They say that courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to face one’s deepest fears. Brave people are no different than us. They also feel fear when put against adverse conditions, but the thing that makes them stand apart is- their choice. When a story is written, there always a brave man fighting the odds and making it through till the end. But, the land of India is blessed with many warrior women who looked fear in the eye and challenged it.
We had many ‘khoob ladi mardaani’s’ and in this story, let’s salute the spirit of these fearless women who refused to step down in times of crisis.
1. Neerja Bhanot
Do you know that the Ashok Chakra is the highest peacetime award which is only conferred on a select few? Neerja Bhanot was one of the few who was bestowed with this award and honor. A civilian who was also a senior purser with American airline, Pan Am Airlines, Neeraj Bhanot laid her life to save the lives of the passengers on her flight. They were the people she didn’t know.
When the terrorist hijacked her flight in Pakistan, Neerja was the first to know about the intrusion. Instead of running away, the lady used her wits and informed the cockpit crew. As all the pilots escaped the flight, the terrorists had no other option than being stuck right where they were. This was her first victory. The second was when the terrorists wanted to pressurize the Pak government to send pilots. They called for remaining crew to collect the passports of all the passengers.
Knowing that the hijackers want to kill American passengers, Neerja asked her co-air hostesses to hide the American passports. The passengers were held captive for 17 hours and if Neerja were not there many of them would have been killed that day. As the hijackers started to get impatient, they begin to kill people on board. Seeing this Neerja opened the emergency exit and guided passengers to run away from the flight. Here too, she could have easily escaped first, but she remained loyal to her duty and stayed back till the last of passenger left the plane.
She was fatally shot while guarding three kids against gun fires. It was because of Neerja’s bravery and presence of mind that terrorists could only kill 20 passengers out of 400. Neerja breathed her last just 24 hours before her 23rd birthday. To think that a woman of such a young age could exhibit such valor made Neerja, a name that can not be erased from the history of India’s bravest people.
Sometimes bravery is also standing right back with resolve when life pushes you down. This is a story of Laxmi, an acid attack victim who instead of accepting defeat at the hands of her unfortunate fate, fought back with much force. Laxmi was an ordinary teenage girl, but her life took a dark turn when a man whom she had rejected threw acid on her. What followed was the painful struggle between life and her identity.
The brave girl initially grappled with horrendous pain and after that underwent many graft surgeries. But, what made her stand out is her sheer determination of fighting the injustice prevailing in the society. She raised her voice louder for the lawmakers of the country to hear and do something about acid-attacks. Due to her persistent efforts, the sale of acid in the market was banned with Supreme Court fastening the hearings of Acid-Attack cases. Laxmi now runs ‘Chhanv Foundation,’ that helps the acid attack survivors like her to begin living life again.
For translating her ordeal into a movement, Laxmi was honored with International Women of Courage award in 2014 by Michelle Obama. She refused to be acknowledged as a victim and built her life despite all odds, which is why it’s right to call her “The LaxmiBai of Modern India.”
3. Bhanwari Devi
How many of us are willing to go to extreme lengths for the sake of others? Bhanwari Devi is a courageous lady from the land of Rajasthan who laid the foundation of ‘Vishakha Act’ in India. Let’s flashback at Bhanwari Devi’s life before going into the act and how she started her life as an NGO worker.
A volunteer at Women’s Development Project (WDP) in India, Bhanwari used to educate the people about the issues of water scarcity, literacy for girls, and health care in Rajasthan. In the year 1992, while doing her job to save a child girl from getting married, she was brutally gang-raped by the members of village who-who’s. Even been publically reviled, the brave woman did not step back in shame. She sought justice and filed the FIR against the accused and patiently sat through the court proceedings that went on for years.
Neither the delay in judgment nor the insensitive doctors and police officers at the helm of the case could break down the spirit of Bhanwari. She fiercely spoke of her trauma which many took personally, and she has been further ostracised. But, over the years, Bhanwari Devi has become the torchbearer of Women’s Movement in Rajasthan, and for this she was even honored with Neerja Bhanot Memorial Award in 1994.
It was because of her relentless efforts that the women of Rajasthan and the country found a voice against the workplace sexual assault and as a result the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, finally came in force in 2013. This law is commonly known as Vishakha guidelines.
These brave women were from different social and regional backgrounds but what binds them is the deep-rooted courage and mettle with which they steered the course of their lives. They are indeed an inspiration for every one of us and a tight slap on those who say woman cannot be warriors. Females don’t wear armors but they are no less than a brave knight on the battleground when it comes to fighting back.