the social unrest and economic slump, and many such citizen grievances.
Riding high on the success of her movie Badhaai Ho in 2018, Neena Gupta had a kicker of a start to 2020 when her film The Last Color helmed by chef Vikas Khanna made it to the race for the Academy Awards.
Gupta, who plays a central role in the film said that she cannot believe that the film is in the Oscar race. The film revolves around the lives of windows residing in Indian religious sites of Vrindavan and Varanasi. She was again in the news for the film Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan.
“Urging people to vote against hate has nothing to do with citizenship and everything to do with being a human being. We are all human beings first and citizens of the world we live in. Secularism and democratic principles are values and it’s those that I stand for VoteOutHate.” –
Politician Alka Lamba of the Indian National Congress, previously with the Aam Aadmi Party, has openly called out on live television what she believes is biased and irresponsible journalism. Speaking on Aaj Tak channel on rape and women’s safety, Lamba expressed disdain at media channels that ran the name of a rape victim in their online hashtags.
In September 2019 we woke up to news that Faye D’Souza has quit. Being one of the few respected and unbiased media person she received much love from her followers and was asked to come back. Finally she tweeted, “To clarify I will continue to be associated with The Times Network creating and presenting flagship shows and IPS but I will be moving away from day to day management of Mirror Now. I also plan to work on developing new content for the youth of India across platforms in my independent capacity.” More power to such independent voices.
In his tweet, a former minister had written just ahead of general elections, “I am proud to join #MainBhiChowkidar movement. As a citizen who loves India, I shall do my best to defeat corruption, dirt, poverty and terrorism and help create a New India which is strong, secure and prosperous.” To this Renuka Shahane replied, “Agar aap bhi chowkidaar hain toh koi mahila surakshit nahi #BesharmiKiHadd @IndiaMeToo.” Renuka Shahane’s tweet was in reference to the sexual harassment allegations against the minister. Last year, when the #MeToo movement had gained momentum in India, many women had raised their voices saying that they were sexually harassed by this particular minister.
Renuka Shahane’s tweets are very popular as she is unafraid to take a stand and put her thoughts out there.
Ayesha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana
Numerous images and videos from the CAA and NRC protests and violence that broke out at the Jamia Millia Islamia campus had surfaced last year. Amidst all the chaos, there is one video of a group of women protecting a young man from the Delhi Police that has become the face of bravery through the protests. Two of those women are Ayesha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana and have been called the unsung heroes of the protest. In the video, they can be clearly seen protecting a young man, Shaheen from the police. Ayesha is a history student and Ladeeda, a BA Arabic student, both of them hail from Kerala. They revealed in an interview that their families and husbands are quite supportive of them standing up for what is right.
Fresh from the success of web series Made In Heaven, actress Sobhita Dhulipala is only going from strength to strength, and her newfound popularity has made her one of the Top 15 most popular Indian actors on the IMDb STARmeter, based on data from March 2019. It is decided on the basis of the number of page clicks on the leading global movie website.
Sobhita started her journey in showbiz with projects like Raman Raghav 2.0, Telugu film Goodachari, Chef and Kaalakaandi. But she found fame from her complex role of Tara in Amazon Prime web series Made In Heaven.
While Tara herself is trapped in an unhappy marriage, she is seen helping people get the wedding they always dreamt about, while solving obstacles.
Debjani Ghosh is the President of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (NASSCOM), the apex body for the IT-BPM industry in India. At the Digital Women Awards 2019, Debjani Ghosh talked about women in the IT industry, gender bias and more.
On overcoming the gender biases she had this to say, “You walk into that meeting and you let people finish off with all their little comments about how you’re a woman and how you remind someone of their daughter. That’s the kind of bias you get – but then you start your work. When you focus on your work and the moment you start speaking, all that bias disappears. Then you start engaging with someone on an equal footing. So, I think the bias lasts for the first five minutes.” Yes, learn it from the pro.
Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju
Last year lawyers Menaka Guruswamy and Arundhati Katju, the face of historic Section 377 verdict, revealed they’re a couple. In 2018 the Supreme Court had ruled in favour of humanity by unanimously decriminalising homosexuality, a part of the 158-year-old colonial law under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. India saw a new ray of hope, thanks to the leading ladies – advocates Menaka Guruswamy (44) and Arundhati Katju (36) – who argued against the discrimination and violence that the LGBTQ community faced every day. They further expressed that the 2018 win was not only a professional achievement but also a personal win.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw was in the news in the aftermath of the death of Café Coffee Day founder V.G. Siddhartha when she confirmed that “a government official” called her and told her not to speak about issues such as income tax harassment. “He just said that ‘please don’t make such statements.” Mazumdar Shaw told The Telegraph.
