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This is a list of the first Indian women in various fields, who made history. I am sure that's not all & there will be many more in future!
Today, we live in a world where women take the reins, make their mark, and lead in many fields; however, the names included here in this list of first Indian women in various fields opened the gates, paved the path, and broke all the barriers that were placed in their way, allowing many more women to dream big and achieve their goals.
To honour and recognize the fortitude of these great women, we have compiled a list of first Indian women in several fields.
Following India’s independence from British rule in 1947, Sarojni Naidu, also known as the nightingale of India, became the first woman governor of the United Provinces (now Uttar Pradesh), a position she held until her death in March 1949.
In 1917, Annie Besant became the first woman president of the Indian National Congress and the first woman head of a major political organization. She was a well-known theosophist, feminist activist, author, and orator. She also founded the Central Hindu College in 1989 based in Varanasi which was afterwards changed to Banares Hindu University.
Indra Gandhi referred to as the first woman in a man’s world, became India’s first female prime minister in 1966, serving for three terms (1966–77) and a fourth term from 1980 till her assassination in 1984. She is not just the first female prime minister of India, but also the only one to date.
Pratibha Devisingh Patil created history as she took oath as India’s first woman president on July 25 2007. Prior to her election as president, She received nearly two-thirds of the vote in India’s presidential election. She was also the first woman to serve as governor of Rajasthan, holding the position from 2004 until 2007.
Chonira Belliappa Muthamma was a courageous woman who stood her ground in the face of gender bigotry. She joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1949. She was also the first woman to pass the Indian Civil Services tests, making her the country’s first female IFS Officer and Ambassador.
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, a Gandhian and freedom fighter, was India’s first health minister and the first Indian woman to hold a government position after 1947. She was a princess in her country’s service, according to the New York Times.
On October 2, 1963, Sucheta Kripalani became the fourth Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, making her the first woman to hold that office in any Indian state.
In 1937, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit became the first Indian woman to occupy a cabinet position in pre-independence India, as Minister for Local Self-Government and Public Health. She is also the first woman to be elected President of the United Nations General Assembly.
Meira Kumar, a diplomat-turned-politician and the Dalit face of the Congress, has come a long way since she first entered electoral politics in the mid-1980s. She rose from a foreign service officer to a five-term MP and then a Cabinet minister before being chosen unopposed as the first-ever female speaker of the Lok Sabha in 2009, a position she held until 2014.
In 1990, Smt. V.S. Ramadevi was appointed as India’s 9th Chief Election Commissioner. She was the first and till now the only woman Chief Election Commissioner of India. She was also the first (and only) woman to serve as Secretary-General of the Rajya Sabha serving from 1993 to 1997. As well as the first female governor of Karnataka.
Mamata Banerjee, referred to in Bengal as Didi (elder sister), was the first female minister to present the Railways Budget in 2002. In 2000, she became the first woman to be appointed to the position of Railways Minister. In 2011, she became West Bengal’s first female chief minister, a position she still retains today.
Mayawati created history when she assumed office as chief minister of India’s largest state on June 3, 1995. She was the first Dalit woman to lead the country’s government. Mayawati has ascended to the image of a Dalit messiah. She is regarded as an icon by millions of Dalit fans, who refer to her as “Behen-Ji” (sister).
Sushma Swaraj created headlines in 2014 when she became the first woman foreign minister in Indian politics. She is also the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi and the first woman spokesperson for any political party in the country.
As Sarla Thukral climbed up to the cockpit of the plane, clad in a sari, she had no idea that she was making history by becoming the first Indian woman in India to fly an aircraft. Sarla Thukral got her pilot’s license when she was just 21 years old when her father-in-law enrolled her in a local flying school. She became the first woman pilot to receive an ‘A’ license after completing 1,000 hours of flight time. She was also the first Indian woman to obtain an airmail pilot’s certificate.
Durga had been offered a position as a flight attendant instead of a commercial pilot when she first applied with the then Central Aviation Ministry. Standing firm on her goals of becoming a pilot, she was successful in earning the job of the pilot and went on to become the first Indian female pilot and captain of Indian Airlines in the year 1956. She was also the first woman to fly the Tornado A-200 aircraft.
Prem Mathur was turned down by eight airlines when she tried to be a pilot before landing a job with Deccan Airways in Hyderabad in 1947. At the age of 38, she was offered the job and became the first Indian woman to fly a commercial plane.
The IAF did not allow its female pilots to fly solo until 1992. Harita Deol, a young female officer, flew alone in an Avro HS-748 on September 2, 1994. She was just 22 years old at the time. She expertly piloted her plane, becoming the Indian Air Force’s first female solo pilot.
