Three cheers for the gutsy girls

EMPOWERED

Three cheers for the gutsy girls

KUDOS! (From left) Young businesswoman Devita Saraf, actress Anoushka Sharma, fashion designer Masaba Gupta.According to social observers, several factors are promoting the rapid march of Indian women to the pinnacle of professional success at a young age. First among these  factors is the simple fact that India has the world’s largest population of those under the age of 30 – almost a stunning 30 per cent or 350 million. Even at a rough estimate, this means that there are 170 million young women in that age group in India. Second, India is one of the two world economies surging ahead.

Third, and most important, one of the driving engines of the Indian economy is the huge number of educated women now entering the workforce. The gender equality enshrined in the Constitution of India — just a dream in 1950 when it was adopted — is slowly becoming a reality after 60 years.

While educated urban parents see no difference between a son and a daughter,  families in small towns and villages realise the importance of money brought in by working wives, daughters or daughters-in-law. The result is that whether educated or not, women are entering the workforce at every level, making a huge difference to India’s growth story.

Many among them work hard to grab available opportunities and are determined to reach the top in all spheres of life. Their ambitions are fuelled by the support they get from the government as well as every sector of economic activity — be it finance, business, trading, marketing, media, entertainment, hospitality or information technology.

The Harvard Business Review says that 86 per cent of Indian women — twice the number of their Western counterparts — in self-chosen careers now aim at the top position in their jobs and describe themselves as ‘ambitious’.

In 2010, a galaxy of such ambitious young Indian women have dared to touch a stunning new high in a spectrum of careers. Take the instance of Devita Saraf, currently CEO of luxury brand Vu Technologies.

“I can sell ice to Eskimos,” she says, “I used to read books on marketing while still in school. When I opted to study in the United States, my father – Raj Saraf of Zenith Computers – readily sent me to study my favourite subject. Every course I took honed my skills in the art of marketing because that was my strength.”

On returning to India, Devita became the marketing director of Zenith at twenty-one and got into the thick of the company’s work immediately. In 2006, she took over the mantle from her father and created a high-end Zenith brand to cater to changing customer tastes. Today, she is one of youngest CEOs in India.

In politics, young women like Agatha Sangma of Meghalaya have proved themselves. She is the youngest minister in the present cabinet, with the portfolio of Minister of State (MoS) for Rural Development.

Krishika Lulla is the young wife of Sunil Lulla of Eros International, a company founded in the UK by Kishore Lulla.

MoS for Rural Development Agatha Sangma and Gold medallist Krishna PooniaGrowing into a giant in the entertainment industry, the Lulla family has given every opportunity to Krishika to become a producer of films like Veer.

This year, Krishika has been the executive producer of Anjaana Anjaani and has released her latest production Toonpur Ka Superhero starring Ajay Devgn. Krishika is into production and management of the family’s business of film-making and distribution.

Continuing with Bollywood and its fame-and-glory grabbing young women, it would be apt to name two stars who have zoomed across the horizon in 2010: Anoushka Sharma has hit the headlines with her film Band Baja Baraat, after making her debut in Rab Ne Banadi Jodi. The other newbie to make a huge impact is Sonakshi Sinha who has raced to the top echelons of Bollywood with her debut film Dabangg, the biggest hit of the year.

Fashion is yet another business in which young women have hit the headlines in 2010. A number of luxury brands have entered the Indian market and highly qualified women are taking charge of their interests in India. One such example is Deepika Gehani, creative head of Genesis Luxury which markets high-end products like Jimmy Choo footwear in India. Every luxury brand has an Indian woman to be its public face and PR head in India.

Young fashion designers have proliferated and made great strides. An example is Masaba Gupta, daughter of actor Neena Gupta, who presented her fascinating collection this year. Her ‘Kattran’ collection for the Gen-Next Woman at the LFW in 2009 won her the ‘Most Promising Designer’ award, and thereafter, it’s been hard work all the way to reach the top.

Entrepreneurship brought a huge number of young women into the limelight.  Kruti Soni, who has learnt the art of jewellery design from her mother and ace designer Poonam Soni; Leher Kala, who has set up her own company to make short films; Dinoo Parikh who is a wedding planner and caterer; Saindhavi Roy who is a choreographer; and any number of sharp women who have coaching classes, catering services, workshops for young people and IT businesses, are all sterling examples.

Young women like Saina Nehwal have won accolades in the sports arena in 2010.
In every way, 2010 belonged to the young women of India. 2011 could be even better.

Women of substance

I recently met, in New  Delhi, a group  of   women, from  Madhya Pradesh and  Uttar Pradesh, who were  bringing out community  newspapers. Called Khabar Lahariya, these  newspapers were  backed by a Delhi-based NGO ‘Nirantar’,  whose women activists were reaching  out to their counterparts in the villages and guiding them to gather news relevant to those belts where  connectivity is otherwise  impossible. To me, these women are the real achievers.

At the launch of Sonia Falerio’s ‘Beautiful Thing — Inside the Secret World of Bombay Dance  Bars’, I doffed my hat to the girls who support their families, battling impossible odds .

And, each time I interact with women activists from the North East and from the Kashmir Valley, I feel I am meeting the actual achievers of India. For, they are not just bridging gaps between communities but also doing their best so that the social fabric isn’t ripped off. Although there are hundreds of such brave women, there is little focus on them because they do not live under the media spotlight.

My vote also goes to:

*The activist, Irom  Sharmila, who is almost Gandhian in her approach in that she refuses to give up her  non-violent struggle.

*Mallika Sarabhai, who refuses to be bullied by political bigwigs and believes there should be more women in politics.

*Nayantara Sahgal, who is well into her eighties, but remains a picture of timeless grace. At the launch of her latest book, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru — Civilizing a Savage World’, she wowed the audience with her crisp comments.

*The writer, Ajeet  Cour, who provided a platform  for SAARC  writers and poets  by hosting an annual meet here in India. This year’s meet focused on folklore in the subcontinent.

*Reeta  Devi. Khushwant Singh dedicates his latest book, ‘Sunset Club’, to her with the lines: ‘For Reeta  Devi  of  Tripura/ Maharani of Sujan  Singh Park/ Delhi's own Mother Teresa’. Reeta spends her time and energy caring for those living in Delhi’s slums.

*Srinagar-based Narjees Nawab and Parveena Ahangar. Narjees is a lawyer who helps the disadvantaged get justice, while Parveena spearheads a movement to trace young men in the valley who have disappeared without a trace. Her teenaged son has been missing for several years now, but this brave mother devotes herself to providing a platform to parents in a similar situation.

*Anousha  Rizvi for making ‘Peepli Live’, never mind if it was hijacked by Aamir Khan!

Humra Quraishi 

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