She was again in the news but this time as a female entrepreneur as she is placed at the 54th spot on the Forbes list, with a net worth of $2.38 billion. The company was also ranked in the top 20 global biotech employers. She garnered she was made the first Indian woman Foreign Member of the National Academy of Engineering in 55 years.
Richa Chaddha’s last film, Section 375: Marzi Ya Zabardasti, which released in September 2019 had the audience divided on its stand on rape. Richa opened up about taking criticism in her stride for the successful though problematic venture. When asked if it wasn’t upsetting for her that the film should take a pro-rape-accused stance than that of the survivor, especially in the light of the #MeToo movement? She said, “The film was discussed first when the #MeToo movement hadn’t even broken out in Hollywood… I thought really long about it, and I felt even one contrarian point of view doesn’t make it an invalid point of view. I find the notion that women are inherently more noble than men sexist in itself,” she says. For her, the film is actually on the side of the law. “It questions patriarchy in the procedural everydayness of it, which is what draws you in.”
Other than the above movie she was in the news in January 2019, when in the first look for an upcoming biopic she transformed into Shakeela for the movie by the same name. The film is based on the life of a well-known star of adult films of the late 90s named Shakeela, and deals with the issue of exploitation. According to her, “It’s about a woman in adult films who refused to sleep with a superstar and suffered for it,” she says. She hopes it will be dubbed in many languages and will have a pan-India appeal.
What is the best way to ensure that women are safe? One way is to ask them not to stay out after 8 pm! Yes, you read it right.
Deepa Narayan, author of Chup: Breaking Silence About India’s Women gave a badass reply, “Men should be home by 8 pm. Imagine how safe the streets would be.” Her comment was in response to the one made by Chief Minister of Telangana and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) Cheif K Chandrasekhar Rao, to women workers after the Hyderabad gang-rape horror. “I have a responsibility to save our women, so their shifts will end by 8 pm,” KCR said in a meeting of the selected employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) in Hyderabad after they called off a strike that lasted for over 52 days.
In October 2019, we got the only film which truly spoke of women empowerment in the right tone, Saand Ki Aankh. However, even this film’s release was marred by the controversy which arose due to the casting of younger women actors to play 60 something characters. Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar played the world’s oldest female sharpshooters, Chandro and Prakashi Tomar, who defied ageism and took up sharpshooting in their 60s and had to bear the brunt of the backlash.
Then there was Mission Mangal, where an A-list male superstar managed to shadow five women actors, one of them being Taapsee. While she got an equal footing opposite Amitabh Bachchan in her third release of the year the film Badla, she in an interview said that she had to struggle to get an equal credit for the film’s success as Bachchan. In doing so she called out the problem of gender bias in Bollywood. This year she is in the news again for her film Thappad, as a woman who files for divorce when her husband slaps her. It has released to critical acclaim.
In October 2019, we got the only film which truly spoke of women empowerment in the right tone, Saand Ki Aankh.
In 2019 we also got to know why veteran actor Asha Parekh chose to stay single, she revealed saying she was completely put off by the “whole premise of marriage.” In an interview with Verve Magazine, the 77-year-old actor said, “Marriage is not all rainbows and butterflies; you have to give in to your partner’s whims every now and then, and that’s a two-way street.” With this the veteran actor turned poster girl of a new era for women, where being single is finally seen as a better option than being stuck in an unhappy life-long marriage, out of social pressure. She championed single women status who prioritise themselves and their happiness over social stigma.
Elsa Marie D’Silva
Elsa Marie D’Silva started Safecity in 2012. It is an online platform that crowd sources personal stories on Sexual Harassment and abuse in public spaces. The data gets aggregated as hot spots on a map indicating trends at a local level. The idea is to make this data useful for individuals, local communities and local administration to identify factors that cause behaviour that leads to violence and work on strategies for solutions. Since its launch, the company has collected thousands of stories from India and other countries which has been used to engage over 500,000 people.
The company still stands tall in 2020 encouraging people to report their stories through their mobile app on Android and iOS, webapp and social media.
Salma which is a nom de plume that Rajathi Rokkiah, a Tamil poet-activist has taken, and was honoured with the Mahakavi Kanhaiyyalal Sethia Award for Poetry at the Jaipur Literature Festival said, “It is the duty of writers to comment on contemporary society through their work; that’s how we change and adapt to the times. But to disallow any kind of alternative view, is not right,” she adds in light of when dissent has become a trigger for violence against writers and intellectuals in India. This isn’t a sign of a healthy democracy according to her.
From iReel Awards to Emmys, Radhika Apte turned out to be the biggest breakthrough artist in web space. When Apte, who recently received an international Emmy nomination for Best Actress for her performance in Netflix’s Lust Stories, was asked to share her thoughts on it, she said, “It’s a great feeling to be appreciated for your efforts. I’m thrilled that Indian content is at par with today’s world television.”
