Great Indian Women

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There are so many women in India who worked for the cause of education and social reforms. However, they are not known to the society due to various reasons. Here, the effort has been made to highlight such great personalities.

Pandita Ramabai

Pandita Ramabai

Pandita Ramabai (23 April 1858-5 April 1922) was born in Canara dist. of madras presidency (now in Karnataka). Her father Anant Shastri was an intellectual Brahmin and mother was Lakshmibai. Against the prevailing Hindu traditions, her father decided to educate her. By the age of 12 Ramabai had memorized 18000 Verses from Puranas, besides Sanskrit She learned the Marathi, Kanarese, Hindi and Bengali. In 1880, Ramabai married with Bipi Behari Medhavi, who was from lower cast. They had a daughter named Mano. In 1883, Ramabai received a scholarship to train as a teacher in England. There she converted to Christianity.

Work for women

After her husband’s death in 1882, she moved to Pune and founded "Arya Mahila Samaj". The purpose was to promote the causes of women education and deliverance from the oppression of child marriage. In 1889, she established the "Mukti Mission" in Pune, as a refuge and gospel witness for young widows deserted and abused by their families.

She was also established "Kripa Sadan", a home for fallen women who had been cast out and started "Sharda Sadan" Which provided housing, education, vocational training and medical services for many needy groups including widows, orphans and blinds too.

The Pandita Ramabai Mukti mission is still active today providing facilities to needier.

Awards and Honours

  1. 'Pandit' and 'Sarswati: At Bengal recognizing her skill in Sanskrit.
  2. "Kaisar-i-hind" medal for community service in 1919.
  3. She is honoured with a "feast day" on liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA).
  4. In 1989, due to her contribution to the advancement of women, govt. of India issued a commemorative stamp.

Nawab Begum Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan

Nawab Begum Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan

Nawab Begum Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan (9 July 1858 – 12 May 1930) was a notable and progressive Begum of Bhopal who ruled from 1901 to 1926.

Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan (here Sultan is a name, not a title) was born at Bhopal as the elder and only surviving child of Nawab Begum Sultan Shah Jahan and her husband General HH Nasir ud-Daula, Nawab Baqi Muhammad Khan Bahadur (1823–1867). In 1868, she was proclaimed heir apparent to the Bhopal musnaid following the death of her grandmother, Sikander Begum and her mother's succession to the throne. In 1901, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan succeeded her mother at her death, becoming Nawab Begum of Dar-ul-Iqbal-i-Bhopal.

A great reformer in the tradition of her mother and grandmother, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan founded several important educational institutions in Bhopal, establishing free and compulsory primary education in 1918. During her reign, she had a particular focus on public instruction, especially female education. She built many technical institutes and schools and increased the number of qualified teachers. From 1920 until her death, she was the founding Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Even till today, she is the only lady Chancellor ever served for Aligarh Muslim University.

Begum Sultan Jahan paid attention to women education and supported Mohammad Girls School of Aligarh started by Sheikh Abdullah (Papa Min). The management of Girls school was looking for an acceptable curriculum but due to lack of funds were a major roadblock. H.H. Begum Sultan Jahan paid special attention and donated generously to develop a proper curriculum for women education. She took personal interest and developed an outline of curriculum and presented it in her Presidential address of the women education session of the annual Muslim Educational Conference on 5th December 1911. She proposed the idea of Home science in the curricula of women education to make it more attractive for majority of the community. In her visit to Aligarh in 1915, she inaugurated the Girls School building laid the foundation stone for girl’s hostel.

Not just a reformer in the field of education, the Nawab Begum reformed taxation, the army, police, the judiciary and the jails, expanded agriculture, and constructed extensive irrigation and public works in the state. In addition, she established an Executive and Legislative State Council in 1922 and began open elections for the municipalities.

In 1914, she was the President of the All-India Muslim Ladies' Association. Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan's primary legacy, though, was in the field of public health, as she pioneered widespread inoculation and vaccination programs and improved the water supply and standards of hygiene and sanitation. A prolific author, she wrote several books on education, health and other topics, including Hidayat uz-Zaujan, Sabil ul-Jinan, Tandurusti (Health), Bachchon-ki-Parwarish, Hidayat Timardari, Maishat-o-Moashirat. Owing to her numerous activities, she was the recipient of numerous honours and awards. In 1926, after a reign of 25 years, Sultan Kaikhusrau Jahan abdicated the throne in favour of her youngest child and only surviving son, Hamidullah Khan. She died four years later, aged 71.

Durgabai Deshmukh

Durgabai Deshmukh

Durgabai Deshmukh (15 July 1909-9 May 1981) was born in Rajahmundry. She participated in the Non-Co-operation Movement when she was hardly twelve years of age. After the suspension of the Non Co-operation Movement, she propagated the ideals of Gandhiji in the villages around Rajahmundry and Kakinada, by establishing schools to give training to women in spinning and weaving.

Along with Andhra Kesari T. Prakasam she participated in the Salt Satyagraha movement in Madras city in May 1930. She was imprisoned in 1930 and again in 1932. In spite of her active participation in the national struggle, Durgabai found time to take the M.A. and B.L. degrees. From 1935 till her death she devoted her entire energy to the welfare of women and children.

In 1936 she established Andhra Mahila Sabha mainly, to coach young Telugu girls of Madras city to appear for the Matriculation examination of the Banaras Hindu University. From such a humble beginning Andhra Mahila Sabha became within a decade a great institution of education and social welfare in the city of Madras. She had the unique capacity to get funds for the institution from both the rich and the poor alike. Andhra Mahila Sabha trained women in various activities like nursing, journalism, and teaching. Durgabai founded and edited a monthly journal in Telugu called Andhra Mahila. The activities of Andhra Mahila Sabha attracted the attention of Pandit Nehru who wanted to utilize the services of Durgabai at the national level.

At the national level Durgabai’s services were utilized fully. She was the Chairwoman of a number of central organizations like, Central Social Welfare Board, National Council for Women’s Education and National Committee on girls’ and women’s education. She was a Member of Parliament and Planning Commission. She was also associated with the Andhra Educational Society, New Delhi.

After the formation of Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Mahila Sabha extended its activities to Hyderabad city. At Hyderabad, Andhra Mahila Sabha, besides running a number of educational institutions including a college, opened many welfare institutions for women and children.

Durgabai was awarded the fourth Nehru Literary Award in 1971 for her outstanding contribution to the promotion of literacy in India. In 1975, she was awarded ‘Padma Vibhushan.’

Savitribai Phule

Life Sketch of Savitribai Phule

सावित्रीबाई फुले (3 जनवरी 1831-10 मार्च 1897) के पिता का नाम खन्दोजी नेवसे और माता का नाम लक्ष्मी था। सावित्रीबाई फुले का विवाह 1840 में ज्योतिबा फुले से हुआ था।

सावित्रीबाई फुले भारत के पहले बालिका विद्यालय की पहली प्रिंसिपल थीं। सावित्रीबाई फुले भारत की पहली महिला शिक्षिका थीं! लोगों की गालियाँ, समाज के ताने-धमकियां और पत्थर सहकर भी वो महिलाओं की शिक्षा के लिए प्रतिबद्ध थीं! अछूत लड़कियों के लिए देश में पहला स्कूल खोला इन्होंने! स्त्रियों की आज़ादी और स्वाभिमान के लिए इन्होने अपना पूरा जीवन लगा दिया! विधवा विवाह के लिए संघर्ष हो, महिलाओं के लिए हॉस्पिटल खोलने की बात हो या फिर पीने के लिए अपने आंगन के कुएं को सबके लिए खोल देने की बात हो या फिर प्लेग जैसी महामारी से लोगों को बचाने के लिए पूरे परिवार सहित जी जान से जुटना और अंततः उसी प्लेग संक्रमण से अपनी जान दे देना......ये सब उस दकियानूस, अन्धविश्वासी, स्त्रीविरोधी ज़माने में किया जाना मानव सेवा की अद्वितीय मिसाल है!

आज भी सावित्रीबाई करोड़ों भारतीयों ख़ासकर दलितों, अछूतों और महिलाओं के लिए एक प्रेरणा हैं, संबल हैं! 1848 में पुणे में अपने पति के साथ मिलकर विभिन्न जातियों की नौ छात्राओं के साथ उन्होंने एक विद्यालय की स्थापना की। एक वर्ष में सावित्रीबाई और महात्मा फुले पाँच नये विद्यालय खोलने में सफल हुए। तत्कालीन सरकार ने इन्हे सम्मानित भी किया। एक महिला प्रिंसिपल के लिये सन् 1848 में बालिका विद्यालय चलाना कितना मुश्किल रहा होगा, इसकी कल्पना शायद आज भी नहीं की जा सकती। लड़कियों की शिक्षा पर उस समय सामाजिक पाबंदी थी। सावित्रीबाई फुले उस दौर में न सिर्फ खुद पढ़ीं, बल्कि दूसरी लड़कियों के पढ़ने का भी बंदोबस्त किया, वह भी पुणे जैसे शहर में।

19 वीं शताब्दी में, महाराष्ट्र के हिंदू समाज में बाल विवाह की प्रथा थी। चूंकि मृत्यु दर ऊंचे थे, कई युवा लडकिया अक्सर परिपक्वता प्राप्त करने से पहले ही विधवा हो जाती थी। उस समय की सामाजिक और सांस्कृतिक प्रथाओं के कारण, विधवा पुनर्विवाह का सवाल ही नहीं था और इसलिए युवा विधवाओं का भविष्य अंधकारमय था। 1881 के कोल्हापुर गैज़ेट में दर्ज है कि उस समय विधवाओं के सिर की हजामत (केशवपन) की जाती थी और सरल लाल साड़ी पहननी पड़ती थी। उन्हें बिना ख़ुशी के बहुत ही कठोर जीवन व्यतीत करना पड़ता था । सावित्रीबाई और ज्योतिबा इन लड़कियों की दुर्दशा से व्यथित थे। इसलिए उन्होंने केशवपन प्रथा के खिलाफ नाइयों में जागरूकता लाने हेतु नाईयो के खिलाफ एक हड़ताल का आयोजन किया।

