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7 Trailblazing Female Firsts In India To Remember When We Need Inspiration!

Indian women have always been strong-defiant of the gender stereotyping in the country. These 7 female firsts are worth hearing about!

When I think of Indian women, I remember these trailblazing women who lived their lives breaking the stereotypical barricade and becoming female firsts of India.

These women, although in different roles, have time and again inspired us to be more audacious without worrying about others.

While the term glass ceiling was coined in 1978, these Indian women have been breaking the glass ceiling long before it was a thing.

These female firsts have made a mark in the country. Their stories are inspiring- and their tales unknown. They thrived despite being in male-dominating fields. Here’s to remembering these women, their sacrifices and their success. Let’s dive in!

India’s first woman commercial pilot

Durba Banerjee

female firsts

Durba Banerjee was the first female commercial pilot in India. As a first-generation pilot from Calcutta (now Kolkata), Banerjee defied several stereotypes and literally flew ahead of them.

Banerjee dreamt of being a pilot in the 1950s when India was barely stepping as an independent country.

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She was the first Indian woman to fly several monumental aeroplanes like Tornado A-200, Airbus 300 and Boeing 737. Moreover, Banerjee had a phenomenal flying hour of over 18,500 hours- she paved the way for the women at work concept.

India’s first woman engineer

Rajeshwari Chatterjee

Rajeshwari Chatterjee was the first female engineer in India. This talented woman from Karnakata was born in pre-independent India. Since pre-independent India rarely acknowledged education for women, for Rajeshwari, completing her school in a ‘special English school’ was tremendous.

Her schooling was just the start as Chatterjee pursued her Bachelors in Science and eventually a Master’s in Science (Mathematics). Eventually, she got the chance to go to the USA for her higher studies, where she received a Master’s in electrical engineering degree.

After coming back to India, she became a faculty member at IISc (Indian Institute of Science) in the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering. Rajeshwari Chatterjee was the first woman to be a faculty member of IISc.

India’s first woman Supreme Court judge

Fathima Beevi

Justice Fathima Beevi (literally) smashed the patriarchy by becoming the first female judge of the Supreme Court in 1989. Beevi is an inspiration to women in and outside the law.

While Beevi didn’t intend on becoming a lawyer, she pursued a career in law when her father encouraged her. Little did the father-daughter duo know that Beevi was destined to create history.

Three years before retiring in 1992, Beevi finally became the first lady judge of the SC. Her rise to the chair was a historic movement in the country. Beevi is a strength and an inspiration for several women who want to break the glass ceiling.

India’s first female firefighter

Harshini Kanhekar

female firsts

Harshini Kanhekar, the first female firefighter in India, singlehandedly changed the course of female firefighters in India.

Earlier- about two decades back, the firefighters’ department consisted of only male officers, and it all changed because of Harshini; she changed policies and cracked the gender gap in this sector.

While opening the door in a male-dominated field was tough, Kanhekar worked twice as hard as her male counterparts and earned her place as a respectable firefighter. One of her most notable assignments was a six-hour operation at a tin factory in Delhi. Today, because of Harshini Kanhekar, several women aspire to thrive in a male-dominated field.

India’s first meteorologist

Anna Mani

Anna Mani was India’s first meteorologist. This trailblazing woman is responsible for the way we gauge weather now. Anna Mani- the weather woman of India- has an impressive record of her work on the spectroscopy of rubies and diamonds.

Moreover, after getting her Master’s degree from Imperial College London, Mani came to India and started working at the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). Here, she standardised drawings of about 100 weather instruments.

Mani was one of a kind who had begun working on atmospheric ozone and designed an instrument- ozonesonde. While her contributions to science have been recognised tremendously, her name, unfortunately, got lost in the layers.

India’s first woman botanist

Janaki Ammal

female firsts

Janaki Ammal, the first Indian female botanist- left a mark on the country with her scientific research in the fields of cytogenetics and phytogeography.

Born in 1897, when women weren’t encouraged to work, Ammal chose to study Botany. She completed her graduation from Queen Mary’s College and got an honour’s degree in Botany from Presidency College in 1925.

After obtaining her Master’s degree from the University of Michigan, USA, Ammal returned to India. Here, she conducted several types of research- her most renowned is putting sweetness in sugarcane varieties. Lastly, her scientific contribution is celebrated in academia- her excellence is often overlooked.

India’s first photojournalist

Homai Vyarawalla

Finally, the last in the list of female firsts is Homai Vyarawalla- India’s first photojournalist who was a part of India’s several historical movements.

Born in Navsari, Gujarat, Vyarawalla spent most of her life travelling in and out of Bombay (now Mumbai). She studied photography at JJ School of Arts and later moved to Delhi to embark on her long career as a photojournalist.

She initially published photos under her husband’s name and eventually used a pseudonym- Dalda 13. Eventually, her works were noticed, and she began photographing several political figures and the independence movement.

Her favourite subject was former PM Jawaharlal Nehru; she even clicked photos of Mahatma Gandhi and India’s first female Prime Minister- Indira Gandhi.

These seven women are a moment, an inspiration- yet the most overlooked female firsts of India. They hailed from different backgrounds, societal constructs and eras but made a difference.

These women should be celebrated for they are one of the reasons women manage to thrive in this male-dominated world.

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About the Author

Pranjali Hasotkar

I am a journalism student with a penchant for writing about women and social issues. I am an intersectional feminist and an aspiring journalist. I identify as she/her. read more...

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