In June 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the world's most dangerous country for women. It cited the risks that our women face from sexual violence and harassment, from cultural and traditional practices, and from human trafficking. Was anyone surprised? Probably not. Because everyone knows that in our deeply patriarchal and traditional society, we revere our goddesses but ill-treat our girls. The #MeToo movement, which was slow to come to India but has quietly taken root, shows us the universality of the problem. It tells us that no relationship is sacred, no one is exempt; women from all classes and sections of society are repressed and oppressed here. And yet our women persevere. They fight to get ahead at work and play; they show intelligence, ingenuity and the indomitable spirit of the Devi when going for their goals; and sometimes, just sometimes, they beat the odds and give the world a success story to rejoice in. It is these heart-warming success stories that the Sunday Standard Devi Awards celebrate. The awards are designed to recognize and honour professional women who, through their exceptional work in different sectors, are helping to change the lives and lot of people around them. We instituted the Awards in New Delhi in December 2014, and have since paid tribute to women achievers from around the country. We returned to the capital for the fifth edition of the Devi in the city, and our 18th edition nationally, to celebrate the achievements of ten remarkable women drawn from across the country. Join us in listening to their stories and wishing them strong winds beneath their wings.
From a scriptwriter who carries Lucknow in her heart even far away in Mumbai to an Arjuna Award-winning athlete who took time off from rehabilitation at the JSW Centre of Excellence in Bellary in the run-up to the Olympics; from a deeply committed activist who has been trying to give voice to victims of child sexual abuse to an entrepreneurial young woman who runs a dance centre for the disabled in Bahraich, and was excited at the impending visit of star choreographer and Dance India Dance judge Geeta Kapoor. These were just four of the 12 remarkable women who were recognised for their passion and compassion, for their courage and their candour, for their promise and their performance on October 30 at CMS Auditorium in Lucknow.
Presenting The Sunday Standard Devi awards, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath sounded duly impressed, commending them for their dynamism, diligence and devotion to the cause. Noting that it was the 18th edition of he awards, and the fifth in Lucknow, the chief minister said: "Each Devi honoured today is a shining star in her own field. She has charted her own course though the struggles of life. Empowering women is crucial in order to bring about any social reform.
He enumerated his government’s efforts and schemes focused on women empowerment. He laid stress on the education of girls, their security, and holistic development for which, he noted, his government had recently introduced the Kanya Sumangala Yojna. He said that government-assisted group marriages were leading to dowry- free relationships which were longer lasting.
Owning responsibility for making women safe and secure in Uttar Pradesh, the chief minister said his government had set up anti-Romeo squads immediately after assuming charge and now further steps were being taken to strengthen law and order. Reassuring the awardees of all help in their endeavours the chief minister exhorted all the Devis to continue the exemplary work in their fields.
In his keynote address, Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director of The New Indian Express group, recounted the achievements of the Yogi government during the last two and a half years of governance and the decisions taken by him for the welfare of the people of Uttar Pradesh. The event was organised at the City Montessori School (CMS) in Gomti Nagar Extension and the auditorium was bursting with over 500 guests, proof of the city's vital interest in matters related to women. Earlier, as the Chief Minister entered the premises, he was greeted with rose petals by the CMS teachers. The programme took off with the soulful rendition of Ganesh Vandana followed by the national song Vande Mataram by the CMS teachers. Then the Chief Minister accompanied by Editorial Director of The New Indian Express group, India Glycols chairman U.S. Bhartia and CMS founder Jagdish Gandhi proceeded to light the lamp.
The auditorium reverberated with repeated rounds of applause as the Devis took to the stage in turns to receive the award. While the oldest Devi, Sharda Dubey, a cancer survivor, set the tone of the evening with her mellifluous rendition of Bhojpuri folk songs, the youngest Devis–Sneha and Suman, the Padwomen of Uttar Pradesh, from Hapur, got huge appreciation from the gathering while receiving their respective awards. Both have done exemplary work in inculcating menstrual hygiene among village women. An Oscar-winning documentary, Period-End of Sentence, has also been made on their work. Mason Reeta Devi from Chandauli also won accolades for breaking the shackles of society for the sake of her children’s health. A farmer originally, Reeta Devi took to toilet construction after being re-skilled by Shramik Bharti So far she has constructed over 150 toilets and bathrooms and is now being hired as mason for various government projects as well. Other big achievers included Juhi Chaturvedi, the acclaimed scriptwriter of Piku and Vicky Donor fame; Sagarika Rai, a designer who has taken the rich craftsmanship of Varanasi to the world out there. Sudha Singh, an athlete and an Arjuna Award winner, was also there among the awardees. While Ranjana Gaur, a crusader against child sexual abuse impressed the gathering with her discourse, Mohsina Mirza, the drone pilot stood out with her achievements. It was an evening ably anchored by CMS teacher Shameem Singh where women took centrestage and showed what is possible if they are given opportunities. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath highlighted the role of women in the state, from the highest number of women in the Vidhan Sabha this time to the Kanya Sumangala Yojana under which each girl in the state will receive Rs 15,000 in six phases. From triple talaq to anti-Romeo squads, he emphasised the need to empower women and strengthen society.
From sport to civic activism, from writing to working for the environment, it is clear that the women of Uttar Pradesh are thinking beyond the self and family, of society as a whole. Whether it is encouraging STEM education among children by doing rather than by rote or working to exorcise child predators in the country, the 12 Devis showed the way.Sponsors:
The principal partner for the Devi Awards was the Uttar Pradesh Government, platinum partner for the awards was India Glycols Limited, airline partner was Air India and the host partner was the City Montessori School.