Women Writers’ Fest Lucknow took the Awadh city by storm an how. One of the panel discussions at the Lucknow edition of the festival organised by ShethePeople.TV had a very interesting topic ‘The Feisty Women of Awadh Who Define Its Social and Cultural Fabric.’  The city is synonymous with nawabs but with the nawabs were the begums, who refused to be just relegated to the purdah. Similarly, the women of today are influencers, initiators, and courageous; who break societal norms in their own fields. Taking the theme forward we had a panel full of feisty women nonetheless, Adity Chakravarti, artist, writer and blogger was in conversation with Madhavi Kuckreja, noted Women’s Rights activist, Mehru Jaffer, former journalist and writer, Dr Kirti Narain, educationist and founder of Writers World and Vipul Varshneya, author and convenor INTACH Lucknow chapter.

The discussion started with Adity Chakravarti saying, “Any woman who has stepped out of this wall that society has created for her could be defined as this courageous feisty woman, she could be somebody who is not known at all, she could be a maid who has come out of this violent beating from her husband and she decides to go from house to house making a living for herself and for her children or it could be someone as well-known as Begum Hazrat Mahal who comes out of purdah and leads an army. So, these are the women we are talking about and we have some lovely people to tell us about some of these women. From the time in the past as well as coming through to the present. So, Vipul here will tell us about some begums of the past, during the Nawabi era who came out of themselves to create a world of their own.”

“If you flick through the history pages of the history of Awadh one would always read about the nawabs, due to their action or inaction, they have a reputation and people keep talking about these nawabs. But there are begums inside the zenana, inside the courtyards of the palaces which made the palaces a wonderful sort of habitat and of course in between the conspiracies and strife for power everything going on like the oppression and purdah there was something wonderful going on …” Vipul said.

“I think that’s where it clicks if you manage to change people, the way people think even if it’s your daughter, cousin, or cousin’s aunt and she did that in that sphere and I also think a lot of women didn’t break purdah and they changed things. I think feistiness comes from breaking the norm every single day.”

Taking the conversation further Adity asked the panel, how much role does financial independence play in women becoming courageous and feisty?

To this Dr Kirti answered, “It really makes a lot of difference if we are financially independent. An understanding family is also a need but financial independence is a requirement.”

Also read: Why aren’t we reading Hindi literature: Panel at Women Writer’s Fest Lucknow

But Madhavi had a different point of view, she said, “You can be financially independent yet not break any norms. Some of the feistiest women in my life have been mazdoors, they might not be financially independent, but the whole thing about dalit women is because they broke the purdah system before anyone else, they kept breaking the purdah time and again because they had to go out to do their mazdoori. So they didn’t have the big kind of financial independence and sometimes they didn’t even have the decision making over the little bit that they earned. That is why this whole thing about savings, probes and women putting away 100 rupees so that they can buy a saree with comes in. Yet, feistiness could happen, I mean they could be sitting at home, and being dependent on dada, nana, husband everybody and my god you could be something else, I believe that, you could affect all the lives around you.”

Endorsing what Madhavi said, Vipul went on to add, “I have an incidence from history as well, when Begum Hazrat Mahal had gone to Nepal and here Wajid Ali Shah had sent a letter to the British saying that he will serve them with the best of his ability and to kindly arrange for his pension. And there was Begum Hazrat Mahal who refused saying she did not want a penny from the Britishers and said she is happy as she is and she died penniless in Nepal where she is buried and has a small mazaar. So, that is it, the feistiness.”

Continuing the conversation Dr Kirti added, “Jung Bahadur, the ruler of Nepal gave her a pension of 500 rupees but she died quite penniless that is true.”

Taking the discussion to a lighter note Mehru Jaffer taking the mike said, “Yes, well because the men even today they have more expensive taste and they think they can’t live without the Porsche, BMW, or Cadillac we don’t have those kinds of ambitions. My ex-husband had a Porsche and BMW and I travelled by bus so that evened out. I also believe I can be feistier on a full stomach.”

“You can be financially independent yet not break any norms. Some of the feistiest women in my life have been mazdoors, they might not be financially independent, but the whole thing about dalit women is because I mean they broke the purdah system before anyone else, they kept breaking the purdah time and again because they had to go out to do their mazdoori.”

Madhavi Kuckreja summed it up perfectly when she said, “I think that having that courage, having that feistiness, having that bravery to do what you believe in is important, and we all live in contradictions we really really do, and today I would like to mention one of my role models, her name is Naseem Niktar Ali, she had one hat in which she was member of the Muslim Women’s Law Board, she another hat in she which was a mother, she educated her herself, she is full of contradictions, but she influenced people around her. I think that’s where it clicks if you manage to change people, the way people think even if it’s your daughter, cousin, or cousin’s aunt and she did that in that sphere and I also think a lot of women didn’t break purdah and they still changed things. I think feistiness comes from breaking the norm every single day.”

Also read: Women Writers’ Fest Lucknow Celebrated Music Of Akhtaribai Faizabadi

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