Chairperson, Health Action International Asia -Pacific Founder, People's Health Movement
Born to a Gandhian mother and a forest conservator father, a qualified doctor herself, Dr Mira Shiva chose to live the life of an activist. Single by choice in a man's world, Shiva has not just left her mark but has successfully made a difference to society…
Her journey started from Ludhiana in 1968, when she was doing her MD from Christian Medical College. When Dr Mira Shiva was a student, she observed women were dying during child birth and the college was making efforts to prepare doctors for situations like these. It was in this college that Shiva met Dr Betty Cowan, a Professor of Medicine and Community Health who later became her inspiration. "In her I found a person motivated by community health concerns," says Shiva.
Shiva happened to be in Bihar in 1979-80 when there was an outburst of tuberculosis in the area. "There was a spread of tuberculosis and there were no anti TB drugs available in that area. All irrational hazardous combinations were flooding the market. That was the time that I felt the pain in my heart and thought that I must take this up with the chemical ministry," recalls Shiva. This marked the major turning point in her life.
Thereafter, Shiva has never looked back. She knew what she wanted to do next. Confident in her thoughts, she followed her mind. "I always wanted to become a doctor and practice medicine but I also wanted to serve human kind," she says.
Making a difference
Shiva has made many remarkable efforts in order to make this world a better place to live in. She has been associated with civil society bodies and has been part of many government committees representing the voice of masses.
Shiva was a member of the Drug Pricing Review Committee in 2001, as well as the Chemicals Ministry and the R& D Committee in the same year. Besides, she has played an important role as a member of various bodies like the Central Council for Health, National Population Commission, National Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technologies and National Human Rights Commission. She was also on the Task Force on Safety of Food and Medicine and was Chairperson of the Task Force on Consumer Education. Shiva is also associated with civil society bodies like Health Equity and Society, All India Drug Action Network and Health Action International Asia Pacific. She is a founder member of Peoples Health Movement and a steering committee member of Diverse Women for Diversity.
But is it easy for a woman activist to fight for rights of women and poor people amidst powerful men? "There are always men to de-legitimise my presence but I am always too firm to make my way and tell them my purpose to be there. The fact that I happened to be a woman is not so important to me," declares Shiva. She has rather learned from her experience to handle people and she feels it is important for every woman to do so too. "It is important to understand that you are saying what you are saying and being a woman does not mean that you are asking for a favour," she adds.
The lady, who named herself after Mira Bai, says that she knew that she was born to become a rebel. "I named myself after Mira Bai because people tried to kill her in three different ways but failed. I draw my inspiration from there," she says. However, born to a family with liberal thoughts, Shiva gets her strength from her Gandhian mother, who was a writer and faced odds in her life as well, as well as her grandfather, who had set up a school for girls in rural areas. Her parents were very supportive of her decisions and gave her the freedom to choose. "I got it as a sanskar that I am no less than others and that there is no difference between a boy and a girl. If you underestimate me as a girl you are asking for trouble," she declares.
But women often face attacks on their identity from a patriarchal society. So did Shiva. "I have been repeatedly addressed as ‘Mrs Mira Shiva’ and by people who know my status but each time I used to make it a point to raise my voice and correct them …I will tell them I am not Mrs Mira Shiva but Dr Mira Shiva…It has something to do with my identity and it is important to me. People try to weaken you through such means. They would tell me that I am acting non-professional and speaking for a certain section which is not true," she says. Shiva points out that men occupying positions of power expect women to follow instructions and agree with them on whatever they say, so she was naturally not like by them. But she wonders, had she been born a man , then would the reaction from men be similar? The question remains unanswered …