Feisty, decisive, daring, and ready to change India’s politics?
The 2019 Lok Sabha elections are set to be a turning point in India’s history. But there will be one kingmaker or queenmaker to watch out for. Meet the first-time woman voter. Whether it is transforming their communities, working on the next big innovation, breaking conventions through music and art, or redefining the rules of business, young women from villages and small cities are achieving the unimaginable. They, and their aspirations, will change India in the next decade. And The Quint’s six-month long campaign, “Me, the Change,” presented by Facebook, tells you the stories of some such young women achievers.
Sweta Shahi: The Rugby Player from Nalanda
When Sweta Shahi was asked if she would like to play rugby, she heard the word ‘rugby’ for the first time. She trained with her father and taught herself a foreign sport by watching YouTube videos. The 19-year-old has represented India in three international championships. Overcoming struggles and objections from her family, this girl from Bhadari, a village near Nalanda in Bihar, has kept thoughts of marriage aside and is only eyeing the Olympics. Read more about her story here.
Shikha Mandi: The Santhali RJ from West Bengal
More than 170 kilometers from Kolkata lies district Jhargram. There, inside Radio Milan 90.4, 25-year-old Shikha Mandi hosts her programme ‘Johar Jhargram’ in her native tribal language, Santhali. She is India’s first RJ who hosts an entire programme in Santhali. Born to farmers in a tribal village called Belpahari, Shikha was expected to do the usual - study and get a government job. But she got an opportunity to fulfil her childhood dream of becoming a radio show host — and she took it. Read more about Shikha’s story here.
Divya Kakran: The Dangal Queen from Delhi
Asian Bronze Medallist wrestler Divya Kakran is scared of no one. The 21-year-old girl speaks her mind, does what she believes in and doesn’t hesitate to stand up to even Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whom she took on during a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi in September 2018, cajoling him for not providing her with the support she had requested. Encouraged by her father — who wanted one of his children to become a famous wrestler — it is this fearlessness that pushed her to fight boys in dangals from the age of 10. And so the ‘Dangal Queen’ was born. Read more about Divya’s story here.
Pachayammal: From a Slave to a Saviour
Pachayammal was married to Arul when she was barely sixteen years old. She married willingly, for love. But little did she know that she married into slavery. Arul was a bonded labourer, having inherited his father’s debt. For six years, Pachayammal slaved for the quarry owner, working long and hard, facing physical, verbal and sexual abuse on a daily basis. Till she was rescued, at the age of 23. She now draws from an unending well of self-confidence, to rescue those still under the throes of slavery and procure basic rights for them from the government. Read more about Pachayammal’s story here.
Anshu Rajput: The Voice Against Acid Attacks
Anshu Rajput was all of 15 years when her life took a drastic turn. As the unsuspecting teenager slept, right outside her house in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, her 55-year-old neighbour, a man whose advances she had earlier refused, jumped over the low wall between their respective houses and poured acid over her face. Despite the horrific consequences and the changed behaviour of many people around her, Anshu has never stopped living her life. She’s a brave young woman who fights for her rights and motivates others to do the same. Read more about Anshu’s story here.
Sneha Verma: The Gold Medalist with Down Syndrome
Sneha Verma, from Kharghar in Mumbai, was born with Down Syndrome. Sneha was always a water baby and was introduced to swimming at a very early age. But it wasn’t that easy for Sneha to pick up even the basic skills like breathing or manoeuvring underwater. Yet, defying the odds, she represented India at the Special Olympics Games in Los Angeles in 2015, winning a gold in 50m freestyle aquatics. Prevented from swimming now due to a medical issue, Sneha is busy focussing her energies on dance and table tennis. Read more about Sneha’s story here.
Deshna Jain: The Deaf Queen of the Ramp
Deshna Jain grew up in a small town called Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh. Deshna had never thought she would become a model. But when she came to Indore for higher studies, people told her she should try modelling. After being told about a beauty pageant, she competed in it — and despite being deaf, she emerged the winner. Deshna then went on to hit headlines by becoming Miss Deaf Asia, 2018. The 21-year-old girl had earlier won the Miss India title where she competed against 80 contestants from 20 states. Read more about Deshna’s story here.
Mariam Rauf: A Warrior Against Child Sexual Abuse
At the age of 19, Mariam Rauf had a sudden surge of suppressed memories, painfully making her recall the trauma of sexual abuse by three different men. Mariam then confronted her abusers. Now, 22, Mariam is a Personal Safety Educator. Apart from sex education, she also teaches students about body safety. She has also started a petition on Change.org addressed to Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KeSCPCR) and Education Minister C Raveendranath, asking for Personal Safety Education (PSE) to be made compulsory in all government schools in Kerala. Read more about Mariam’s story here.
Sangeeta Gharu: The Model Who Dares to be Dark
Are we obsessed with being ‘gora’ or fair? Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is ‘yes’. But 23-year-old model Sangeeta Gharu was not ready to accept this bias. She says she’s perfectly okay with her skin colour and wants others to be comfortable as well, especially those who work in the Indian fashion industry. She likes to call herself “dark and deadly.” Fighting a conservative family and the impediments that her dark complexion brought, Gharu today is a successful model based out of Delhi and has walked the ramp for over 30 fashion labels. Read her full story here.
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