ये असहाय महिलाये इस व्यवस्था को नकारने के हालत में ना होने के कारन अक्सर विस्तारित परिवार के पुरुष सदस्यों द्वारा बलात्कार सहित अन्य यौन शोषणों का आसानी से शिकार हो जाती थी। समाज द्वारा बहिष्कृत होने के भय से अक्सर गर्भवती विधवा महिलाये आत्महत्या या नवजात शिशु की हत्या करने के लिए मजबूर होती। एक बार ज्योतिबा ने ऐसी ही एक महिला को आत्महत्या करने से रोका और उससे वादा किया की उसके बच्चे को वे अपना नाम देंगे। सावित्रीबाई ने उसे अपने घर में स्वीकार कर उसके बच्चे को दुनिया में लाने में उसकी मदत की। सावित्रीबाई और ज्योतिबा ने उस बच्चे को गोद लिया और उसे यशवंतराव नाम दिया। वह बड़ा होकर डॉक्टर बना। इस तरह गर्भवती बलात्कार पीड़ितों के देखभाल और उनके बच्चों को जन्म देने के लिए "बालहत्या प्रतिबंधक गृह" (शिशु हत्या निषेध घर) की स्थापना की गई।

10 मार्च 1897 को प्लेग के कारण सावित्रीबाई फुले का निधन हो गया। प्लेग महामारी में सावित्रीबाई प्लेग के मरीज़ों की सेवा करती थीं। एक प्लेग के छूत से प्रभावित बच्चे की सेवा करने के कारण इनको भी छूत लग गया। और इसी कारण से उनकी मृत्यु हुई। सावित्रीबाई फुले पहली दलित महिला, वास्तव में पहली महिला थी जिनकी कविताओं पर पहली बार ब्रिटिश साम्राज्य का ध्यान आकर्षित हुआ। सावित्रीबाई फुले आधुनिक कविता की जननी थी जिन्होंने अपनी कविताओं के माध्यम से अंग्रेजी और शिक्षा की आवश्यकता पर जोर दिया। उनके प्रसिद्ध काव्यसंग्रह "काव्य फुले" से एक कविता यहाँ प्रस्तुत है-

Go, Get Education

Be self-reliant, be industrious

Work—gather wisdom and riches,

All gets lost without knowledge

We become animal without wisdom,

Sit idle no more, go, get education

End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,

You’ve got a golden chance to learn

So learn and break the chains of caste.

Throw away the Brahman’s scriptures fast.

सावित्रीबाई फुले की अन्य कविताये यहाँ पढ़ी जा सकती है।


  1. मरणोपरांत उनकी कविताओं की दो पुस्तकें, काव्य फुले (1934) और बावन काशी सुबोध रत्नाकर (1982) प्रकाशित की गई।
  2. महाराष्ट्र सरकार ने महिला समाज सुधारकों की पहचान करने के लिए उनके नाम एक पुरस्कार की स्थापना की है।
  3. 2015 में, पुणे विश्वविद्यालय का नामांकरण उनके सम्मान में सावित्रीबाई फुले पुणे विश्वविद्यालय किया गया।
  4. 10 मार्च 1998 के एक डाक टिकट उनके सम्मान में भारतीय डाक द्वारा जारी किया गया।
  5. 20 मार्च 2015, हिंगोली, महाराष्ट्र से कांग्रेस पार्टी के सांसद राजीव सातव ने भारतीय संसद में सावित्रीबाई और उनके पति ज्योतिबा फुले के लिए भारत रत्न पुरस्कार की मांग की।

Begum Zafar Ali

Begum Zafar Ali

Begum Zafar Ali (1900–1999) was the first Woman Matriculate of Kashmir (1930). She was an Educationist, women's liberation activist, Social Worker and a Legislator. Born in 1900, as Syyeda Fatima Hussain, she was the daughter of Khan Bahadur Aga Syed Hussain the first matriculate of Kashmir, later Governor, Judge of the First High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, and Home and Judicial Minister during Maharaja Rule. Her mother Syyeda Sakina Sadaat belonged to a Sayyid family of Sabzevar Iran, which was an affluent Business family in Kashmir and had houses both in Kashmir and Calcutta. Begum Zafar Ali (Fatima) was the eldest among the three children of Khan Bahadur Aga Syed Hussain.

By 1938, Begum Zafar Ali had completed her Graduation and was receiving the requisite training in post graduation course. She was now appointed as a head Mistress and served as Head Mistress of various Schools in Different Districts of the Valley. She started the movement for Women's emancipation. She would go door-to-door convincing people the merits of girl education. She would encourage girls in her School to seek education and become empowered. Begum Zafar Ali was later appointed as Inspector of Schools in Kashmir. During her administrative tenure, she continued her task of emancipation of women and continued to teach in Schools. She would deliver lectures in Colleges and Social gatherings, which made her famous especially amongst the girls. She became a source of inspiration and many girls followed her footsteps. She was instrumental in laying the foundation of the Teachers Club and used to organise its events and address public gatherings. She was one of the key members who founded the ladies Club along with Tara Devi, the Maharani of Kashmir. This club worked for the benefit and emancipation of Women in the State. She was the General Secretary of the Ladies Club. Begum Zafar Ali was also the Secretary of All India Women's Conference before 1947. Begum Zafar Ali served in various capacities in the department of Education, including Principal of various Schools, Education Officer, Chief Education Officer, Chief Inspectress Schools, Kashmir. In that capacity, she introduced the mid-day meal in Schools. During the later years of her career Begum Zafar Ali was appointed as Deputy Director Education Kashmir, Director Women Education J&K, She was also a member of the Social Welfare Advisory Board, Jammu and Kashmir. In the capacity of Deputy Chairman of the Advisory Board Begum Zafar Ali established a centre for technical training for illiterate girls in Chattabal area of Srinagar. Begum Zafar Ali was later a Member of the Legislative Assembly (1977-1982) and played an important role in bringing reforms in education, Women emancipation and other social issues.

In 1987, Begum Zafar Ali was awarded Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India for her outstanding contribution in the field of Social Work. Later she went on Doordarshan to return the award in protest against the neglectful and harsh policies of the Government. Syyeda Fatima as she was known before her marriage, was brought up in an aristocratic, highly conservative Islamic setting where Purdah was an essential part of a woman's life. However, the family always gave preference to women education in the house. She received religious and moral education in the early years of her life. Her parents played an instrumental role in the education of their children. She was provided with the best available education. She received formal education at home. A Home Governess who usually was a European Christian would teach her. For the religious education, there was a separate tutor for the siblings. This way she remained in touch with both the formal and religious education. Besides formal education at home, the Home Governess would teach and train Syyeda Fatima in Housekeeping, Home science training, health education, Society, family and children care.

During this time, she was married to her cousin Agha Zafar Ali Qazalbaash. Begum Zafar Ali had three children. As a mother of three children, she had to devote considerable time to her children. However, she managed to spare sufficient time for her education and continued to receive education and training. In 1925, she was invited to join as a teacher at the girls School run by Miss Mallinson and Miss Bose in Fateh Kadal area of Srinagar. At first, she was hesitant but later decided to join. She also began taking classes with her children from their home tutor. She would therefore study with her children. Eventually she gained a good hold on the subjects and taught for the next 5 years. During this time, she started social service. At the personal level, she would provide clothes to the poor girls of the school, comb their hair, stitch their clothes, and look after their hygiene. Through the good offices of her father, grants were sanctioned for the schools. An extra sum of rupees 10 was sanctioned for the maintenance of girls every month besides meals. She would encourage girls, even the elderly women to seek education and would teach them personally. Seeing her progress in studies she was suggested by her children's' private tutor that she should appear for the matriculation examination since she had a five-year experience of teaching girl students of 10th class. At first, she was hesitant since no Kashmiri woman in the state so far had been able to pass the matriculation exams. All the senior female teachers in Kashmir were either eighth pass outs or under Matric. Finally, she decided to appear for the examinations in 1930. Out of all the girls, appearing in the examination Begum Zaffar Ali passed successfully in Second Division. Since she was the first Kashmiri Woman to pass the Matriculation, she was awarded Gold Medal for the Success. From now on there was no looking back. She became a strong advocate of woman education and empowerment. By now, she had joined the department of Education as a full-fledged teacher.

Begum Zafar Ali died in 1999 at the age of 99 at the residence of her son Agha Shaukat Ali in the United States of America.

Savita Behen

Savita Behan (23 January 1919-10 March 2009) was an Indian politician, social worker, educationist and a former member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the bicameral Indian Parliament. She was known to be an advocate of women empowerment and gender equality and was listed among the 3300 distinguished living women of the world by the Council for Parity Democracy in 1990. She was honoured by the Government of India in 1971 with Padma Shri, the fourth highest Indian civilian award.

Savita Behen was born on 23 January 1919 at Rohtas in Jhelum district in the erstwhile British India, presently in Pakistan. She did her college studies at the Government College, Lahore and P. L. College, Shimla. Joining the Indian freedom struggle at a young age, she became active in social work. She founded Women Sevika Dal in 1944 and later, established Harijan Adult Education Centre and Tailoring and Industrial Centres for women in Delhi. She also founded three schools for Harijan and Dalit children.

Savita Behen was the chairperson of the Refugee Widow Protection Committee and was instrumental in the establishment of two industrial and education centres for the refugee women. She held the presidency of the All India Women's Council, the Women's Welfare Association of Delhi and the Super Bazar Cooperative Stores Limited, New Delhi and was the first woman vice president of the Delhi Municipal Committee, a post she held from 1956 to 1957. She served the Punjab Legislative Council, the predecessor of the Punjab Legislative Assembly from 1962 to 1966. She was elected to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament in 1972, representing Delhi and served the house till 1978. She was one of the 15 nominated members of the Joint Committee of Indian Parliament set up by Indian parliament for the establishment of the Central Council of Homeopathy.

