More power to them!

More power to them!


More power to them!

Many Indian men hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in 2009. The king of media attention in recent times has been Jharkhand leader Madhu Koda, for allegedly stashing away Rs 4,000 crore. Year 2009 also saw men attract millions of eyeballs for swindling their companies, engineering political scams, dealing with terror attacks with lack of preparedness and even changing religion to get new wives.

In stark contrast, Year 2009 showed Indian women in dazzling light. They overcame gender roadblocks to achieve incredibly high goals and they reinvented themselves in every possible avatar. As 2010 dawns, it is time to celebrate the achievements of India’s women from diverse social strata and equally diverse professions.

Political heavyweights

President Pratibha Patil showed tremendous energy in touring the world as India’s goodwill ambassador and ended the year with an adventurous ride in the Sukhoi, kitted up in uniform. Through her courageous journey — she’s past 70 — she let everyone know that Indian women can hold the highest office of a nation without shirking from any duty.
Mention must be made of Sonia Gandhi, who navigated her party to a grand victory in the national as well as several state elections. She proved her power to hold together a diverse group of combative men and women who now are given the job of governing India.

Talking of power politics, Meira Kumar became the first woman speaker of the Lok Sabha. Meira, earlier in the news for supporting job reservation for scheduled castes and OBCs in private sector companies, turned out to be a disciplinarian in Parliament when she demanded the presence of members of all parties at important discussions. Adding a bit of humour, she also pointed out that MPs answering their cell phone calls during the session of the Lok Sabha would have to change their behaviour and pay more attention to debates in the House.

In July 2009, Nirupama Rao became the second woman to hold the post of Foreign Secretary, the head of Indian Foreign Service. Prior to this, she was India’s ambassador in China. She has also held powerful diplomatic positions in Sri Lanka, Peru, Moscow and Washington and been spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. No doubt Nirupama will play a key role as India passes through sensitive times with the constant spectre of terror.

Talking business

In the finance sector, Meera Sanyal, Country Head of ABN Amro Group (now the Royal Bank of Scotland) and Shikha Sharma, MD & CEO of Axis Bank, made news. Meera had the courage to take a sabbatical from her high-flying job and fight the Maharashtra Assembly elections, as an independent candidate. Though she did not win, she swore that she would contest every future election to show the will of professional experts to bring transparency and efficiency to India’s governance. Meera is also a passionate wild life activist.

Shikha Sharma received the Businesswoman of the Year Award from the Prime Minister when she was head of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, she won the award for her illustrious career record. Chanda Kochhar, another high achieving finance expert, was named MD & CEO of ICICI Bank.

Indra Nooyi, Chairperson & CEO of Pepsico, became the first Indian woman to head a $25 billion multinational.  For Indra, this has been an exciting journey. “Being a coloured woman immigrant made it thrice as difficult for me to reach this position,” she says, “but working twice as hard as a man made it possible for me.”

Savvy sirens

In the entertainment business, Kareena Kapoor shot to the top slot in the Hindi film industry after her remarkable success in Jab We Met. At the end of the year, director Rohit Shetty reportedly offered her a whopping Rs 10 crore for a sequel to Golmaal Returns. With her newly-sculpted figure and with enough pizzaz to keep beau Saif Ali Khan and the media enamoured, Kareena’s star is shining at its brightest now. 

Yet another woman to win fame in the film industry, but sans glamour and sensuality, was Loveleen Tandon who made news when Slumdog Millionaire won the Golden Globe, BAFTA and Oscar awards. A small-time casting director, Loveleen Tandon was unknown till Danny Boyle’s film catapulted her to glamourous award functions. Loveleen had started off as the casting director for Slumdog Millionaire, but her contribution to the film was so impressive, that midway through the shoot, Danny Boyle made her the co-director.

Equally fortunate was the female lead of the film Frieda Pinto, a little known college student-Bollywood aspirant who became an international star. “A moment can change one’s life,” says the young, newly-minted star, “mine came when I was chosen for Slumdog Millionaire. From an ordinary student in Mumbai, I became the international media star with the super success the film brought me. It brought me international stardom overnight.” Further, Asin, the South Indian actress, took off like a meteor in Bollywood with Ghajini, the highest grosser in Bollywood’s history. So also, Deepika Padukone tangoed with superstardom  though she is just a few films old.

Fashion’s fave women

Through 2009, designers like Neeta Lulla, Pria Kataria Puri and Ritu Kumar held fashionistas spellbound with their ensembles for Bollywood films and the much-publicised fashion weeks. Pria Kataria worked her magic for Paris Hilton while Neeta Lulla became the ultimate film costume designer when her Jodhaa Akbar costumes. The big story of 2009 is that Indian women are making waves in diverse fields. They’ve been winners of beauty contests and they are power centres in business and politics. They’ve been heading financial institutions and enjoying enviable professional success. They’ve been celebrity sportspersons, writers, actors, professionals, entrepreneurs and artists, and they’ve featured on covers of international magazines. One thing is now evident: Indian women are generating more wealth than women of any other country in the world. They are getting recognition and applause around the world for their courage, confidence and capability, not just for their legendary beauty.