Power to her

Oxford Dictionaries has chosen nari shakti as the Hindi word that was used the most in 2018. Promita Mukherjee speaks to five women influencers from across fields to find out why this term is so important today

Dipa Karmakar, Gymnast

Tripura girl Dipa Karmakar shot to fame when she clinched a bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the UK, becoming the first Indian female gymnast in the history of the sporting event to do so. But that was just the beginning. Since then, she has participated in several global sporting events, the 2016 Rio Olympics being the most prestigious. The sportsperson feels that women have taken huge strides when it comes to making progress. So what does nari shakti mean to her? “For me, it signifies a woman’s freedom to do whatever she wants to. I am as proud to be a woman, as I am of the progress that women in India are making,” she says.

A country can’t progress without its women, stresses Karmakar, who draws inspiration from women like astronaut Kalpana Chawla and gymnast Nadia Comaneci, the first woman gymnast to score a perfect 10. “In real life, my mother is my inspiration. She is the perfect embodiment of nari shakti. I would not have been able to achieve so much had it not been for her guidance,” Karmakar adds.

On January 26, 2019, the Oxford Dictionaries announced ‘nari shakti’ as the Hindi Word of the Year (2018). Chosen annually, this word, in many ways, reflects the conversations and ethos of a particular year. Nari shakti, is derived from two Sanskrit words: nari (women) and shakti (power). In India, even though women have been able to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling, the battle for equality continues. Even industrialist Anand Mahindra recently acknowledged the same, when he tweeted a meme that showed that while men had a clear field ahead of them, women had to overcome domestic responsibilities before running towards their goals. Having said that, it’s overwhelming to see the positive changes that have benefitted women in the last few years.

Like the Government of India’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme; women being accepted in combat roles in the armed forces, the opening of 200 one-stop centres across the country to help women facing violence and several other such initiatives! So, on the occasion of International Women’s Day (March 8), we speak to five successful Indian women to find out what the word nari shakti means to them.

Garima Arora, chef

Being awarded a Michelin star is no mean feat. But Arora, a journalist-turnedchef, received one to become the first Indian woman chef to have bagged the coveted star for Gaa, her Bangkok-based restaurant. Nari shakti, for the go-getter, is women not having to apologise for their choices. “No matter what she chooses to do – be a mother or not be one, select career over family or have both, wear what she wants to, speak what she wants to – it should be her choice. She should not be apologetic about it,” says Arora. The women in her life – her mother, grandmother, cousin, aunt, Gaa’s PR manager Teerana Hiranyakorn, and her sous chef Jibbi – embody the word. “My mom raised two kids and is an equal business partner with my father. My grandmother is a housewife but she instilled in my mother a sense of independence that was passed down to me. My aunt is a successful lawyer who neither married nor had children, whereas my cousin gave up her career to raise four kids. Every single woman I know, in one way or the other embody, nari shakti,” Arora points out.

Uma Chatterjee Social activist

A regular day in the life of Uma Chatterjee, founder-director of the NGO Sanjog, involves lending a patient ear to the stories of women, who have been victims of trafficking and helping them out. She can recount countless powerful narratives of women who have dared to fight back and escape. So, for her, nari shakti is beyond just its definition. “You do not have to be like somebody to be empowered. Who you are, what you think, how you behave – these are the attributes that should define you. Nari shakti, or the feminist spirit, is in each of us,” says the spirited social worker. Some of the most inspiring stories of grit and resilience come from the survivors, according to her. “Each woman represents some attributes of a strong individual – be it in her relentless fight for justice or in her never-say-die attitude. Each of them has taught me something, and a lot of my work is inspired by them. For me, they are the essence of the word,” says Chatterjee.

Swati Bhargava Entrepreneur

A London School of Economics alumnus, Bhargava started cashback website CashKaro in 2013. A strong and independent woman, the co-founder and CEO of CashKaro, looks at nari shakti from a unique perspective. In her opinion, unstoppable women like her domestic helps are the ones who truly represent the word. “They are working women from less fortunate families who are up and about from 5 am till late at night. They send their children to school, do manual work through the day and literally run multiple households. At times they get little or no financial support from their spouses and put in their all just to make ends meet. I find them inspirational because they just don’t give up,” Bhargava explains. The word, she believes, is the amazing ability women have to stand up against all odds and also to give. “A large part of a woman’s strength lies in her ability to love selflessly and give her all to what she’s doing both at work or at home,” she says.

Yasmin Karachiwala

celebrity pilates instructor Pilates instructor Yasmin Karachiwala has single-handedly popularised this fitness trend amongst Bollywood celebrities. From Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt to Bipasha Basu and Deepika Padukone, she has been empowering several Bollywood A-listers. She feels nari shakti is all about the power of a woman. “A woman has many avatars – that of a daughter, a wife and a mother. However, as gentle and loving as she is, she can also be fierce when it comes to protecting her loved ones,” says the fitness trainer.

It’s the balance of caring and fierceness that defines nari shakti for her. And no better embodiment of that than her mother. “She always puts her family first but at the same time, looks after herself too. I can always count on her,” she says.

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