Savita Behen was the zonal coordinator for Business and Industry Wing of the Rajyoga Education and Research Foundation of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University for the region of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was awarded the civilian honour of Padma Shri in 1971 by the Government of India. She died on 10 March 2009 at the age of 90.

Mary Braganza

Mary Braganza

Mary Braganza, popularly known as Karuna Mary, is an Indian Catholic nun, educationist, social worker, writer, a promoter of developmental education and a former Principal of Sophia College, Mumbai. The Government of India awarded her the fourth highest civilian honour of the Padma Shri, in 2008, for her contributions to society.

Childhood and early life

Braganza, née Mary, was born in Mapuca in the Indian state of Goa as the fifth of the 10 children in the family, but grew up in Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai. She graduated from the St. Xavier's College, Mumbai and secured her postgraduate degree from the same institution; her social activities had already started during her college days when she organized mission camps in Talasari. She joined the Society of the Sacred Heart as a nun in 1950, her ordination-taking place in England. Returning to India, she took up the job of a teacher at Sophia High School, Bengaluru and, after working there for a few years, joined Sophia College, Mumbai as a member of faculty of the English department. She rose in ranks there, to serve as the Head of the department of English, vice principal and became the principal of the college in 1965, the first Indian to hold the position.

Contributions to Education

During her tenure as the principal of the college, she is reported to have initiated several educational and social projects. She founded Bhabha Institute of Science, a division of the college for science education up to graduate level and started new departments for Sociology, Psychology and Biochemistry. In 1970, the college started a vocational education centre under the name, Sophia Polytechnic and five years later, a junior college stated functioning. Another of her major contributions was the establishment of S.P.J. Sadhana School for the Developmentally Challenged, in the college campus, where differently abled children were given vocational training and provided with opportunities for rehabilitation. She is also known to have encouraged students to take up social activities; student involvement with Warli tribals and at Kosbad were two such programmes.

Post retirement: the work must go on

After retiring from Sophia College, Braganza moved to Delhi and took up the post of the Secretary of the All India Association for Christian Higher Education, holding the responsibility of 204 colleges under its jurisdiction. She served the Association for six years till her move to Torpa, a tribal area in the present day Jharkhand state, in 1998, as a teacher of English language at the St. Joseph’s College. Learning the local dialect of Mundari, she worked among the tribal people and founded the Centre for Women’s Development (CWD) and a women's self-help group in 1990. The movement, later, grew to host 5000 members. Her efforts have been reported behind the establishment of an English medium school, crèche, children's play school, and a girls' hostel. She was also instrumental in the documentation of indigenous herbs of the area. During this period, she had to face resistance from some of the dissenting locals who alleged conversion, and survived an attack by local thugs.

In 2000, Braganza went back to Mumbai where he revived the Alumni Association of Sophia College and got involved with their activities as the director of the association for five years. She was also involved in rural programmes of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault (SCESA) such as rainwater harvesting in Mangaon in the Raigad district of Maharashtra. In 2005, when Zainab Tobaccowala Secular High School, a local school, was devastated by the floods, she took up the cause and generated funds for the reconstruction and assisted in the re-establishment of the school by helping to hire competent teachers. Her involvement is also reported in the establishment of Sophia Center for Women's Studies, division for vocational studies at Sophia College, and in the relocation and rebuilding of St Mary’s Convent School, Matara, a Tsunami-affected school in Sri Lanka. A periodic writer on developmental education, she has served as the editor of the newsletter published by the Indian Association for Women's Studies (IAWS), where she regularly contributed editorial articles.

The Government of India awarded her the civilian honour of the Padma Shri in 2008. Braganza, a life member of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), lives her retired life in Pune since 2006. Her life has been documented in a 396-page book, The Charism of Karuna - Life Story of Sister Karuna Mary Braganza, published in 2011.

Pandita Brahmacharini Chandabai

Pandita Brahmacharini Chandabai (1880–1977) was a Jain scholar and a pioneer of women's education in India. She was the founder of the oldest women's publication in India that is still published, Jain Mahiladarsh.


The daughter of Narayandas Agrwal of Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, a prominent citizen and a proponent of Indian's independence, she was married at the age of 11 to Dharmakumar, the 18-year-old grandson of the zamindar and scholar Prabhudas Jain of Arrah. Dharmakumar died the next year. His older brother, Devkumar Jain, himself a Jain scholar, encourage Chandabai to study, which was uncommon in that period.


Chandabai studied the classical subjects including Sanskrit, Prakrit, dharmaśāstra, nyāya (logic), literature and grammar. She earned the title "pandita" from Kashi. She was a good orator; she gave her first speech at Panipat during a Panch-kalyanak Pratishtha at the age of 17.

She established a school for girls in 1907, which came to be known as the Jain Balasharm in 1921. Dr. Nemichandra Jyotishacharya, who later emerged as a major Jain scholar, was appointed by her to be the director of the Balasharm in 1939. During the interview, she asked him questions on Sanskrit and Prakrit texts such as Devagama Stotra, Atmanushasana, and Gommatsar Jivakanda.

She often herself served sick students at the Balashrama. She nursed a girl sick with typhoid in 1943, who eventually got better and later earned the Nyayatirtha degree. She started a magazine, Jain Mahiladarsh, in 1921 and edited it for many years. She wrote several books including Updesh Ratna Mala, Saubhagya Ratna Mala, Nibandh Ratna Mala, Adarsh Kahaniyan, Adarsh Nibandh, and Nibandh Darpan.


Vidya Gauri Nilkanth

Vidya Gauri Nilkanth (1876-1958) was a social reformer, educationist and writer. She was one of the first two women graduates in Gujarat. Her daughter Vinodinee Naalkanth (q.v.) also became a writer. Vidya Gauri was born on 1 June 1876 in Ahmedabad. She was the daughter of Gopilal Dhruva, a petty judicial officer, and Balaben. Her father was posted to various small towns in Gujarat while the family stayed in Ahmedabad so that the two girls, Vidya Gauri and Sharda, could go to school. Vidya Gauri studied till class VII at a school in Ahmedabad, then, finding nowhere else to continue their education, she and her sister joined the Anglo-Vernacular classes at the Mahalakshmi Teachers Training College. While still in school, Vidya Gauri was married to Ramanbhai, nine years older than her. Together they wrote articles and books and jointly edited a magazine, Jnansudha. She took the Matriculation examination and then, three years later, was admitted to the Gujarat College. Vidya Gauri stood first in Logic in the Intermediate Arts Examination of Bombay University, and then took eight years to complete a BA in moral philosophy and logic. She came first in the entire University in 1901 and was awarded a fellowship in Gujarat College. She and her sister, Sharda Mehta, thus became the first two Gujarati women graduates.

Vidya Gauri became a member of the Ladies Club, Ahmedabad, which had Hindu, Parsi, Muslim and Christian members. This brought her into the public arena. When the Indian National Congress Annual Session was held in Ahmedabad, she and her sister sang ‘Vande Mataram’ from the dias. She started tailoring classes for poor Muslim women with support from the National Indian Association. She also organized adult education classes and various activities for the War Relief Fund during World War I, for which she was made an MBE (Member of the British Empire) and awarded the Star of India. She returned this award when Gandhiji was arrested during the Salt Satyagraha. She started the Ahmedabad Branch of the All India Women`s Conference. She was an active member and President of this Branch for many years and presided over the Lucknow session of the AIWC. She was associated with numerous educational institutions such as the Maganbhai Karamchand Girls’ High School, the Diwalibai Girls’ School, Ranchhodhal Chhotalal Girls’ High School and the Vanita Vishrams, which provided secondary education to women who were widows or dropouts from school because of marriage.

In Ahmedabad, she founded the Lalshanker Umia Shanker Mahila Pathshala, which was later affiliated to SNDT (Karve) University. She taught English, Psychology and Philosophy in this college. She was Honorary Secretary and then President of the Mahipatram Rupram Anath Ashram, an orphanage named after her father-in-law. She was also member of Victoria Jubilee Hospital, Ranchodhlal Chhotalal Dispensary and various other charitable and philanthropic organizations. She presided over the 15th session of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. She was a prolific writer and contributed to women’s magazines such as Gunsundari, Streebodh, Sharda, etc. With her sister, she translated R.C. Dutt’s The Lake of Palms.


Gail Omvedt

Gail Omvedt (Born- 2 August 1941) is an American-born Indian scholar, sociologist and human rights activist. She is a prolific writer and has published numerous books on the anti-caste movement, Dalit politics, and women's struggles in India. Omvedt has been involved in Dalit and anti-caste movements, environmental, farmers' and women's movements, especially with rural women.

Gail Omvedt

Omvedt's dissertation was titled Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The Non-Brahman Movement in Western India, 1873-1930. Omvedt's academic writing includes numerous books and articles on class, caste and gender issues. Besides having undertaken many research projects, Dr Omvedt has been a consultant for FAO, UNDP and NOVIB and has served as a Dr Ambedkar Chair Professor at NISWASS in Orissa, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Pune and an Asian Guest Professor at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen. She was a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Research Director of the Krantivir Trust.

Personal life

Gail Omvedt was born in Minneapolis, and studied at Carleton College and at UC Berkeley where she earned her PhD in sociology in 1973. She has been an Indian citizen since 1983. She currently lives in rural India in a town in Maharashtra called Kasegaon with her husband, Bharat Patankar, her mother-in-law Indumati Patankar and cousins.


She has worked actively with social movements in India, including the Dalit and anti-caste movements, environmental movements, farmers’ movements and especially with rural women. She has been active in Shramik Mukti Dal, Stri Mukti Sangarsh Chalval which works on issues of abandoned women in Sangli and Satara districts of southern Maharashtra, and the Shetkari Mahila Aghadi, which works on issues of women’s land rights and political power.


She was born in Minneapolis, and studied at Carleton College, and at UC Berkeley where she earned her PhD in sociology in 1973. She has been an Indian citizen since 1983.