The Indian Army changed for the better in 1992, when it enrolled its first female batch of soldiers. Priya Jhingan, a law graduate, was enlisted as Cadet 001, the first female cadet in the Indian army, alongside a group of 25 other strong women who became trailblazers for women in the armed forces.
Shanti Tigga was the Indian Army’s first female jawan. During her exams, she ran the 50-metre dash in 12 seconds. She outran all of her male counterparts in the 1.5 km run, finishing with 5 seconds to spare until they caught up, earning her the title of Best Trainee in the Recruitment Training Camp. She did it when she was 35 years old and had two children.
2016 marked the year when the defence ministry allowed women pilots to join the Air Force as fighter pilots. Bhawana Kanth registered her name in history by becoming the first woman fighter pilot of India in 2019.
Padma Bandopadhyay joined the Indian Air Force in 1968. A renowned former Indian Air Force flight surgeon, Padma Bandopadhyay was the first woman in the IAF to be promoted to Air Marshal.
Kiran Bedi, who joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1972, was the country’s first female police officer. In addition, Kiran Bedi was the first woman to be appointed as a United Nations Civil Police adviser in 2003.
Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya, an Indian Police Service (IPS) officer from the 1973 batch, was the country’s second woman police officer. When she was appointed as the DGP of Uttarakhand in 2004, she made history by becoming the first woman to hold the position of Director General of Police.
Known as a first-generation feminist, Justice Anna Chandy was India’s first female judge and the country’s first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. She was sworn in as a judge of the Kerala High Court on February 9, 1959, and served for over eight years, till April 5, 1967.
Fathima Beevi served in the Kerala High Court as a permanent judge till April 1989. She was appointed to the Supreme Court as a judge only a few months later, in October 1989, making her Supreme Court’s first female judge. This was definitely a breakthrough moment in the history of the Indian judiciary.
Cornelia Sorabji was a prolific writer, a barrister, and a social reformer. She graduated from Oxford with a law degree and went on to become India’s first female lawyer.
On August 5, 1991, Justice Leila Seth became the first woman judge on the Delhi High Court and the first woman Chief Justice of a state High Court. She was also a member of the Justice Verma committee’s three-person panel, which was formed in the aftermath of the infamous Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi in 2012.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is India’s first female businesswoman, technocrat, and innovator, as well as the founder and chairman of Biocon Limited.
Indira Nooyi was named CEO of PepsiCo in 2006, making her the company’s fifth CEO and the first woman CEO in the company’s 44-year history. In 2007, India’s government bestowed the Padma Bhushan upon her, the country’s third-highest civilian honour. The ICC Board also named Indra Nooyi as the organization’s first independent female director.
On February 1, 2003, the world watched in horror as the space shuttle Columbia crashed while returning to Earth after completing its mission in space. Kalpana Chawla, India’s first female astronaut, was aboard that shuttle. The first Indian woman to enter space was Kalpana Chawla. She travelled into space in 1997 as a mission expert and primary robotic arm operator.
She is known as India’s Missile Woman. Tessy Thoms was the Associate Project Director for the Agni-III missile project, which had a range of 3,000 kilometres. Mission Agni IV, which was successfully test-fired in 2011, had her as the Project Director. Tessy was selected as the Project Director for the 5,000 kilometre range Agni-V in 2009. On April 19, 2012, the missile was successfully test-fired.
Surekha became the first female passenger train driver not only in India but also in Asia, in 1988, at a period when the Indian Railways was a historically male-dominated profession. The hiring of Surekha Yadav opened possibilities for numerous women.
Her father was a professor at the generally all-male College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), where Lalitha was the sole female student. She earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1943, making her India’s first female engineer.
Kamala Sohonie was a biochemist from India. She was the first Indian woman to receive a PhD in a scientific area in 1936. Her thesis was only 40 pages long and took her only 14 months to finish! As a result, she became the first Indian woman to earn a PhD in a science field, and from the prestigious Cambridge University.
In 1886, she graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Dr. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was the first woman from the Bombay presidency (now Maharashtra) to study and graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States.
Along with Anandi Joshi, Kandambini Ganguly was the first woman in colonial India to study medicine and acquire a degree in 1886. Unlike Joshi, Ganguly pursued western medicine and attended Calcutta Medical College in India (CMC). She grabbed the interest of Florence Nightingale, who inquired about Ganguly in a letter from a friend in 1888.
Unfortunaltely, Anandibai passed away due to tuberculosis at the age of 22, before she got a chance to practice medicine.
Karnam Malleswari made history at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 by becoming the first Indian woman weightlifter to win an Olympic medal. Her remarkable achievement earned her a household name, and she was dubbed The Iron Lady as a result. She is the only Indian women weightlifter to have won an Olympic medal to this day.
After placing second in the BCCI’s Level 2 umpiring exam, she began the process of realizing her dream of becoming a match official. Vrinda Rathi became the first female national umpire to preside in a T20 match during the T20 Mumbai League.
