Woman leadership: In maritime – Need of the hour

Author: Capt Gajanan Karanjikar (Master Mariner, Multi-Modal transport expert, End to End logistics Professional, Blue Economy- Social activist)

The surprise pre-dawn attack from Viceroy of Goa, Anthony D’Noronha led 3000 strong troops and several battleships against Ullal, in the year 1581, caught a woman fighter off guard.  She was returning from a trip to the family temple at Somanatheshwara but wasted no time in donning her battle garments and mounting her horse to fight the aggressors.  Her clarion call was to defeat the invaders and push them back to sea.  “Let us fight them on land and the sea, on the streets and the beaches” was her battle cry, as she faced the enemy in fierce counter offensive.  Unfortunately, she was wounded in a barrage of gunfire and was whisked away by her loyal soldiers to a secluded place.  The Portuguese searched in vain for the wounded Queen.  Until the end, she was encouraging her soldiers and asking them never to give up the fight for their motherland. That lady was none another that Rani Abbakka Devi of Ullal.

Nestled in the strip of land between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea is the small coastal town of Ullal which falls under Tulunadu.  It is the unique ports at the confluence of River Netravati and River Gurupura meets its water for merging into the sea. The northern northern border makes the little settlement. Ullal and the nearby Someshwar played a major role in the sixteenth century India when the Portuguese were vying for control on the West coast of India. Fishermen and traders sailed from the ports taking their wares across the Arabian Sea to the Arab peninsula, well before recorded history.  Trade routes with the Arabs had been established as early as the seventh century and the Maplah (Muslims of Malabar) communities of Kerala and Biary (Muslims of Tulu nadu) communities of Tulu nadu were also thriving in maritime trade of pepper and ginger.  

The peaceful kingdom was caught in the wave of the Portuguese colonization and commercial exploitation through hegemony in the region.  The Portuguese ploy was to bargain for trade links as the initial step.  Once control of trade is accomplished, conquest of land followed suit.

The Rani Abbakka was fiercely independent and was a symbol of the patriotic fervor of her subjects.  She refused to bargain with the Portuguese and prevented them from having any foothold in the region.  Rani Abbakka Devi became a major thorn in the side of the Portuguese imperialistic design.  She, in turn rallied her people in stubbornly opposing any Portuguese advances.  She deservedly earned the sobriquet Rani Abhaya – the fearless queen.

The Chauta king Thirumala Raya astutely arranged an alliance of marriage between Abbakka Devi and Lakshmappa Banga-raja of the powerful Banga dynasty of Mangalore.  This strengthening of the position of Queen Abbakka Devi foiled the calculations of the government at Goa.  The export trade from the port of Ullal was revamped and expanded by the queen to such an extent that the Portuguese desire of control of the maritime trade was rattled.

The battle plans were personally drawn by the queen, and her masterly diplomatic skills as well as the expertise in the warfare became the subject of folklore for centuries to come.

Many Women also shouldered critical responsibilities in India’s struggle for freedom. They held public meetings, organized picketing of shops selling foreign alcohol and articles, sold Khadi and actively participated in National Movements. They bravely faced the baton of the police and went behind the iron bars. Hundreds and thousands of Indian women dedicated their lives for obtaining freedom of their motherland. Women have a special place of pride and honour in the Indian Society.

Mahatma Gandhi squarely summed up the strength of womanhood in his tribute to the gender
“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man’s injustice to women. If by strength is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater power of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her man would not be. If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is woman. I have nursed this thought now for years”.

Woman in Maritime
It is most talked buzz subject today in Maritime industry and the credit goes to lot of organisations which are wide spread and ready to serve the woman inclusion in maritime world. Paying tribute to all those who are striving for woman inclusion in maritime and leadership, I only feel much honored that when westerners perceive my country as backward in terms of promoting woman leadership and keeping them under the household chores, now they have lessons to learn from India.

Having said this woman leadership is not a new term or new act for women in India. The women have always been in leadership roles, be it on home front or in business. The social perspective for them under various roles have been different, however leading has not been. They have been leading home front as good as the outside home fronts, be it running a company or historically a kingdom.

What need to be done to empower them to take up to Maritime roles is essentially change of mindset. The mindsets change of women as well the ecosystem in which they live. Necessary changes are not just for acceptance or promotions, but they are in way to build their character to accept these different realms of challenges, which would keep them away from home, family and loved once. Not because they are vulnerable or timid, but to support the critically of human factors which would physiologically affect woman more than anyone other gender. Maritime industry needs to have that mindset to encompass the human mind of that psychology.

To make it into firm plan of action we will need to think like a woman, and this is not to be done by woman. It is important for men in position to think the woman would think to understand them better in the envisaged roles. Another thing is women in Maritime are not about working on board. It is working in any maritime role which could be even on ship. If it the gender that gets in any way, I think women would have shed that first. Profession stands before the gender and any criteria that could discriminate or differentiate individuals.

There is lot of more to be discussed on women in Maritime sector and lot of thoughts gather. But there has not been a better time that this to push the leadership to women not because they are women, but because they are capable, capacitated and competent to lead. In maritime, few women are already proving it if not all.


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