In recent years she has been working as a consulting sociologist on gender, environment and rural development, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Oxfam Novib (NOVIB) and other institutions. She has been a consultant for UN agencies and NGOs, has served as a Dr. Ambedkar Chair Professor at NISWASS in Orissa, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Pune, as Asian Guest Professor at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen and as a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. She has been a Visiting Professor and Coordinator, School of Social Justice, University of Pune and a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Gail Omvedt is a former Chair Professor for the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Chair of Social Change and Development at IGNOU.


Omvedt's dissertation was on Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The NonBrahman Movement in Western India, 1873-1930 (reprint of 1976 book) (New Delhi, Manohar, 2011). Omvedt's academic writing includes numerous books and articles on class, caste and gender issues, most notably:

  • Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The NonBrahman Movement in Maharashtra" (Scientific Socialist Education Trust, 1966)
  • We Shall Smash This Prison: Indian Women in Struggle (1979)
  • "We Will Smash This Prison!.: Indian Women in Struggle " (Zed, 1980)
  • "Violence Against Women: New Movements And New Theories In India" (Kali for Women, 1991)
  • Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements in India (M.E. Sharpe, 1993)
  • Gender and Technology: Emerging Asian Visions (1994)
  • Dalits And The Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar And The Dalit Movement In Colonial India " (Sage India, 1994)
  • Dalit Visions: the Anticaste movement and Indian Cultural Identity (Orient Longman, 1995)
  • Growing Up Untouchable: A Dalit Autobiography (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000)
  • Buddhism in India : Challenging Brahmanism and Caste (SageIndia, 2003)
  • "Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India " (Penguin, 2005)
  • Seeking Begumpura: The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals (New Delhi, Navayana, 2009)
  • "Understanding Caste: From Buddha To Ambedkar And Beyond" (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2011)
  • Songs of Tukoba with Bharat Patankar she has published (translations)" (Manohar, 2012)
  • Jotirao Phule and the Ideology of Social Revolution in India


  • BA received Magna Cum Laude, with Distinction in Senior Comprehensive Examinations
  • PhD qualifying examinations passed with Distinction
  • Honorary Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, 1964-65
  • Fulbright Fellowship as Tutor in English in India, June 1963-March 1964
  • University of California Graduate Fellowships, l964-65, l965-66
  • American Institute of Indian Studies, Junior Fellowship for PhD research in India on “The NonBrahman Movement in Maharashtra,” January–December 1971
  • American Association of University Women, Fellowship for research on “Women’s Movement in India,” January–December 1975
  • Savitribai Phule Puraskar, Padmashri Kavivarya Narayan Surve Sarvajanik Vacanalay, Nashik, 2002
  • Dr. Ambedkar Chetna Award, Manavwadi Rachna Manch Punjab, August, 2003
  • ABP Majha Sanman Purskar, 2012
  • Vitthal Ramji Shinde Award, April 2015


Anutai Wagh

Anutai Wagh

Anutai Wagh born on March 17, 1910. She was married at the age of 13 and became a child widow 6 months later and returned to her parents' home. After passing the Vernacular Final (VII Std) examination, she took up primary teacher's training in Pune. In the final examination, she obtained a first class. She then served as a teacher for 3 years in villages, after which she joined the famous Hujur Paga School in Pune. While teaching there, she joined a Night School and passed matric in 1937. Later in 1950, she graduated from the S.N.D.T. Women's University. For many years she had to support and educate her younger brother and sister. Anutai bore the burden of this domestic responsibility with cheer, but as the years went by, she longed to devote herself to social work in a rural area.

Anutai Wagh receiving JBF award in 1985

The turning point in Anutai's life came in 1945 when she met the late Mrs Tarabai Modak in a training camp for women village workers organized by Kasturba Memorial Trust at Borivli (Bombay). Tarabai was planning to start an experimental pre-primary school in a rural area, Bordi, in Dahanu Taluka. She asked Anutai whether she would like to join the proposed school and the latter readily agreed.

So began an educational partnership between the two women which was to last till Tarabai's death in 1973. The Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra (G.B.S.K.) started by both of them at Bordi in 1945, and moved to its present setting at Kosbad Hill in the heart of the tribal area in 1957, became a fountainhead of new ideas, exploratory ventures, experiments and innovations in education, all closely related to the needs and problems of the children of the most under-privileged sections of society. Today Anutai is Director if G.B.S.K. and Secretary of the parent body, the Nutan Bal Shikshan Sangh, and guides the host of educational activities which have been started at Kosbad.

The new concepts of Balvadi, Anganwadi and Kuran Shala (Meadow School) born out of her continuous thought and applied work in the tribal areas of Thane District, have been recognized as innovative and useful concepts in the history of education in this country. Her efforts to produce educational aids out of the indigenous material available in rural areas, has certainly revolutionized the pre-school learning methods in the country, and has provided a model to the other developing countries also.

Tarabai and Anutai had to confront the challenge posed by the indifference and apathy of tribal people towards education. But by dint of sustained work, patience and determination, they overcame this hurdle and laid the foundation of a system of education which was perfectly attuned to the needs, habits and culture of the Adivasis. Their success has been acclaimed by one and all.

Today a wide range of visitors, eminent educationists in India and other countries, representatives from UNICEF and UNESCO and a variety of professionals interested in reforming education make a pilgrimage to Kosbad and return with a sense of fulfillment, having seen something new, dynamic and full of life.

In addition to her responsibility as the Director of Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra, Anutai has also been the President of another registered voluntary organization called “Thane District Stree Shakti Jagruti Samiti” since 1977. The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave, inspired her to take up the cause of women. She felt that an immeasurable spiritual strength lies hidden in women which, if released at the appropriate time, could profoundly influence the world beneficially. She felt that all possible efforts should be made to awaken the women community and make them realize that they must face and fight with courage the injustices, tyrannies and humiliations inflicted on them by society.

Under the auspices of this new organization, she has started many activities for the welfare of women and children. Many Mahila Melawas (Gatherings) have been organized where importance of Family Welfare Programmes, Health and Hygiene, Child Care, Nutrition, Cottage Industries, Evil Effects of Superstitions, and Social Education is brought home to the women through various methods of community contact. Some crèches have also been started in tribal hamlets for children of working women.

In June 1980 she started a school for the Dumb and Deaf poor children. She devotes a lot of time of her daily routine to the work of this organization.

She is the editor of a Marathi Magazine “Shikshan Patrika” in which very useful literature for children, teachers and parents is regularly published.

Under the auspices of Stree Shakti Jagriti Samity, she started another monthly titled “Savitri” in 1981, when she received the first Award instituted by the Maharashtra State in memory of late Savitribai Phule. In this monthly, devoted to the problems and activities of the women community, Anutai gives details of the living and dead, who had done outstanding work for the welfare of the community.

A number of young girls and middle aged women, faced with some domestic or social crisis or problem came to Anutai to seek solution to their problems, Anutai takes them into confidence, understands their mind, shares their sufferings and anxieties and discusses with them in detail and shows them a convincing and logical solution.

Anutai, in (1983), started a totally new project called "Gram-Mangal", at Dabhon, a remote village. Dabhon is a typically tribal area, inhabited by Warlis, who are the most backward among the tribals. No other social work agency has penetrated into this are so far. Anutai selected the place for trying out her experiment of a Free School a school with no building and syllabus and the subjects taught would be those arising out of activities, which aim at all-sided development of the Walis, including improvement of their economic status.

Anutai fully acknowledges her debt to the late Tarabai Modak who had inspired and guided her and to the teachings of Gandhiji and Vinobaji which have profoundly influenced her from a young age. Whenever she finds herself faced with any serious problem in life, she immediately resorts the book “Geeta Pravachan” written by Vinobaji and seeks her solution there.

Anutai has been the recipient of several honors, conferred on her by the Central Government, Maharashtra Government and various voluntary organizations. The major ones among them are :

  • National Award for the Best Worker in the field of Child Welfare,
  • Title of 'Dalit Mitra',
  • Ideal Teacher's Award,
  • Savitribai Phule Award,
  • Recipient of Jamnalal Bajaj Award for Uplift and Welfare of Women and Children-1985
  • F.I.E. Foundation (Ichalkaranji) Award.


Tarabai Modak

Tarabai Modak

Tarabai Modak (19 April 1892-31 August 1973) was born in Mumbai. Tarabai Modak is rightly called as the “Montessori Mother”. She has made a significant contribution to preschool education in India. Her method brought in a silent revolution in the tribal community of kosbad.

She graduated from the University of Mumbai in 1914. She was married to a lawyer from Amravati, Mr. Modak. Later she got a divorce in 1921. Same year, she became the first Indian principal of Barten female college of Education at Rajkot.

She came across Maria Montessori’s writing and decided to educate her own daughter accordingly. In 1923, she resigned from college and joined Shri Gijubhai Badheka who conducted a pre-primary school in Bhavnagar and propagated Montessori’s theories. In 1926, she helped him establish the Nutan Bal Shikshan Sangh (the new child education association) for the spread and development of pre-primary school and teacher training centre in Dadar in north Bombay. In 1945, she also founded Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra in Bordi (Thane district) which was 80 miles away from Bombay.

From 1946 to 1952, she was a member of the Bombay Legislative Assembly. She visited Europe in 1949 to attend the Montessori conference held in Italy and to observe pre-primary institutions in the European countries. In 1957, she shifted Gram Shiksha Kendra from Bordi to Kosbad. The Vikaswadi Project was launched and conducted at Kosbad under her constant guidance. She devoted the last 27 years of her life to this project, which was the core of the Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra activities. She was the General Secretary of the Nutan Bal Shikshan Sangh for over 25 years and subsequently became its vice president. She wrote a number of books for children and parents in Marathi and Guajarati. She also wrote books on child education in English.

Tarabai’s contribution to pre-school education in India

The concept and practice of organized and formal child education are an import into India from the industrialized west. Madam Montessori gave a big jolt to the theory of moulding children through education. The transition of her idea from Europe to India was unbelievable quick. Fascinated by the theories of Montessori, Gijubhai Badeka started his Bal Mandir at Bhavnagar and began to Indianised Montessori method. By this time, Tarabai also joined him. The Nutan Bal Shikshan Sangh was thus started in 1926 by Tarabai and Gijubhai.