The reason why Apte’s appearance in multiple Netflix originals came as a surprise to most Indian audiences is because it was simply unusual. No Indian actress who has somewhat made her mark in both mainstream Bollywood and regional movies, has taken such a bold step. Apte did, and how!
For the uninitiated, Shaheen Bhatt is daughter of Mahesh Bhatt and Soni Razdan and elder sister of Alia Bhatt. She was diagnosed with clinical depression in the past when she was just 18 years old. In 2019 she launched her book I’ve Never Been (un)Happier, in her book she opens up about her struggle of battling with this mental disease. Shaheen takes her readers through the personal struggle of understanding and living with depression. She shared a lot of things that were left unspoken till date.
We all heard of the singer Chinmayi when she became the popular face of #MeToo movement in Kollywood. The singer, who is deprived of opportunities in the industry, due to her allegations against influential personalities like Radha Ravi and Vairamuthu, is relentless in her pursuit of getting justice.
Chinmayi gets frequently harassed for making such allegations against the Tamil celebs and she exposes them online. Recently, she claimed that some influential people approached her with an offer to settle the issue with Vairamuthu. The singer admitted that she didn’t record the conversation.
“If I can, so can you”: Pooja Bhatt broke the stigma around alcohol abuse and inspired fans in the past year.
In 2019 she took to Twitter to share a screenshot of a man asking her for nude pictures. Chinmayi shut the culprit with a humorous comeback. Take a look:
In the meanwhile.. for some entertainment pic.twitter.com/JwarkEaKDz
— Chinmayi Sripaada (@Chinmayi) May 20, 2019
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga released, and we couldn’t help but fall in love with the new-age love story that it hinted at. While it’s absolutely wonderful to have actors like Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao, and Anil Kapoor back a same-sex love story, what is even better is that the screenwriter of the movie is Gazal Dhaliwal, a transwoman who has used her own life experiences to pen down the story. Hers is an inspiring story.
“If I can, so can you”: Pooja Bhatt broke the stigma around alcohol abuse and inspired fans in the past year.
A recent post on Instagram reads:
“Two years and 10 months sober today… (It is) time to reflect on the past and absorb the now (because) kal kisne dekha after all? To any and all of you who are battling your demons and grappling with addiction issues, know that you’re not alone. If I could do it, you can too. And if you flounder or fall, pick yourself up and keep going… The rewards are multiple in more ways than one.”
In another interview, the actress also talked about taking the brave step to quit alcohol two years back and finding support.
Priyamvada Gopal is a reader at the faculty of English at Cambridge University and she has called out ‘racism’ that she faced at the prestigious institute. A new report has criticised universities’ complacency on racist abuse. To which she wrote, “There are also no “race cards”. People who raise issues of racial exclusion or abuse are not demanding special treatment; on the contrary, they are arguing against the special privileges bestowed on the majority or dominant group. Most of us who raise issues of racism do so with hesitation, feeling vulnerable as we do so and fearing inevitable social and institutional reprisals. Meet a race whistleblower and you meet a deemed “troublemaker”, a position with unpleasant institutional consequences,” she said strongly.
Sonam Kapoor Ahuja
Indian National Award-winning actress Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, who playing a gay character in the film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga, said she doesn’t believe in labels, which are associated with the actors in the film industry.
She even went on to produce the film.
When asked at a media interaction whether she had second thoughts about playing her character, Ahuja said, “I don’t know about bold character but there is one thing that I don’t believe in and that’s ‘labels’. When I decide to do a film or a character, I get encouraged by the fact that nobody else would say yes to it except for me.”
When asked whether she thinks that she is pushing the envelope for Indian actresses by taking up these roles, she said, “I don’t think I am immodest enough to say something like that. I am humble enough to understand that I am certain kind of person and actor. I can’t do what other people do so, I can only do what I can do. I don’t think I am talented enough to do what other people do, So, I am very happy in my space. I am just trying my very best to do what I can do.”
Meet Rema Rajeshwari the IPS officer leading a war against fake news in a Telangana district. She is currently posted as the Superintendent of Police in the Jogulamba Gadwal district.
Can you imagine what can happen when one woman in uniform goes beyond her call of duty and transforms the existing policing model at every posting?
Well this brave police officer could restore a decrepit village school building and students got access to toilets and clean drinking water. She gave back dignity to 50 Joginis grappling with psychological and sexual torture who got a second shot at life with vocational training, 1200 child brides are rescued from their mandaps, and hundreds of victims of trafficking and abuse are empowered to speak up. That’s called power of ‘one’. More power to her.
