The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, February 2, 2003
Lead Article

Woman of the Year 2002
Readersí choice: Kiran Bedi

WE got an overwhelming response to The Tribuneís Woman of the Year Award. The readers responded with enthusiasm, verve and a remarkable sense of involvement and wrote about what inspired them about the women they were nominating. Kiran Bedi emerged the undisputed winner in this poll, followed closely by Ekta Kapoor. It was admiration and awe for Kiranís ability to transform her environment and enforce the rule of law without any discrimination coupled with the fact that she did not owe her rise to the patronage of any political party. It was also pride in the fact that she had scored a first by carving out a niche for herself in an overtly male-dominated world by her commitment to duty and sheer grit. She was perceived as a woman of dynamism and action with the ability to deliver. Almost an equal number of men and women voted for her. In fact, she was appreciated for being a role model for men and a good motivator, who inspires the confidence of the people as well as subordinates.

Ekta Kapoor won the readersí admiration for her hold over the viewers and for sensing the pulse of the people. Her serials, people felt, could be watched with the family without any embarrassment since they reinforced our age-old traditions and cultural values. Many readers felt that these family-oriented serials combined tradition and modernity in a balanced manner and would help the younger generation to learn whatever they were missing in nuclear families. Perhaps it was the fact that these women-oriented serials did not signify a total rupture with the past and packaged old customs and traditions in a modern milieu that made Ekta popular with the viewers. Her age and consummate business skill, coupled with the fact that she has achieved success on her own steam was appreciated by the readers as was the fact that she did not ride piggyback on her famous fatherís resources.

If grit, perseverance and unalloyed merit found favour with the readers, so did the ability to overcome a handicap, either of a disadvantaged background, poverty or circumstance. So Sunita Rani was feted for bringing laurels to the country and also emerging from the trial by fire, as it were, after facing the doping charges and being finally exonerated from them. Her tenacity and strength were admired as the readers empathised with this "simple girl from a village who worked so hard and had to face so much humiliation."


Writer-activist Arundhati Roy was appreciated for her commitment to the Narmada Bachao Andolan and courting arrest. That she defied the Supreme Court and preferred to court arrest was commended because she "suffered so much not for herself or for her benefit but for the sake of the poor and the needy." A poor slum girl, who topped the Jammu University exam, was admired for her ability to rise above the constraints of her environment and emerge a winner against all odds. If Nisha Kaura, the girl from Raikot, won the readersí heart it was also because she "dared to write an open letter through the columns of The Tribune to the then CM of Punjab" to focus on how merit was ignored while giving jobs. In fact, quite a few readers thought Nisha deserved to be the woman of the year because she represented the masses. Yet another reader gave an eloquent tribute to "Every Indian woman, no matter to which strata she belongs, struggles all through her life to lead a respectable and dignified life, to prove her existence beyond male gaze and lust." Jahnvi Goswamy from Assam was nominated because she dared to come out into the open and admit that she was an AIDS victim, removing the sense of shame and conspiracy of silence.

In addition to achievers, the nurturers were also remembered. Some readers wanted the average Indian housewife to be awarded because her work adds to the nationís GDP and but for her, our society would not be stable and the boat would have been rocked! If women were praised for displaying dynamism and courage of conviction and strength of character, they were also lauded for the traditional virtues associated with womenópatience, ability to sacrifice and bear the burden of running a home to give comfort to the family. A reader gave a touching tribute to his wife who made it possible for him to have some leisure and who blunted his "male chauvinist angularities", while another one wrote sensitively of how her mother meant so much to her. Considering the fact that glamour and physical beauty is at a premium in todayís market-driven world, a notable feature of almost all responses was the recognition of and celebration of the inner qualities of courage, grit and determination, kindness and compassion. The readers, as if it were, showed a sense of responsibility in choosing a woman not for her physical attribute alone. Even a doctor from Amritsar, who admired Aishwarya Raiís charm and smiling beauty, was appreciative of the fact that she had donated her lovely eyes and someone else would get the gift of vision after her! Women who had entered the rough and tumble of politics evoked admiration for their skill at negotiating the public space dexterously. Their skills as orators, popular leaders and managers of resources and people have been lauded. Amongst the women in politics, it was Najma Heptullah, Sushma Swaraj, Uma Bharati, Sonia Gandhi and even Mayawati who were named for making a mark. What was heartening was the readersí sense of involvement and enthusiasm as was the fact that the men did not lag behind while nominating the woman of the year. The sentiments and views of the average readers deserve much more attention as compared to those far from the ground realities for the simple reason that they are more tuned in to the realities of life and living and their perceptions are honed on the touchstone of realism, not unnecessary theorising. ó AN