Tarabai is known for her zeal, inspiration, dedication and the total commitment for promoting pre-primary education especially of scheduled tribes. Her activities could reflects the mind-set, ideas, thinking and interest in running an experimental school at kosbad (Thane district) Maharashtra for the beginners. She tried her best to take modern civilization to the doors of the tribal children ensuring it didn’t create non-violence but develops the sense of belongingness. She thought children’s might taught socialization but they must escape from violence. She tried to change the living standard through education.

She was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1962 for her work in preschool education. She was a member of the Indian National Congress. Anutai Wagh was her disciple.


Dakshayani Velayudhan

Dakshayani Velayudhan (1912 – 1978) was the first and only Dalit woman to be elected to the constituent assembly in 1946. She served as a member of the assembly, and as a part of the provisional parliament of India from 1946-1952. At 34, she was also one of the youngest members of the assembly.

Dakshayani Velyudhan’s life was defined and shaped by the upheavals in Kerala society in the early 20th century. Even before her birth, two of Kerala’s biggest reformers, Sree Narayana Guru and Ayyankali had begun movements that would push Kerala’s virulently casteist society to the brink. They organized civil disobedience movements that defied the restrictions on movement and school entry for the depressed classes. They organized Satyagraha marches and encouraged women and men to discard practices imposed on them as a sign of their lower class. Restrictions included walking on streets marked for upper class, walking with head bowed before the upper class, wearing necklaces to indicate caste and more.

One of the more novel forms of protests came from an organization called the Pulaya Mahajan Sabha in 1913. Founded by Kallachamuri Krishnaadi Asan, Pt. Karuppan and T.K Krishna Menon, along with K.P Vallon, the Sabha, named after the Pulaya caste, organized a Kayal Sammelan or lake meeting in Vembanadu Lake. The meeting that took place on a catamaran was in defiance of the king who had proclaimed that no Dalit group could have a meeting in his land. By holding the meeting on water, the group claimed, “they did not disobey the king’.

Dakshayani Velyudhan was the niece of Krishnaadi asan, and the sister of K. P Vallon. She was one of the first girls in her Pulaya community to wear an upper cloth. She was also a part of the group of people who saw the death of discriminatory practices in the then Travancore district that sought to clearly demarcate the upper and lower castes.

Growing up at a time of tremendous social changes, and into a family that spearheaded many of these changes, the right to wear an upper cloth was just the first in a series of firsts in her life. Movements that called for democratization of public spaces, education, work security, equality and abolition of caste slavery saw her generation become the first group of educated Dalits in India.

She was the first Dalit woman to earn a degree. Armed with a scholarship from the Cochin State government, she went on to get a BA and a teachers training certificate from Madras University. The stigma and the institutional discrimination she faced as an educator in a government school pushed her to reconsider her career and see politics as a valid means of getting justice for her community and as a chance to serve the country. She followed in the footsteps of her brother, K.P Vallon, and was nominated to the Cochin legislative council in 1945. The Council went on to elect her to the constituent assembly in 1946. She was the first and only Dalit woman to be elected to the constituent assembly.

Dakshayani’s term in the constituent assembly was defined by two objectives, both inspired and molded by her time with Gandhi and Ambedkar. One was to make the assembly go beyond framing a constitution and to give “people a new framework of life” and two, to use the opportunity to make untouchability illegal, unlawful and ensure a “moral safeguard that gives real protection to the underdogs” in India. Her idea of moral safeguards rested on the idea that an Independent India as a “socialist republic” would give equality of status and guarantee an immediate removal of social disabilities that would enable the Harijans to enjoy the same freedom that the rest of the country enjoyed. Interesting in her arguments, on the 19th of December 1946 soon after Nehru had tabled his aims and objectives resolution was the invocation of the Licchavi Kingdom of ancient India as an example a republic. Licchavi kingdom, which originated in Banaras, was in fact a tribal confederation as described by Kautilya. It had a council of ‘rajas’ who elected a leader to rule over them. The other notable part of the discussion is her take down of Churchill’s promise to safeguard the scheduled castes in an independent India and her remark that the communist party was only exploiting the Harijans. She held strong to the conviction that only an Independent socialist republic can help uplift the Dalits and give them the liberties exercised by every other citizen.

Dakshayani’s admiration for Gandhi and his vision for India was only matched by her respect for Ambedkar and his mission to raise the status of untouchables in India. Their antithetical positions regarding the status of minorities, and her own views on how the minorities should be represented was one of her most defining speeches during the assembly. Delivered on the 28th of August 1947, after Sardar Patel submitted his Minority report, her arguments against separate electorates in any form and her censure of the reservation system was in support of a nationalist narrative that sought economic and social upliftment rather than looking to politics as a means to eradicate the system of untouchability. She noted in her speech on 28th August 1947 “As long as the Scheduled Castes, or the Harijans or by whatever name they may be called, are economic slaves of other people, there is no meaning demanding either separate electorates or joint electorates or any other kind of electorates with this kind of percentage. Personally speaking, I am not in favour of any kind of reservation in any place whatsoever.” Her dismissal of the separate electorates and reservations was in keeping with the notion that an Independent India should work towards creating a stronger, common national identity rather than maintain practices that would further the social fissures that the British left behind. Her concern as evidenced through her speeches was not the political safeguarding of minority rights, but the breakdown of integrity and stability of a nation that would push back the advancement of Harijans, economically and socially. She saw an independent, united India as being more beneficial to the abolishment of castes, rather than a measured divvying up of electoral politics.

Her speech in support of a system that would use economic and social means to create an equal and just society coincidentally came 15 years after the Poona pact of 1932 was signed. The fruit of Gandhi’s fast against the suggested separate electorate of the Communal Award and the Poona deal that Ambedkar would pillory time and again, went on to set the tone for the Government of India Act of 1935 that would become the basis for Independent India’s constitution.

Her biggest criticism was reserved for the draft constitution presented by Ambedkar. She stood up on 8th November 1948 to declare that she found the draft constitution “barren of ideas and principles”. The blame she pointed out had to be shared by all members of the constituent assembly who in spite of their lofty ideals, illustrious backgrounds and prodigious speeches could not come up with an original constitution. Her criticism like many others centred around the idea of maintaining a strong centre without much decentralization and the idea of a slightly reworked adaptation of the British India government act of 1935. She expressed dismay about carrying over the idea of governorship and centrally administered areas from British system and in the lack of originality in the framing. One fascinating idea that she suggested was to have the draft constitution put to vote during the first general elections and to test its mettle with the people who would ultimately use it. A democratic test of the document that would make India a republic, she felt would ensure the process of constitution making was fair.

Unlike many of her peers and fellow women members, she moved away from direct electoral politics into creating groups that worked towards the upliftment of Harijans. She saw untouchability being abolished by a constitutional article and lived to see reservations last longer than the 10 years the members agreed upon. Her final foray into electoral politics was an unsuccessful contest for a Lok Sabha seat in 1971. Her work served as an inspiration for her first cousin K.R Narayanan who went on to serve as India’s first Dalit President.


Hansa Mehta

Hansa Jivraj Mehta (1897 – 1995) served in the constituent assembly from 1946-1949. She was a member of the Fundamental rights sub-committee, the advisory committee and the provincial constitutional committee. On 15th August 1947, a few minutes after midnight, Hansa Mehta on behalf of the ‘women of India’ had the honour of presenting the Indian National Flag to the assembly. This was the first flag to fly over Independent India.

Her appointment to the constituent assembly came from Bombay, where she was a member of the legislative council. She was, in 1946, also serving her one-year term as president of the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC). She had also started a 2-year term at the SNDT University in Bombay, as the first woman vice chancellor in India. Internationally, in the same year, she was serving as a member of the United Nations sub-committee on the status of women, and vice chair, with Eleanor Roosevelt on the United National Declaration of Human Rights committee.

Hansa Mehta’s background-as the daughter of Manubhai Mehta, the Dewan of Baroda state, her education-in Baroda University, and London, and her list of accomplishments would have been out of place in any other period of Indian history. In the hallowed chambers of the constituent assembly, however, she fitted right in with the other women. This sisterhood of extraordinary women included Sarojini Naidu who introduced her to Gandhi and the Indian women’s freedom movement when the two met in London in early 1920. With Rajkumari Amrit Kaur she framed the famed Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties and fought for the Uniform Civil Code; and with Vijaylakshmi Pandit she worked on women’s equality and human rights in the UN.

Even before her stint in the constituent assembly, Hansa Mehta had made her mark as an educationist, writer, feminist and reformist. As an educator, she fought for continuing education for both boys and girls, set up home sciences as a university subject, and started a postgraduate school of social work. The AIWC during her time started the Lady Irvin College in New Delhi, a women’s college for home science, educational research and teacher training. A prolific writer, she wrote books for children in her native Guajarati and in English, and translated books to Gujarati.

A staunch feminist, Hansa Mehta drafted the Indian Women’s Charter of Rights and Duties during the 18th AIWC session in Hyderabad in 1946. The charter demanded that women be treated as equal to men, and be given the civic rights, education, health on par with the men. The charter also called for equal pay, equal distribution of property, and equal application of marriage laws. The charter went above and beyond its intended audience, when the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights adopted the ideas into its document. As a reformist, Hansa Mehta played an integral role as a part of a strong women’s movement that pushed for abolition of child marriage (Sarada Act), abolition of the Devdasi system, insistence of better educational opportunities for women and in personal law reforms. Post the government of India Act, 1935, India conducted its first provincial elections in 1937. Hansa Mehta stood for the Bombay legislative council seat in the general category, after refusing to contest from a reserved seat. She won the election and served as a principal secretary. She was in the council from 1937-1939 & 1940-1949, from where she went on to represent Bombay in the assembly. Hansa Mehta’s most significant contribution to the constituent assembly debates was in trying to make the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) a justiciable part of the constitution. As part of the fundamental rights sub-committee, she along with Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Ambedkar and Manoo Masani saw the UCC as part of the ‘state’s responsibility” to establish a single Indian identity over multiple religious identities. Their motion to pass this as a right was overturned. While Nehru provided justification for the reluctance to make the civil code a right, Hansa Mehta had hoped, in vain, that the advisory committee would reconsider their decision. The Uniform Civil Code went to become a non-justiciable directive principle.

