Let's hear it for Indian women

Let's hear it for Indian women

“They are the ones who paint the portrait of India which is constantly changing,” says French writer-journalist Dominique Hoeltgen. Just released, Dominique’s fifth and latest book Inde, La Revolution Par Les Femmes (India, the Revolution by Women) focuses the spotlight on the new roles being played by Indian women.

India is seeing a revolution among its women, and thanks to its women, believes Dominique. Inde, La Révolution chronicles the lives of Indian women who are unleashing many such silent ‘revolutions’.  

In a career spanning 27 years of chronicling events and people, Dominique has worked in Japan, Italy, USA, and Algeria, besides travelling extensively across Asia and Africa.  

“I’ve lived abroad always; I wouldn’t know how to live in France anymore,” exclaims the journalist who is now based in Mumbai. She was in Chennai recently to discuss her book. “The women I met over the four years that I have been living in this country have moved me more than the women I’ve met  elsewhere. Indian women are incredibly dynamic and they have a dynamism that is unique to them; a dynamism that allows them to retain their feminity even while they storm so-called male bastions,” she observes.

Dominique’s chance encounter with 10-year-old Sangeetha in Mumbai’s slums, because of her friendship with actress-activist Shabana Azmi, was the catalyst for the book. Sangeetha and Shabana floored Dominique, and made for a good ‘newspaper story’ initially.

“Social recognition is easier when personalities get into the issue: such as when a Bollywood actress re-houses slum dwellers; or when lawyers raise their voice against the disappearances of young girls, and when artistes fight extremism,” Dominique says. So she ended up meeting many dynamic women — the famous ones as well as the unknown ones.

Stories of endurance

She met interesting, inspiring women — bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, street vendors, rag pickers, shrimp farmers and rural women who had turned internet savvy to check the prices of farm produce, and of course, activists like Shabana Azmi and Ela Bhatt (founder of SEWA). The common denominator? “These women were changing the world around them.”

Dominique travelled across India for four years to meet Indian women who were creating change. “Their lives and vision provide insights into today’s India — a harsh world, accustomed to repeated tragedies,” she says. She learnt Hindi to converse with Sangeetha and others like her.  

Incredible India? You bet!

Dominique’s encounters with Indian women did not always leave her smiling. If there is something in India that distresses her, it is the abuse that many women are subjected to.

“One of my saddest encounters was meeting young women who told me they had been raped by relatives and sold off to agents. I can’t ever forget their faces as they narrated those experiences to me.”  Dominique says she has “never come across so much of trafficking of women”.

“I know this is a difficult country — you have big tragedies every three months and a huge tragedy every year; I understand. I lost some of my dearest friends in the Mumbai blasts. But still, India, as your tourist brochures say, is ‘incredible’.”

“Women are more philanthropic than men. Even the industry heads I met (like Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, for instance) spoke of their team before their turnovers,” she says. Clearly, social concern, grit and courage in the face of adversity are embedded in the Indian woman’s DNA. 

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