On January 26, the Oxford Dictionary announced ‘Nari Shakti’ as the Hindi Word of the Year. Derived from Sanskrit, ‘nari’ means ‘woman’ and ‘shakti’ means ‘power’.
The Supreme Court also significantly contributed to the prominence of ‘nari shakti’ in 2018 by taking a stand on multiple issues impacting the lives of women. Whether it was the ban on ‘triple-talaq’, or accepting women to inter-combat roles in the armed forces, the issues were many.
The Better India spoke to five women from varied backgrounds to understand what ‘nari shakti’ means to them.
1. Ruchita Dar Shah
As the founder of an online community for women called First Moms Club, Ruchita says that ‘nari shakti’ was one of the primary reasons she started this forum.
“I saw that many of my friends who had become mothers were putting themselves aside and gravitating towards motherhood and all that it brings. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, the community was a space that rekindled the nari once again.”
Ruchita speaks at various events about the importance of women retaining their identities and doing things that make them happy.
She says, “Carve your own identity minus your tags: daughter, wife, mother, friend.”
Ruchita is privy to many conversations within the community, and she shares, “For someone who is 40 and has just managed to go on her first-ever girls-only trip, I feel a sense of empowerment. Sometimes you feel empowered in these small moments as well.”
She draws immense inspiration from her mother who, for her, defines the term nari shakti. She shares, “Women are so many different things and get inspired by so many people – many women come to my mind but the first among them is my mother. Perhaps that would be the case for most people. I have always seen my mother as a strong woman and drawn strength from her.”
2. Mamta Devi
Mamta works as a cook in one of the apartment complexes in Gurugram. Whether winter or summer, her day begins at 5 a.m. and ends at 11 p.m.
When asked what ‘nari shakti’ means to her, she says, “Didi, I have three daughters, and if I do not lead by example, they will never know what it is to be strong.”
With very little support coming her way from her husband, Mamta almost single-handedly raises her girls and educates them. She speaks in Hindi, and there is so much clarity in her thought.
She says, “We, as women, have so much strength in us. Despite seeing many hardships in life, ultimately I know I always have myself to fall back on. Even all you didis who help me so much are a source of strength to me. Women must help other women.”
3. Rema Rajeshwari
Her definition of ‘Nari shakti’ is to redefine representation in all walks of life, by empowering each other, by standing united and challenging the norms that limit us.
She goes on to say, “I am what I am today because of a few women who loved me unconditionally and stood by me. My grandmother, for one, has been a support in my journey.”
Very often, our earliest memories of our mothers and grandmothers leave an indelible mark on our lives. It, therefore, becomes that much more important to lead by example.
4. Bhawana Daga
A free-spirited woman who goes where work and life take her, Bhawana has an interesting take on ‘nari shakti’.
She says, “The word WOMAN itself includes the MAN. So I see her as one who has the power of both. All it needs is that realisation, after which there is no stopping her.”
She continues, “Nari Shakti is not about exerting one’s superiority or power over another; each time a woman stands up for herself, she does so for all the other women as well.”
Nari Jeewan hai, Nari Soch hai…
Nari Shakti hai, Nari Mamta hai…
Nari se hee Nar hai, Nari se hi Astitva hai…
(Woman is life, Woman is thought.
Woman is strength. Woman is care.
A man is from a woman, a woman is the one who gives you identity.)
5. Sukriti Chauhan
A trained lawyer, Dr Sukriti Chauhan has spent a decade working in public health and human rights with a focus on gender issues.
When asked for her interpretation of nari shakti, she says, “It is the ability to stand up for one’s rights and voice – fight the system and society to endure the battle for equality. It is also the ability to fight discrimination inside the house as well as outside.”
Dr Sukriti says that an example of this comes from real women, one of them being Shashi, a young HIV survivor who worked with her. She shares, “A young 16-year-old HIV survivor who went onto fight everyone: family, society, disease, to become independent. She now runs her own NGO and empowers others along the way.”
These are the stories of empowerment that we ought to celebrate and learn from, says Dr Sukriti.
In speaking to these women, what stood out for me was how each one celebrates life, takes ownership of her body, and owns the choices she makes.
To all the women and men who read this, let’s find ways each day to empower one another and ourselves. Let’s ensure that 2019 heralds a future which is about equality and partnership.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)