By Neeraj Santoshi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi.
It is a rare thing for a mother-daughter duo to feature in the country’s top 100 women achievers and that too, for different domains– literature and cancer research.
Of four women from Bhopal who have featured in the country’s list of 100 impactful women, it is a proud moment for writer Dr Swati Tiwari and cancer researcher Pallavi Tiwari, her daughter. HT spoke to these achievers on their work experiences and life.
Dr Swati Tiwari and Pallavi Tiwari
“I got a call from my daughter Pallavi from the US. She broke the news that we both have featured in the list of 100 women achievers. It felt good. I felt humbled that my efforts to portray the problems and challenges faced by our people through non-fiction, novels, stories and columns have been recognised,” says Swati Tiwari, 54, who has penned 16 books and works in the government’s public relations department.
Swati says it has always been her aim to use literature to explore and document human challenges and effect of modernisation on traditional ethos.
“In 2008, I wrote on a book on the plight of widows in the vridashrams of Indore. The work was awarded by National Human Rights Commission. Then I wrote a book named “Sawaal Aaj Bhi Zinda Hai” on the plight of women victims of Bhopal gas tragedy, for which I received the National Ladli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity,” said Swati.
The book on Bhopal gas tragedy chronicles the lives of women who have been and continue to be the worst hit victims of the tragedy.
Talking about her 31-year-old daughter Pallavi, Swati said she always wanted to do something that could make a difference for the people across the world. “After graduating in biomedical engineering from Indore, she went to the US and did her MS and PhD. She now works as an assistant professor at Center for Computational Imaging and Personalised Diagnostics at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio. There, she is researching on the effects of radiotherapy and laser thermal therapy on tumour patients using MRI. For her work, she has got three patents till date,” said Swati.
“She (Pallavi) is a gifted person. At 13, she won five gold medals in basketball, in which she was a national level player. She could have made a name in the field of sports, but she wanted to help cancer patients for which she chose to research on cancer,” said Swati.
“I was in the US, when I got a call from my father. Beta ghar wapas aajao. Apni mitti ke liye kuch karo (come home…do something for your motherland),” he said. That changed everything for me and I returned from the US in 2014. In the same year, we had an election for the sarpanch in our Barkhedi Abdulla village, which is nearly 16 kms from Bhopal.
The post was reserved for women. I decided to contest it. Villagers, used to women sarpanch husband’s running the show, decided to give me a chance. I won and became Sarpanch of my village. The journey to do something for my soil had started ..”, says 26-year-old Bhakti Sharma, who after completing her post-graduation in political science at Nutan Girls College Bhopal, had gone to the US in 2013 to realise her dreams.
Sharma said her family, despite being comparatively conservative, played a key role in supporting her decisions and encouraged her at every step. “My recognition as a woman achiever will also encourage many girls to take similar decisions and make a difference for their respective communities. These days I am working for improving the basic amenities of my village — be it drinking water supply, sanitation or road connectivity. I am also working to increase adult literacy in my village so that people can read and sign their documents,” says Sharma, who hails from a family engaged in organic farming and dairy farming. “My ambition is to make Barkhedi a model panchayat,” she added.
At two feet-and-eight inches, 29-year-old Poonam Shroti, suffering from a rare brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis Imperfecta) since birth, has realised many of her big dreams.
She succeeded in completing her MBA in Finance with a Post Graduate Diploma in Personnel Management, and got a job after a long struggle at a PR firm, where she worked for six years. But something always bothered her.
“Despite my disability, I achieved what I wanted to. But I still found that the attitude of people towards me or other disabled people had not changed. We are generally considered a liability for the society and not someone who can contribute actively. I wanted to change this. So, I left my job two years ago and founded Uddip Social Welfare Society. ‘Uddip’ means ‘giving light’.
“Now, I am working to empower disabled people and women, especially in rural areas. My dream is to ensure that they feel confident and use their hidden talents to achieve their dreams and contribute to the society. We don’t want pity. We want respect,” says Shroti
Shroti says despite her physical condition, she studied in a regular school and college. “Despite so many challenges and rejections, I continued on my path with the support of my family. I have gone through scores of surgical procedures and treatments to help me live a somewhat normal life, to help me stand on my own little brittle bones that are prone to fractures,” she said.
Now Poonam travels to villages and holds workshops and camps on empowering disabled people.
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“Our organisation started a campaign ‘CanDo’, which is successfully working towards skill development, career counselling, personal grooming coaching for the differently able,” she said.
How the selection was made
Four women from Bhopal have featured among India’s 100 most impactful women who are making a difference in their communities.
The Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) in collaboration with Facebook had launched the ‘#100Women Initiative’ in July last year to recognise and acknowledge women who make a difference in their communities. The process involved a contest to select 100 women achievers through public nominations via social media.
Nomination started from July 15, 2015, with people nominating women who have made an impact and made their community better, by visiting the ministry’s Facebook page till September 30. Voting began on November 7 on the top 200 entries as determined by a jury. And finally 100 winners were announced recently. The winners will be felicitated by President Pranab Mukherjee at an event on January 22.