Hansa Mehta was also a part of the select committee that was convened post-independence for drafting a Hindu code bill. The debate, which started in April 1948, were part of a series of meeting held to “amend and codify certain branches of the Hindu law”. Impacting the lives of women specifically, the Hindu Code bill was a means to create a social revolution through adoption of laws that would ensure that women would not be bound by laws that sought to suppress their rights and straitjacketed them in orthodox interpretations of their religion. Hansa Mehta as part of the AIWC had already passed laws including the Sarda act that forbade child marriage, movements that ensured birth control instructions for women and more importantly education, both primary and further education for all women.

While welcoming the reforms suggested by Ambedkar that called for change in inheritance laws, divorce, property rights, and adoptions, Mrs. Mehta noted, “This Bill to codify the Hindu Law is a revolutionary Bill and though we are not quite satisfied with it, it will be a great landmark in the social history of the Hindus. But since this Bill was drafted many things have happened and one of the biggest things that has happened is the achievement of our political freedom….the new State is going to be a democratic State and democracy is based on the equality of individuals. It is from this point of view that we have now to approach the problems of inheritance and marriage etc. that are before us.” Her view, as agreed by many of her fellow women members was that laws should not bear those prejudices and traditions that might fetter future generations.

Hansa Mehta’s speeches in the assembly reflect her deeply held conviction that equality across the board for all humans was the surest way to ensure justice for all. She was dismissive of the idea of privileges, and concurred that they were not in the spirit of democracy. She noted in an argument during the objective resolution that “We have never asked for privileges. The women’s organization (AIWC) to which I have the honour to belong has never asked for reserved seats, for quotas, or for separate electorates.What we have asked for is social justice, economic justice, and political justice”. Her reflections on the constitution in a speech given on 22nd November 1949 pointed out that while “nowhere in the Constitution have we defined ‘minorities’”, the constitution has made every effort to ensure that everyone were guaranteed equal protection of law, equality of status, opportunity and religious rights.

Her last session in the assembly was made memorable, thanks to an openly sexist remark directed against women. A member Mr. Rohini Kumar Chauduri, had the honor of being on the receiving end of her derision when he remarked that the assembly had made no provision for “protection against women” in the constitution “because in every sphere of life they are now trying to elbow us out. In the offices, in the legislatures, in the embassies, in everything they try to elbow us out. They succeed for two reasons: one, our exaggerated sense of courtesy, and then because of their having some influence in the ear of those persons who have authority.” She dismissed him saying that the “The world would have thought very little of the men if they had asked for protection against women in this Constitution.” It is one of the more enduring aspect of the times during which the constituent assembly was written that very few of the women representatives thought it necessary for reservations for women. AIWC, itself positioned itself as a non-partisan, non-political party that would strive to educate, empower and raise the position of women in society. All they expected from the government were laws emphasizing equality and assurance that their rights would be guaranteed. Hansa Mehta stood head above the rest in the fact that she expected the same degree of equality and emphasis on human rights in the international arena too. Her time in the assembly was limited because of the role as the Indian delegate to the UN human rights commission.

She was appointed to the United Nations Human Rights Council after Nehru recommended her to the position. She successfully championed her cause changing the phrase in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, from “All men are born free and equal” to “All human beings are born free and equal.” Her role in the commission went on for six years during which time she pushed for the rights commission to greater recognize the rights of women, to acknowledge the uniqueness of the Indian constitution and for the need for an international human rights that would acknowledge the realities of a post-world war world.

She worked indefatigably for education and women’s rights post her UN service. She went on to serve on the board of UNESCO and was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1959. She also served as the First Lady of Gujarat, when her husband Jivraj Mehta became the first chief minister of the state in 1960. The M.S University of Baroda, where she served as its first vice Chancellor has a library named in her honor. The legacy that Hansa Mehta has left behind is a testament to her indefatigable spirit and dedication to the simple idea that all humans should be equal, educated and empowered.


Dilafrose Qazi

Dilafrose Qazi (born 1962) was born in Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley. It was a poorly literate family-no one had, in fact, been to school. Dilafrose’s father made leather garments, and her mother wove pashmina shawls. With her mother determined to educate her two sons and two daughters, Dilafrose studied at a free government school. She has a double Master’s Degree in Education and Economics and completed the LLB programme at the University of Kashmir.

“My biggest achievement has been to get people to embrace, as well as pursue education. I don’t believe in giving alms. To provide education is the best weapon to fight any evil.” Qazi says aptly. Dilafroze Qazi reflects the harsh realities of conflict and the possibilities of achieving peace. Her story defines the dynamic blend of how peace and reconciliation are possible when one is empathetic and determined for action. As a product of the same system that hindered her work, her battle has started to make fundamental changes to the same system. “My every struggle is symbolic of all those women in the war-torn Kashmir who have suffered at any point in time. But the conflict has helped me to listen to my inner voice as well as others.” Qazi is a woman with a compelling, inspiring story. She is the founder of Srinagar School of Management (SSM) College of Engineering and Polytechnic, Jammu and Kashmir, the first private engineering college in the valley. She is the vice chairperson of this college.

Dilafrose Qaji with students

Unable, however, to land a government job, she started a small venture with vocational courses for women from her rented house in Rajbagh area of Srinagar premises in 1988-classes for girls and housewives in cutting, stitching, cooking, and shorthand. That was also the year she was married. Since Dilafrose had no other source of income, she had to shell out ransom to keep her classes going. In 1994, Dilafrose procured land in the backward Baramulla district, inhabited mainly by the Shia community, to help them get an education. She then added three-year diploma courses in civil engineering to the college. That small institution is now a hefty engineering college named SSM College of Engineering and Technology-Baramulla, Kashmir and has expanded to Haryana.

Her work has led to some close shaves with death, with threats from community members, some violent - but those attempts did not shake her determination to serve her community. Even her family was not spared; her father, brothers and husband were kidnapped. She says that violence against women exists almost in every community, no matter in which form - but for those who stand up to make their painful stories heard, the phenomenon of justice is no longer ignored for them. “The circumstance under which I was working was not less than war. I was asked many a times to close my college but I choose to go on. I have fought my own people, politicians, militants who used to give me death threats. But, I never paid heed to them,” she says. After her family members were kidnapped, she was told that if she didn’t give up her cause, that anyone who dared to unlock the college doors would be killed. But still she did not give up. The college was relocated to a safer area, in Srinagar, but again, she was threatened, with locals – on behalf of a religious leader – starting to agitate against her work in educating women. Qazi didn’t let this stop her, “There was no question of surrendering before anyone with vested interest. Instead of entering into a war of words, I opened a free school for the local children and made people, especially those who opposed me, to realise the importance of educating women,” she says.

Qazi continues to set examples for the women, as well as the men in her community, remarkable in the male-dominated and conservative society of Kashmir. Dilafrose also started a free primary school in 1996 in the village Divar Parihaspora in Baramulla district. In 1998, she opened another school in the village Sumbal in Dangarpora. In 2001, Dilafrose started a free primary school at Kunan Poshpora in the Kupwara district, a militant haven and military overkill zone.

Her contributions to empowering the women and children of the Valley inspired her nomination for the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside 90 other women from India in 2005. On her journey to help her community, she is inspired by all her students. “I have come from a poor family. When people of different sects hear my stories, they are inspired by me. I keep on telling them that money and influence is not everything, but one should work with sincerity and hard work,” she says. “Those who opposed me at one point in time have become my fans today. They recommend my name to open up new vistas in my college and other self-help groups.” When asked about the future, Qazi’s voice carries hope to the women who have borne the brunt of violence in the last two decades of turmoil, her efforts drawing attention to the women and children most affected. In addition to her work in education, she is also running handicraft centres.

“Education can not only foster the personal development for a woman but that of her family, community, country and continues to the global scale. The negative gender-based norms that are all common in the valley, especially in far-flung areas, can gradually be replaced with the positive image of empowered and educated women,” she believes. Qazi has also helped to establish self-help groups for the underprivileged, especially widows and poor women. “Through these groups, women can now stand up in a crowd and question matters that affect the future of the community instead of accepting their traditional role of their confinement to household chores.” Physical and mental health issues are also an issue in the Valley, and Qazi has also been involved in organising medical camps and rehabilitation programs for women. While explaining her vision for a peaceful Kashmir, she says that education, along with social, legal and other positive practices will give way to gender-equality at the global level. “Every basic human right should be systematically given to women. An empowered woman can tackle the roots of poverty, as when she works, her children are better fed and better educated because she has a better knowledge of where to spend and how much to save,” she says.

In her message as a vice chairperson of SSM College, Dilaforse writes, “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who work today. We at SSM, aim at producing eminent engineers, managers and technocrats of high social needs. We are pioneers in promoting technical education in private sector in Jammu & Kashmir. We have earned trust and credibility in imparting technical education for the over last twenty five years in Jammu & Kashmir and have succeeded in our mission despite of hostile situation in Kashmir during the past two decades to achieve the motive of harboring our budding youth to the acquisition of knowledge, cultivating truth-fullness, brother-hood and keeping this Campus clean from politics. Our Commitment has brought excellent results of our past batches. We would strive to do much better in future. Let us emphasis and carry out our goal, which in reality will prove to be a milestone in the nation building.”


Safeena Hussain

Safeena Husain

Safeena Husain (aged 44 years in 2016) is the founder and Executive Director at Educate Girls – a non-profit organization that aims at tackling issues at the root cause of gender inequality in India’s education system. She founded this organisation in 2007. Born and raised in Delhi, Safeena Husain went on to study at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, gaining a Bachelor of Science degree. Her degree in economics landed her a job in Silicon Valley in 1995, working for a start-up that hoped to develop a 3-D Web browser. She was going "to help them do an IPO and make a gazillion dollars."