Soni Razdan is often at the receiving end of trolling. During the general election held in May 2019, the actress had urged people to go and vote. However, her message was misinterpreted and she was trolled for the same. On Twitter, the actress who holds British citizenship wrote, “Urging people to vote against hate has nothing to do with citizenship and everything to do with being a human being. We are all human beings first and citizens of the world we live in. Secularism and democratic principles are values and it’s those that I stand for VoteOutHate.”
She was infact replying to Kangana Ranaut‘s sister Rangoli tweet, “These non-Indians who are living off this land, using and abusing its people and its resources, lying about intolerance and spreading hatred, time to think about their agenda and not to get carried away with their provocations.” She tolerates no negativity and hits back at trollers with her befitting reply. I think this is how all the actress should respond to online trollers.
“I don’t know about bold character but there is one thing that I don’t believe in and that’s ‘labels’. When I decide to do a film or a character, I get encouraged by the fact that nobody else would say yes to it except for me.”
2019 was also the year when Mindy Kaling, an actress, writer and producer of one of the favourite workplace comedy series ‘The Office’ has alleged Television Academy and the organisation in charge of Emmy Awards of attempting to drop her from the producer list of the comedy series.
In her interview with the Elle magazine, Kaling, the writer of the “crowd-pleasing” comedy movie ‘Late Night’, said that the organisers of the Emmy Awards tried to remove her from the producers’ list of ‘The Office’ exactly when the series was nominated for potential comedy series award. This attempt would have prevented her from accepting the award if the series won it. The 40-years-old women of colour said she was forced to go through an exhaustive procedure of writing an essay that highlighted her contribution in the comedy series.
Lilly Singh is the most successful YouTube stars today with more than 14 million subscribers on her channel.
In 2019 the YouTube star “Superwoman” Lilly Singh took her fans by surprise with a tweet which said, “Female. Coloured. Bisexual. Throughout my life, these have proven to be obstacles from time to time. But now I’m fully embracing them as my superpowers. No matter how many “boxes” you check, I encourage you to do the same.” It is very courageous of Singh to open up about her sexuality on social media.
Lilly also launched a brand new rap video on her YouTube channel, which broke the internet. The song “If Bollywood Songs Were Rap” takes a dig at Bollywood and how it stereotypes women. Singh has taken three hit Bollywood songs and re-imagined them as rap in her signature style. Through the song Lilly touches upon topics like the impossible beauty standard Bollywood expects women to live up to, body positivity, mental health, bisexuality, the importance of consent and more. The caption of her song reads, “classic” songs with some “modern wisdom.”
Comedian Mallika Dua’s views on the outrage over Pulwama attack of February 14, 2019 have evoked an angry outcry for their perceived insensitivity.
In a video, Dua said she doesn’t believe in showing “performative patriotism” after the Pulwama attack and asked people to stop showing what she called their “nakli (fake) nationalism” by showing their grief and anger about the attack for a “few likes.”
The video, 4:38 minutes long, was posted on her Facebook page, but the clip that went viral on Twitter was a 34 second one where Dua ranted against those who showed solidarity to the Pulwama martyrs and their families.
A video of Smriti Irani being a pallbearer for her party coworker, who was shot dead in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi went viral. Surendra Singh, former village head of Baraulia village and a close aide of BJP leader Smriti Irani, was shot by unidentified assailants at his residence.
As Smriti Irani turned pallbearer for her aide, the social media came out in big numbers to support her and call her a symbol of women empowerment. Journalist Pallavi Ghosh said, “Best symbol of true women empowerment… To those who don’t understand, many women aren’t allowed to even carry the arthi… I wasn’t…”
When you remove Irani’s stature from this post, all you’ll see is a mother standing by her daughter, and encouraging her to not to give into bullying, because that is what bullies want.
Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan
Bengali actors Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan who were elected as Trinamool Congress MPs from West Bengal posted pictures of their first day at the Parliament. However, Twitter didn’t take too kindly to their posing in front of the Parliament.
The actors were shamed for how they dressed up on their first day as Members of Parliament.
One of the users wrote, “Did you go there to do this drama? Please do not do this drama at the Parliament and shame Bengal.”
Nusrat Jahan, the Trinamool MP from Basirhat, too shared a similar photo on her Instagram account and had to face a similar rebuke.
One such user wrote in Bengali, “This is not a place for photoshoot. This is a place where you should fight for the people’s rights and legislate for the country. You don’t belong here.”
However, the MPs took the trolls in their stride and came back to Parliament in traditional dresses to take oath.
These firebrand women don’t believe in letting trolls go unanswered. They truly are the actors of today who teach us how to deal with modern-day peeves.
Here’s hoping they continue to stand for what they think is right in 2020 too!
The views expressed are the writer’s own.