Hima Das made history by being the first Indian woman to win an IAAF U-20 title and winning India’s first-ever track gold at the World Under-20 Athletics Championships. She won gold in the 400m dash with a time of 51.46 seconds.
Aditi Ashok won her first professional tournament at the age of 18 in front of a joyful home audience at the Hero Women’s Indian Open at Gurgoan, becoming the first Indian woman to win on the Ladies’ European Tour.
Kamaljit Sandhu became the first Indian woman athlete to win an individual gold medal at the Asian Games when she ran the 400m in 57.3 seconds in the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games. In 1971, she was awarded the Padma Shri award.
Arunima made history on May 21, 2013, at 10:55 a.m. She became the first woman amputee to ascend the world’s highest mountain, hoisting the national flag atop Mt Everest. Her journey to the top took 52 days. She is also the first amputee from India to summit Everest.
Mithali Raj scored 214* against New Zealand in Wellington in 2004 to become the first woman to achieve a double century in Test cricket. She was the first Indian woman cricketer to reach this milestone in the sport’s history.
Sania Mirza, a professional tennis player, won the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) title for the first time in 2005. Sania Mirza became the first Indian woman to reach the top of the WTA’s double rankings later that year.
Mary Kom is the first and only Indian woman boxer to have won a medal in each of the Seven World Championships.
At the 2012 Olympic Games, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian woman to win a medal in badminton. She went on to become the first Indian woman to reach the top of the world rankings later that year.
Bachendri Pal made history by becoming the first Indian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1984. Later, she led expeditions with an all-female team in 1993, 1994, and 1997.
Vidya Munshi is largely regarded as India’s first female journalist, having worked for a number of publications including Russy Karanjia’s Blitz for ten years.
Homai Vyarawalla, often known as Dalda 13, was the first woman photojournalist in India.
Pratima Puri became India’s first television newsreader when she featured on Doordarshan’s 5-minute news program in 1965.
Durgabai Kamat was a Marathi stage actress who later became India’s first female film actress. She appeared in Dadasaheb Phalke’s second film, Mohini Bhasmasur.
Fatma Begum worked with directors such as Ardeshir Irani and Nanubhai Desai before she established her own production firm, Fatma Films in 1926. She was the first woman director in Indian cinema when she wrote and directed Bulbul-e-Paristan in 1926.
Reita Faria Powel is an Indian model, doctor, and beauty queen who became the first Asian woman to win Miss World in 1966.
At just the age of 18, Sushmita Sen became the first Indian woman to be crowned Miss Universe on May 21, 1994.
In addition to being one of the most beloved actresses of her period,Zeenat Aman was the first Indian woman to be crowned Miss Asia-Pacific in 1970.
In the year 1959, Arati Saha became the first Indian and Asian woman to swim across the English Channel. In 1960, she was also the first female athlete to get the Padma Shri honour.
Mother Teresa was the first Indian woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which she received in 1979. Mother Teresa, formed several Missionaries of Charity and dedicated her life to social work.
In 1997, Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize for her novel The God of Small Things, making her the first Indian woman to do so.
Amrita Pritam, a Punjabi writer and poet, was the first woman to win the National Sahitya Akademi Award for her book Sunehadey in 1956. In 1982, she was awarded the Bhartiya Jnanpith Award, India’s highest literary honour, for Kagaj te Canvas.
Steffi D’Souza was a member of India’s first international women’s hockey squad, which competed in London in 1953, she also captained the team in 1961. In 1963, she received the Arjuna Award for Athletics, making her the first Indian woman to do so.
The names included in the Indian women in various fields, who made history, have not only paved the way for other women to pursue their dreams but have also given them the courage and strength to make changes that will benefit women for years to come.
It is because of these women and their struggles and hardships that they overcame and paved the way for future generations to have the fortitude to pursue their passions and realize their aspirations regardless of the obstacles that they face.
Women can not be stopped today or in the future. If there isn’t a seat at the table for us, we’ll bring our chair and make sure no one prevents us from taking a seat and making our own place in the world.
There will undoubtedly be many more women added to this list in the future!
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Uorfi Javed has been making waves through social media, and is often the target of trolls. So who and what exactly is this intriguing young woman?
Uorfi Javed (no relation to Javed Akhtar) is a name that crops up in my news feeds every now and again. It is usually because she got trolled for being in some or other ‘daring’ outfit and then posting those images on social media. If I were asked, I would not be able to name a single other reason why she is famous. I am told that she is an actor but I would have no frankly no clue about her body of work (pun wholly unintended).
So is Urfi Javed (or Uorfi Javed as she prefers) famous only for being famous? How does she impact the cause of feminism by permitting herself to be objectified, trolled, reviled?
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