However, she wanted to do something more fulfilling. She looked for social service organizations with the word "international" in their name - international development work was what she wanted to do. She wrote and mailed letters to the two groups she found. Child Family Health International offered her a job setting up clinics in low-income countries. Safeena, from 1997 to 2004 was working with grassroots projects in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa and Asia.

Then she returned to her mother country to drive the agenda closest to her heart – that of girls' education. Safeena together with a local team conducted a 50- school project in Pali district, Rajasthan. Post its successful test phase, Safeena established Educate Girls as an NGO in 2007. With focus on enrolment, retention and learning, in the last seven years, Educate Girls has metamorphosed into an 8,500 schools program where over 390,000 children have demonstrated improved learning outcomes while there have been over 2.8 million total beneficiaries of its programmatic interventions.

Safeena’s efforts to bridge the gender gap in education in India have been widely recognized. Under her leadership, Educate Girls has received many awards. This are-

  • The prestigious 2015 Skoll Award
  • 2014 WISE Awards
  • The 2014 USAID Millennium Alliance Award
  • The 2014 Stars Impact Awards
  • The India Development Marketplace Award in 2011 from the World Bank
  • In 2013, she received the British Asian Trust’s Special Recognition Award from HRH Prince Charles for outstanding contribution in education.

Safeena Husain has brought her depth of knowledge about development to the complex issue of gender inequality in education in India. With practical, first-hand experience of how educating women can impact some of the most pressing root causes of poverty, particularly health. Educate Girls currently works in close to 5,700 schools in Rajasthan serving over a million children.

How story begun?

Safeena is the only daughter and lives with her father. Once, her father went with her to a village in the Himalayas. Women came out to talk. One asked her father how many children he had.

"This is it, my only child," he said.

The woman said, "But how many sons?"

He repeated: "This is it."

The village women started weeping and beating their chests and pleading to God: "Why have you cursed this man?" Some told him it wasn't too late, he could still have a son: "Don't give up!"

He laughed and said of Safeena: "This is my son, my daughter, my life."

But she wasn't laughing. "I felt like I had been stabbed in the chest. To stand there and be invisible, to mean nothing."

She could walk out of that village and back to her life in the U.S. But she wondered: "What about the girls in these villages, made to feel worthless, a burden from the day they were born?" That's when she decided to change her career once again, from international health care to girls' education.

Husain moved back to India and in 2007 started her own non-profit: Educate Girls. The mentors from Educate Girls recruit girl students in Indian villages - and teach them as well.

In India, she says, there's a saying: "A goat is an asset, a girl is a liability." Parents don't want to invest in a daughter's education: "Why should we send her to school? She'll go to her husband's house to live. What is the point of her learning?"

She knew what she had to do: Fight the mind-set. Educate Girls assembled teams of young women and trained them to be mentors. Husain would target a village and send mentors "to find every single girl out of school." The mentors would meet with villagers to convince them it pays to educate a girl: "She can raise children better, read doctor's prescriptions and bus numbers, sell goods in the market and get the right amount of money."

That wasn't enough to persuade everyone. Husain remembers a man in his 20s who said school would encourage girls to "wear short skirts, answer back and have love marriages."

Husain asked the village headmaster, "Did your daughter have a love marriage?"

He said, "We arranged the marriage."

"Do you teach them short skirts in school?" Husain asked.

Of course, not, he said. The girls learn to read and write. Attitudes toward marriage and garb are shaped at home, not in school, Husain told the dissenter.

Her arguments have changed many minds. Over the past seven years, she says, Educate Girls has brought 80,000 girls into schools. Its mentors visit schools regularly to teach and to check on the newly enrolled girls.

Besides, the village girls don't need any extra push. "They don't want to graze cattle or look after siblings," Husain says. "They all want to do something for themselves."


Farida Lambay

Farida Lambay

Farida Lambay completed her Master’s in Social Work from College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai. She initiated the Municipal School Project with her alma mater, which led to social workers becoming a part of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation structure. This was the first glimpse of the ideology that she strongly propagates of converting best practices into policy and working in collaboration with the government. Co-Founder and director of Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children, Farida Lambay has 25 years of experience as an educationist and social activist. She co-founded Pratham in 1994 with Dr. Madhav Chavan and is responsible for the direct programs in Mumbai and Gujarat, as well as the Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children across India. In addition to her work at Pratham, she is former Vice Principal of the Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work in Mumbai. NGO Pratham reaches out to millions of school children who are poor and marginalised. Pratham’s flagship program, Read India, has changed the way we teach and what we teach. It helps children between the age group of 6 and 14 years improve reading, writing and basic arithmetic skills. With the help of 4.5 lakh volunteers, it has been able to engage with a staggering 33 million children across 19 states, which is nearly half of India’s villages. It is also responsible for rescuing 45 thousand children from child labour.

Farida has been responsible for national level policy changes in child labour and education. She currently serves on the Government of India Committee on Child Labour and Research in Education and was recently nominated a member of the National Advisory Committee, under the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986. She was also recently appointed member of the Maharashtra State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.

In addition, Farida has initiated other projects such as Prerana (working for the rights of sex workers in Kamatipura, Mumbai), YUVA (an organisation working on various social issues taking strength from the youth) and others. She has spearheaded Disaster Relief efforts during the 1992 Bombay Riots, the Latur earthquake, Orissa cyclone, 26/11 Mumbai floods, Bihar floods, Mumbai terror attacks and the recent Uttrakhand tragedy to name a few.

She has been a part of several State and National Committees including the SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), Sachar Committee, the Maharashtra State Security Council and others.

Pratham, an NGO established in 1994 from the slums of Mumbai, has grown to great heights, receiving the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year Award, 2010. Most recently in 2013, she was awarded the Sahyadri Navratna Award by Doordarshan Kendra for excellence in her field of work. She has attended and participated in several National and International Conferences and has many publications to her credit.

Mrs Lambay is more than just an educationist and a social work professional; she represents honor, compassion, dedication and above all humility that make her the institution that she is today.


Shaheen Mistri

Shaheen Mistri (born 16 March 1971) is an Indian social activist and educator. She is a founder of the Akanksha Foundation, an Indian educational initiative in Mumbai and Pune, and is also the CEO of Teach For India since 2008. Teach For India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and professionals working towards eliminating educational inequity in India.

Shaheen Mistri was born in Mumbai, India in a Parsi family. She had an international upbringing and grew up in various countries, including Lebanon, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and the United States as she moved countries with her father, a senior banker with Citigroup. After attending boarding school in Connecticut, she moved to India for higher education. She graduated with a BA degree in Sociology from St. Xavier's College, University of Mumbai and later obtained a Masters in Education from the University of Manchester. Before launching the Akanksha Foundation, Shaheen's interest in children's education led her to volunteer as a teacher in diverse organizations in Mumbai, such as the Happy Home and School for the Blind and the E.A.R. school for the Hearing Impaired.

Shaheen Mistri, as a young college student, walked into the Mumbai slums and expressed her desire to teach the less privileged children who roamed the streets. To fulfil this goal, she founded the Akanksha Foundation, a non-profit organisation working primarily in education, at the age of 20 to impact the lives of such children. Over a period of 20 years, her Akanksha Foundation, which started with just 15 children in one centre, now teaches 3,500 children in 58 centres and 6 schools. In the summer of 2008, she took on a leadership role at Teach for India, which enlists India's most promising college graduates and young professionals to spend two years teaching in low-income schools and attempt to bridge the educational gap in the country.

Shaheen also sits on the boards of Ummeed, and the Thermax Social Initiatives Foundation and is an advisor to the Latika Roy Foundation. She published a book titled, Redrawing India: The Teach For India Story in 2014.


  • Ashoka Fellow (2001)
  • Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum (2002)
  • Asia Society 21 Leader (2006)


Sindhutai Sapkal

Early life and education

Sindhutai Sapkal

Sindhutai Sapkal also known as Mother of Orphans is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her work for raising orphan children. She was born on 14 November 1948 at Pimpri Meghe village in Wardha district Maharashtra to Abhimanji Sathe, a cowherd by profession. Being an unwanted child, she was nicknamed 'Chindhi' (torn piece of cloth). Her father was keen on educating Sindhutai, much against the wishes of her mother. Abhimanji used to send her to school under the pretext of cattle grazing, where she would use 'leaf of Bharadi Tree' as a slate as she could not afford a real slate because of her financial reasons. Abject poverty, family responsibilities and an early marriage forced her to quit formal education after she passed 4th grade.

Marriage and early work

At the age of 10, she got married to Shrihari Sapkal alias Harbaji, a 30-year-old cowherd from Navargaon village in Wardha District. She bore 3 sons by the time she turned 20. She put up a successful agitation against a local strongman who was fleecing the villagers on collection of dried cow dung used as fuel in India and selling it in collusion with forest department, without paying anything to the villagers. Her agitation brought the district collector to her village and on realising she was right, he passed an order which the strongman did not like. Stung by the insult at the hands of a poor woman, he managed to convince her husband to abandon her when she was beyond 9 months of her pregnancy. She gave birth to a baby girl on 14 October 1973 in a cow shelter outside their house that night, all by herself and walked few kilometres away to her mother's place, who refused to shelter her. She had to set aside the thought of suicide and started begging on railway platforms for food. In the process, she realised that there are so many children abandoned by their parents and she adopted them as her own and started begging even more vigorously to feed them. She decided to become a mother to anyone and everyone who came across to her as an orphan.

Later work

She has devoted her entire life for orphan. As a result, she is fondly called 'Mai'(mother). She has nurtured over 1050 orphaned children. As of today, she has a grand family of 207 son-in-laws, 36 daughter-in-laws and over 1000 grandchildren. She still continues to fight for the next meal. Many of the children whom she adopted are well-educated lawyers and doctors, and some, including her biological daughter, are running their own independent orphanages. One of her children is doing a PhD on her life. She has been honoured with over 273 awards for her dedication and work. She used award money to buy land to make a home for her children. Construction has started and she is still looking for more help from the world. Sanmati Bal Niketan is being built in Manjari locality at Hadapsar, Pune where over 300 children will reside.

