They've been bruised. They've been battle-scarred. But they never backed down. As part of the fourth season of Levi's #IShapeMyWorld campaign, the brand features seven empowered women, each with a heart-warming story of trial and triumph that will inspire you by leaps and bounds. Right from rapper Hard Kaur who worked her way through a male-dominated industry to the Singh sisters, whose love for basketball propelled them to overcome all obstacles their conservative family threw their way, these exemplary women have proven that hard work and passion gets you where you want to in life.
Jwala Gutta, badminton player
Arjuna awardee Jwala Gutta is no stranger to criticism. "My seniors gave a statement in the newspaper that Jwala can never play badminton to the highest level. That year, I won Junior Nationals and Senior Nationals," she remembers. "I took it very positively. It made me very thick-skinned for criticism."
"We live in a hypocritical society. If there's a sportsman and he's stylish and glamorous, nobody asks him anything. But if it's a woman, there are 1001 questions about how she maintains herself. The questions are all targeted on her being glamorous than her achievements. If a woman raises her voice, she's labelled left, right and centre. They don't want to hear what I'm saying, they're just bothered that I speak," she says.
"I've always followed my principles, never compromised on them, and that's why I'm proud. I don't think I'd want to change anything."
Hard Kaur, hip-hop artist
"When a boy walks into a room, all the boys go like, 'You're a rapper? Cool. When a girl walks into a room, they always say, "Oh, are you? Bust a rhyme then." From pushing her way through the male-dominated music industry to dealing with nay-sayers, rapper Hard Kaur from Punjab has found fame the hard way. But, it's been so worth it. "Apart from my mother, nobody ever supported me. She never let these people destroy me or break me," she says.
"When we shifted to the UK, they would say things like, 'You're a fresher', 'Go back to your country', because I didn't know how to speak English. I just didn't know where I would fit in, so when I discovered hip-hop, it was like a boom moment."
"I'm honest. I'm loud as it is. Because they can't handle a strong female who has an opinion, who has a mouth and doesn't back off. It was going to be my way or no other way at all. I'd rather die than not do it the Hard Kaur way," she says.
Aditi Singh Sharma, Bollywood singer
"Music runs in my family," says Bollywood singer Aditi Singh Sharma, who moved to Russia only to come back to Delhi and form a rock band. But losing her father at the age of 20 and having her mother diagnosed with breast cancer had her relatives questioning her decision of making a career in music. "They'd say to me, 'Now you're the son of the house, and you have to take care of your mom. Music is just a hobby and you should drop it.'"
"When I moved to Mumbai, I was the new kid in the block. I made a demo CD and went from door to door giving it out to every single person I knew. I had to make myself be heard."
"A lot of people put you down. They'll tell you that you can't do it. Instead of wasting my time and spending all that energy to get back at them, I use that energy to make myself move forward," says Aditi. "There are some times when you feel like everything is going against you, but only you have that power within you to change that around."
The Singh sisters, basketball players
"The world is gender biased. There's no shame in saying that." The Singh sisters — Akanksha, Divya, Prashanti, Pratima — come from a conservative UP family where it is expected for the women in the family to stay indoors and cook. But their resilience and passion for basketball kept them going.
"The social atmosphere was very challenging. We would hear comments like, 'Your daughters wear shorts; they play with boys.' But our mom would always revert positively, which is what helped us grow stronger. The demotivating factors became our positives."
"When you struggle and rise against society, it's a totally different thing. Then, you feel like guiding others," they say. Today, the sisters get calls from girls living in Banaras who aspire to become professional basketball players like them, asking them to help persuade their parents to let them play. "It never gets easier. You only get better."