Contemporary Times — Women in the Forefront


Dr. Ravi P. Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

7 Dec 2020 – All sort of issues and challenges confront society. These also lead to opportunities to offset the difficulties. Women being an integral part of society are confronting various problems and finding suitable solutions. These are of various types — social, economic, political and of course domestic and looking after children and elderly relatives.

In politics we see many women holding key positions such as Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers and other important portfolios. The most recent example is that of   Kamala Harris. She has won the Vice Presidential election in USA and along with President-elect Joe Biden will officially be sworn in at the inauguration ceremony on 20 January 2021. Of course we are aware of Angela Merkel who has been Chancellor of Germany for many years. She has won the trust and admiration of many countries in the world apart from European nations. We also know of the 1991 Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar for her role in promoting peace and human rights. However, she has recently become somewhat controversial by her actions.

New Zealand also has a woman Jacinda Ardern of Labour Party occupying the topmost political post in the country since October 2017. We are also familiar with the 94 year old Queen Elizabeth II of UK and other Commonwealth countries. She has been queen since 1952 and is admired and respected worldwide. India also had Indira Gandhi as PM for many years from 1966 but she was assassinated by one of her bodyguards in October 1984 because of her domineering politico-religious role including declaring political emergency in the country. India also had many women Chief Ministers in several States and at present has  Mamta Banerji   holding this post in West Bengal.

Apart from politics, women have contributed significantly in keeping the environment healthy by various efforts. One person who was aware of the problem of environmental pollution by the loss of trees was Sunderlal Bahuguna. He and some villagers in the northern Indian State of Uttarakhand started the movement of  Chipko Andolan   (movement of hugging of trees) to prevent a notorious timber mafia of axing large number of trees for commercial gain. His wife (whom I had the good fortune of meeting several years ago in a college of Delhi University) talked about the tremendous role of village women in this Andolan and ultimately succeeded in driving away the plunderers of forests.

Many other women in different countries are helping in maintaining the environment, especially after the Paris accord on the subject. Our Prime Minister Mr Modi has publicly committed to a healthy relationship with nature and our ecosystem by different means including the large scale application of solar energy. In fact, India and France started the   International Solar Alliance (ISA) to utilize solar energy for domestic and industrial purposes. Women have also become conscious of keeping the air clean since its pollution adversely affects the health of humanity, especially of young children.

Women are in the forefront in the area of healthcare and medicine. Nurses all over the world are usually women and one can proudly say that many nurses who are working in this area all over the world are of Indian origin. My own elder sister worked as a nurse in Delhi before immigrating to Canada as a nurse as well as a teacher of Nursing. Although she retired several years ago, occasionally even today, she dons nursing robes when required. Many doctors are also female. This is especially so in the area of gynecology.

In other areas also many women’s role is indispensable. Recently in August of this year, Dr Padmavati died in Delhi at the age of 103 years. She was a cardiologist and founder President of the All India Heart Foundation. 

Another physician and pedagogue was Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) of Italy. Apart from her interest in medicine, she initiated a unique system of education for children which is now known after her name. A Montessori system    is part of teacher education courses in many countries of the world including India. This system is popular with women partly because of Maria’s pioneering role and partly because women have to deal with small children right from birth. Interestingly, Maria named her son    Mario    who also followed his mother’s footsteps professionally.

Without being too self centred, I should refer to my own mother   Tulsi  Bhatia  who  was a teacher in Lahore (now in Pakistan). She and my father came to the region which remained in India after the Indian partition in 1947.

After many years of upheaval and penury, she opened a school called Vinni Montessori School    in a rented accommodation. The school did well and attracted large number of children in the early years of their education. The school could have flourished more if my father or someone in our family had worked in this area. The school died a natural death after my mother’s demise at the age of 95.

The area of Science and Technology has also attracted some determined women. One well known woman is Marie Curie (1867 — 1934) who was born in Poland but moved to France for academic reasons. She met Pierre Curie whom she married a few years later. The duo along with a third scientist Henri   Becquerel, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for their pioneering research in the area of radioactivity and discovery of new elements including Radium, Polonium, Indium etc which have short lifetimes because of radioactive emissions. Unfortunately Pierre died a few years later in 1906 in a road accident.

Shattered she was, but Marie continued working tirelessly and won another Nobel Prize (in 1911) but this time in Chemistry. Marie Curie is the first and only scientist who has won two Nobel prizes in different fields — Physics and Chemistry. One of her daughters   Irene also won a Nobel prize with her husband   Pierre Joliot. Another daughter   Eve — a writer. She had written a beautiful biography of her mother.

In the sphere of dance and music, several women have become prominent by their skills and voices. Who has not heard of the legendary Lata Mangeshkar who has not only rendered thousands of songs for Hindi films but also sang patriotic numbers even when Nehru was India’s PM? Her sister Asha  Bhonsle has also enriched the films by her unique voice and style.

In the realm of dance we have talented danseuses such as Shovna Narayan. There are various    Indian   gharanas (styles) of dance — Kathak, Kathakali, Bhangra  etc. Malaika Arora is a well known female dancer of India and has won some dancing competitions. Film heroines such as  HemaMalini,  Vyjayantimala   of India are popular dancers not only on the silver screen but on dance shows.

In the western countries, ballet dance is perhaps the most common among classical dancing and some popular female names are Anna Pavlova, Maiya Makhtali. Another ballet dancer   Margot Fonteyn danced beautifully in the ballet program entitled   Swan Lake. The ballet dances are beautiful to behold and many people wonder how the dancers can commit the exquisite body movements. Another popular contemporary dancer, singer, actress is the American Jennifer Lopez (born 1969) commonly called JLo.

In sports, women’s contributions are on par with that of men. Martina Navratilova and Stefani Graf were excellent tennis players and won many awards in various tennis events. Currently, the sisters   Serena and Venus Williams   of USA display unusual footwork on the tennis field. India’s Mary Kom  at the age of 37 years is an excellent boxer and also a member of Indian parliament.    P T Usha   — often called the Sprint Queen of Indian sports. Both have won several awards and competitions.

One can continue to laud the contributions of women in various spheres. I end my discourse with one recent example of bravery and fortitude of a young girl Jyoti who pedaled about 1300 km from Delhi to Bihar with her ailing father sitting behind her on her cycle. She had to undertake this long journey because of the COVID 19 infection that was responsible for thousands of labourers , including Jyoti’s father, losing their jobs.

15-year-old Gitanjali Rao has been declared the Kid of the Year for her brilliance by Time magazine and her photo appears on its cover.

There are other fields such as novel writing where women have left an indelible imprint. I will mention the name of just one French woman novelist   Francoise Sagan (1935 — 2004), who created a storm by her first novel   Bonjour Tristesse    that   was partly autobiographical and exposed the frailties of the bourgeoisie.

One can go on and on about the contributions of women in many spheres of life. But I must end here. We can rightly salute the endeavour and achievements of women — young and old, western and Asian, in the society today.

In India we often call such women   Devis — Goddesses.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.



This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Dec 2020.

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