At the age of 80, her husband came back to her apologetically. She accepted him as her child stating she is only a mother now! If you visit her ashram, she proudly and very affectionately introduces him as her oldest child! In person, she comes across as an unlimited source of energy and very powerful inspiration, with absolutely no negative emotions or blaming anybody. A Marathi film 'Mee Sindhutai Sapkal' released in 2010 is a biopic inspired by the true story of Sindhutai Sapkal. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival. Sindhutai fought for the rehabilitation of the 84 villages. In the course of her agitation, she met Chhedilal Gupta, the then minister of forests. He agreed that the villagers should not to be displaced before the government had made appropriate arrangements at alternative sites. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi arrived to inaugurate the tiger project, Sindhutai showed her photographs of an Adivasi who had lost his eyes to a wild bear. "I told her that the forest department paid compensation if a cow or a hen was killed by a wild animal, so why not a human being? She immediately ordered compensation." Those things made people look at her with admiration.

Soon she realized the plight of orphaned and abandoned Adivasi children. Initially she took care of the children in return for some meagre food. Looking after them was a source of livelihood. It didn't take long for it to become the mission of her life. She later donated her biological child to the trust Shrimant Dagdu sheth halwai, Pune, only to eliminate the feeling of partiality between her daughter and the adopted ones.

Many of the children that she adopted are well educated lawyers and doctors, and some including her biological daughter are running their independent orphanages. As mentioned earlier, till date she is honored by 272 awards. She used all that money to buy land to make home for her orphan children. She has started construction and still looking for more help from the world.

Operating organisations

  • Sanmati Bal Niketan, Bhelhekar Vasti, Hadapsar, Pune
  • Mamata Bal Sadan, Kumbharvalan, Saswad
  • Mai's Ashram Chikhaldara, Amravati
  • Abhiman Bal Bhavan, Wardha
  • Gangadharbaba Chhatralaya, Guha
  • Saptsindhu' Mahila Adhar, Balsangopan Aani Shikshan Sanstha, Pune


Total 273 awards.

  • 2015 - Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize for the year 2014
  • 2014 - BASAVA BHUSANA PURASKAR-2014, Awarded from Basava Seva Sangh Pune.
  • 2013 - Mother Teresa Awards for Social Justice.
  • 2013 - The National Award for Iconic Mother ---- (first recipient)
  • 2012 - Real Heroes Awards,given by CNN-IBN and Reliance Foundation.
  • 2012 - COEP Gaurav Purskar, given by College of Engineering, Pune.
  • 2010 - Ahilyabai Holkar Award, given by the Government of Maharashtra to social workers in the field of woman and child welfare
  • 2008 - Woman of the Year Award, given by daily marathi newspaper Loksatta
  • 1996 - Dattak Mata Purskar,Given by Non-Profit Organization – By Sunita Kalaniketan Trust (In the memories of – Late Sunita Trimbak Kulkarni ), Tal – Shrirampur Dist Ahmednagar. Maharashtra Pune.
  • 1992 - Leading Social Contributor Award.
  • Sahyadri Hirkani Award (Marathi: सह्याद्रीची हिरकणी पुरस्कार)
  • Rajai Award (Marathi: राजाई पुरस्कार)
  • Shivlila Mahila Gourav Award (Marathi: शिवलीला महिला गौरव पुरस्कार)


Sindhutai Sapkal is much more than just a name. The 68-year-old woman hides many stories behind her strong personality. Full of energy and passion, Sindhutai is commonly referred to as “Mother of Orphans” and as she talks about her life and her children, you can see the pain, the troubles and the miseries she has faced and overcome with her hard work during her lifetime. But, from all the emotions you see on her face, an unusual sense of confidence, which she has derived over the years through her experience, is something you get inspired from.

“I am there for all those who have no one,” she says with a lot of affection. You can see flashes of her life as she talks about her journey and how she became the “mother”. Being an unwanted child, she was nicknamed “Chindhi” which means a torn piece of cloth. Though her father supported her and was keen on educating her, she could not continue her studies after fourth grade due to family responsibilities and early marriage.

“I was told there are only two processions in a woman’s life; once when she gets married and the other when she dies. Imagine my state of mind when they took me in a procession to my husband’s home in Navargaon forest in Wardha,” she says.

“When I was out myself on the streets begging for food and fighting for survival each day, I realized that there are so many orphans who have nobody to go to. I decided to take care of them and raise them as my own,” Sindhutai says.

“By God’s grace I had good communication skills. I could go and talk to people and influence them. Hunger made me speak and this became my source of income. I give many speeches at various places and this gets me some money which I use to take care of my children,” she says.


When some Volunteers visited the Orphanage managed by Sindhutai at Manjari Farm on 07th May 2011, they were amazed to see the development of kids. They were so polite and well behaved, which is tough to see in the Kids of Cartoon TV yug!

All were studying in Schools, whereas many with parents are forced to beg or do work as child labour to make money! Children with facilities take studies lightly, but we personally met Boys studying in BCA and LLB!!!

Kids were so much attached to each other and to Mai and to Care Takers, which is not seen in today's families even in blood relations.

As kids don't have any other place to go in Summer vacation, they were sent from one Ashram to another Ashram (i.e. Saswad to Manjari Farm and Vice Versa) to spend Summer Vacation to have change! Which proves that Management and Mai tried to take care of this feeling so well!


Rashi Anand

Rashi Anand

We all nurture a passion but few translate it into action. A passion left unanswered results in a dry life; an act driven by passion can transform lives. This defines the journey of Rashi Anand and the dream she nurtures. Anand is an Indian women social activist who is engaged in taking measures to uplift the underprivileged people. With this objective and in association with her mother she has established a NGO in 2005 known as Lakshyam for children welfare, education, health, and empowerment of women.


Anand was born in 1986. After her initial education, when she was 18 years old, she joined her mother Poonam Anand, who has worked for tribal upliftment, in co-founding Lakshyam in Delhi for social work. The plight of the large number of street children (said to be more than 100,000 in Delhi) prompted her to establish this NGO to rehabilitate those who were susceptible to drug abuse, prostitution, begging, petty thefts and so forth. Rashi discovered a zeal among these children to do something meaningful in their lives; they only needed support. The children cooperated with her efforts, as they wanted to change for the better. Within a short span of 18 months Lakshyam had its branches operating on five states/cities of Jharkhand, Delhi, Bangalore, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Rashi considers her mother as her idol and fondly recalls all the trips she made with her as a child to rural and tribal villages. Her travels have made her sensitive to the problems of the underprivileged. “I feel blessed that even at a young age of 25, I have been able to touch the lives of at least 7381 people, making a difference - small or big - in those lives,” she says.

“Starting at an early age, a major problem I found was that few took me seriously as this field is known to join people at a later stage of their lives. To establish the authenticity of the NGO was tough too. But I could do it because of the support from my family and friends,” she says.

“I still remember one woman whose story affected me deeply. Her husband suspected her of infidelity, and so, he stitched up her private parts. When she went to complain in the local police station, the police officers there raped her,” narrates a disturbed Rashi. No doubt, what she saw at that age shaped her thinking and resolve.

Rashi can recall vividly a scene of a group of street children playing enthusiastically, cheering and chirping. However, what did they play with? Discarded tyres, empty plastic bottles and stones. She compared the picture with kids more privileged who are blessed with real toys and play inside swanky homes. This instigated her to start a campaign named Lakshyam Toy Library in under which huge boxes were placed in 12 esteemed schools of Delhi and students were motivated to donate their toys. The response was surprisingly huge with a collection of over 60,000 toys and books in the boxes. These were distributed to street children in Delhi. As the number was massive, Lakshyam tied up with organizations in different states as a result of which toys were sent to rural villages of Bihar , Kurnool village, Theni district and Refugee camps in Dharamshala to name a few.

Anand has also instituted an orphanage in Ranchi, which she has run for three years in helping blind, deaf and dumb children. With the help of the event management and advertising agency, which she operates nationally and internationally in the name of "Mirrorz", she has been able to raise funds for the cause of Lakshyam by organizing specific events with celebrities from the film world and fashion industry helping her. The first was for Being Human where street kids got a rare opportunity to meet Salman Khan. For its smooth functioning, Lakshyam received donations from Khan on behalf of Being Human.

She launched an event called Fashion for a Cause 2012 in which kids from RK Puram red light, Delhi, were made to walk the ramp. Much funds were thus generated to help those kids. The entire fashion industry including Bollywood glitz and Delhi socialites supported the event and made it a success. It was incredulous to see the pickpockets and drug addict kids walk stylishly on the ramp, their lives changed for a night. The same hands that brushed them away were now clicking pictures. She says her aim is to change the lives of many more little stars.

Today, Lakshyam has a school in the name of Sakshyam located in Vasant Kunj in a slum area where 200 children are provided necessities such as education and taught crafts. The organization also conducts workshops with street children under the flyovers, in the red light areas and at the railway stations to aware them against drug addiction and tobacco intakes.

Through their women empowerment wing, they organise interactive workshops in villages of Jharkhand and the outskirts of Bangalore. They give training in stitching and legalities, as well as provide basic education. Rashi’s aim is to see every woman stand on her feet and every kid enjoy a normal childhood. She feels that every one of us must give back to the society in any way possible, be it voluntary or monetary services. She says that if we go into these shunned areas and have a first-hand experience of the lives the dwellers lead, we will know how valuable our lives are.


Anand is the recipient of the “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” award given at the Entrepreneur India Summit 2013. BBC did a broadcast of a story cantered on Lakshyam and Raashi Anand's social work.


Anand could have chosen a successful career in modelling, but she took to bettering the lives of underprivileged women and children through her earnest social endeavours. She is a successful model, who realised early in life that the ramp was too small a platform for what she wanted to do in life. She was destined to drive a positive change in the lives of the under-privileged. She says, “Most people think that we should reach the pinnacle of a flourishing livelihood ourselves, before we begin any social work. But I have seen enough to know that neither age nor status are required, to give back to the society”.