“Why are there such few Indian women who have achieved extraordinary things? Are extraordinary women only European or American?”
Daughters Who Dared began in an attempt to answer this question from my seven-year-old daughter.
I paused to re-evaluate the content of a variety of books that my daughters have been hooked to, that have been written with the hope to empower young girls–Women in Science, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World — just to name a few.
I wanted to see if something was not right, prompting this question from my daughter.
Indeed, there were hardly any inspiring women from India whose life stories had found a place in these books that claimed to represent the world.
I love these books, and their presence in my daughters’ lives has been very important, but I feel they are incomplete.
I sensed that as my daughters’ young minds were trying to figure out their identity, they were inadvertently trying to judge their mother, grandmothers, aunts and cousins through the lens of what was missing from these books.
They were arriving at an assumption about who the women around them could not become. I doubt if this feeling would have left them greatly empowered. A book’s bias, or a casual mistake, doesn’t have to become its readers’ perspective. I decided to restore the balance and provide what my daughters were missing.
As I uncovered accounts of extraordinary women throughout India’s history, I realised that Indian women had fought successful battles of their own liberation by changing and reshaping cultural norms for aeons, much before the rest of the world decided to wake up to the idea of women’s liberalisation.
These are the daughters of India who have helped shape a nation which is the world’s largest democracy today, but their stories are not presented with pride in a female-centric and engaging way for young readers to appreciate.
Daughters Who Dared started as a personal project.
My two daughters and I embarked on the journey to retell the story of one inspiring Indian woman every week during their summer holidays.
We listened to interviews and documentaries, read articles, wrote down quotes and collected images. After this, I spent several hours painting each portrait and answering numerous question posed by my daughters.
We immersed ourselves in understanding and appreciating the journeys and struggles of these Indian women who dared to stand up, to speak up, to seek the truth. They dared to fight, run the extra mile, to care, to dream, and above all – dared to be women.
For women to achieve true equality in a modern nation, we must understand their role in laying the country’s foundation.
I hope to give our girls role models from the past and present, who are in many ways, just like the women in their lives.
I have so far painted the portraits of Dr Vandana Shiva, Savitri Bai Phule, Kesarbai Kerkar, Tessy Thomas, Shakuntala Devi, Dr Mandakini Amte, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Janaki Ammal, Queen Velu Nachiyar and Bhanu Athaiya.
It is an ongoing project, and I hope that slowly but steadily, I can paint all other incredible Indian women.