Who is Maneka Gandhi?
Maneka Gandhi is an Indian politician, animal rights activist, environmentalist, and author. After a brief stint as a model, Gandhi started her career as the founder editor of a political magazine called ‘Surya.’ She entered politics in 1982 after the demise of her husband Sanjay Gandhi. She founded a political party called ‘Rashtriya Sanjay Manch’ which focused on youth empowerment. In 1988, she joined the ‘Janata Dal’ party and went on to become its general secretary. She became the minister for environment in November 1989 when she won her first election to Parliament. She currently serves as the ‘Indian Union Cabinet Minister for Women & Child Development.’ Maneka Gandhi is also famous for her work as an environmentalist and animal rights activist. In 1999, she was honored with ‘Venu Menon Animal Allies Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.’ She is also a recipient of the prestigious ‘Rukmini Devi Arundale Animal Welfare Award.’
Childhood & Early Life
Maneka Gandhi was born Maneka Anand on August 26, 1956, in Delhi, India, to Amteshwar Anand and Tarlochan Singh Anand. After graduating from ‘Lawrence School,’ she went to ‘Lady Shri Ram College for Women.’ She also studied German at ‘Jawaharlal Nehru University’ (JNU) in New Delhi.
Maneka was working as a model when she met Sanjay Gandhi at a party organized by Major-General Kapur. She went on to marry Sanjay Gandhi and accompanied him on his tours and campaigns. She founded a news magazine called ‘Surya’ which helped promote the Congress party following its defeat in the 1977 election.
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Maneka Gandhi’s relationship with her mother-in-law and the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi deteriorated after the demise of Sanjay Gandhi. She was eventually forced out of the prime minister's residence at Safdarjung Road in New Delhi.
She then joined hands with Indian politician Akbar Ahmed Dumpy and formed a political party called ‘Rashtriya Sanjay Manch’ which focused on empowering youth. During the subsequent elections in the state of Andhra Pradesh, ‘Rashtriya Sanjay Manch’ won four out of five seats.
During the 1984 general election, Gandhi contested the Amethi constituency but lost to Rajiv Gandhi. She then joined the ‘Janata Dal’ party in 1988 and went on to become its general secretary. She won her first election to Parliament in November 1989 and became the minister for environment. During her three-year tenure as the environment minister, Gandhi came up with a separate department for animal welfare. Also, many bills were passed to protect India’s historical monuments under her leadership.
In 1996, she contested the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate from Pilibhit and emerged victorious. She became the minister for social justice and empowerment in 1999. Subsequently, laws pertaining to adoption were relaxed and a helpline for homeless children was created.
She became one of the members of the Committee on External Affairs in 2002. She joined the ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’ (BJP) in 2004 and was re-elected to ‘Lok Sabha’ after winning the general elections. In 2009, she successfully contested the Aonla Lok Sabha constituency. In 2014, she was re-elected to ‘Lok Sabha’ after contesting the Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency.
Activism & Awards
Maneka Gandhi has always been an animal rights activist and environmentalist. In 1992, she came up with an organization called ‘People for Animals’ (PFA) which continues to work as the largest organization for animal welfare in India.
In 1995, she was appointed the chairwoman of a committee called ‘CPCSEA’ which supervises the experiments conducted on animals. Under her instruction, ‘CPCSEA’ carried out unannounced inspections on laboratories that were used to conduct various scientific research and experiments on animals.
Over the years, she has filed many Public Interest Litigations (PILs) against the killing of homeless dogs, unregulated sale of air guns, and mobile zoos. She is one of the patrons of a United Kingdom-based animal welfare non-profit organization called ‘International Animal Rescue’ (IAR).
In 2008, she became one of the cast members of a documentary film titled ‘A Delicate Balance: The Truth.’ Directed by Aaron Scheibner, the documentary explores the effects of animal protein on the human body. She has also hosted a TV show titled ‘Heads and Tails’ which highlights the suffering and cruelty subjected to animals.
Maneka Gandhi chairs the ‘Jury of International Energy Globe Foundation’ which is a non-profit organization. The jury of ‘Energy Globe Foundation’ meets annually in Austria and honors the best environmental innovations around the globe. She is one of the members of ‘Wuppertal Institute’ and also serves the board of a non-profit European association called ‘Eurosolar.’
Gandhi has received many awards for her work as an animal rights activist and environmentalist. In 1992, she was honored by an organization called ‘Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (RSPCA) with the ‘Lord Erskine Award.’ In 1994, she was named the ‘Environmentalist and Vegetarian’ of the year.
In 1996, she was honored with the ‘Prani Mitra Award’ for her compassion towards animals. In the same year, she also won the ‘Maharana Mewar Foundation Award’ for her work as an environmentalist. In 2001, she won the ‘International Women's Association Woman of the Year Award’ in Chennai. In the same year, she was also honored with the prestigious ‘Dinanath Mangeshkar Aadishakti Puraskar.’
Family & Personal Life
On September 23, 1974, Maneka married Sanjay Gandhi with whom she has a son, Varun Gandhi. When she was 23 years old, Maneka lost her husband, Sanjay, who died in an air crash. Varun Gandhi went on to become a politician and is currently a member of the ‘Bharatiya Janata Party.’
Gandhi has often earned the wrath of social media users for her comments on social media platforms. In June 2017, she said that men do not commit suicide during a live chat on Facebook. Her comment was criticized by many as statistics showed that 68% of the total suicide cases in India were committed by men.
She has authored many books, such as ‘Rainbow and Other Stories,’ ‘Brahma's Hair,’ and ‘The Complete Book of Muslim and Parsi Names.’ Though she is not a vegan, she advocates veganism on ethical grounds.