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10 Inspiring Indian Women From History Whose Lives Continue To Influence The Way We Think

Polka Café logo Polka Café 07-03-2019 Sowdamini Pogaru

It might be easy to be a woman today, in the 21st century, but it has not always been this way. There was a time when the word 'feminism' or ‘women empowerment’ wasn't even coined. There was a time, when women struggled to break society’s so-called ‘norms’ and achieve what they were truly born to be. This Women’s Day, we round up a list of golden women who shone from the pages of our history books to become the inspiration to our lives. 

1. Draupadi

Draupadi is the first feminist of Indian Mythology - starting with woman power, self-belief and being confident, is what the lady knew right from the beginning. She was strong not because she was born strong but because she believed that she was strong. Born to a father, who wanted a son instead and bestowed upon her, hardships instead of blessings, didn’t deter Draupadi to follow her heart and instincts. The beautiful, virtuous and intelligent Draupadi, the real ‘heroine’ of Mahabharata, was a woman of substance. © pintrest Draupadi

Image credit: pintrest

Draupadi is the first feminist of Indian Mythology - starting with woman power, self-belief and being confident, is what the lady knew right from the beginning. She was strong not because she was born strong but because she believed that she was strong. Born to a father, who wanted a son instead and bestowed upon her, hardships instead of blessings, didn’t deter Draupadi to follow her heart and instincts. The beautiful, virtuous and intelligent Draupadi, the real ‘heroine’ of Mahabharata, was a woman of substance.

2. Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897)

Savitribai Phule and her husband were pioneers of women's education in India. Also, she was a dalit, and was doubly marginalised. She played an important role in improving women's rights and ending social prejudices in India during the British Rule. She also was the first woman to light her husband's pyre in the history of India. On March 10, 1998 a stamp was released by Indian post to honour Savitribai's contribution. Savitribai was a 'Vidya Jyoti' for all those who want to do something in the field of education.: Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) © youtube Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897)

Image credit: youtube

Savitribai Phule and her husband were pioneers of women's education in India. Also, she was a dalit, and was doubly marginalised. She played an important role in improving women's rights and ending social prejudices in India during the British Rule. She also was the first woman to light her husband's pyre in the history of India. On March 10, 1998 a stamp was released by Indian post to honour Savitribai's contribution. Savitribai was a 'Vidya Jyoti' for all those who want to do something in the field of education.

3. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990)

Vijaya Lakshmi was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post. She served as the president of the Indian National Congress twice. She was also India’s ambassador to Russia during the late forties, and the governor of Maharashtra, later. Pandit is best known for being the first woman president of the UN General Assembly.: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) © Allhabaddekho.com Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990)

Image credit: Allhabaddekho.com

Vijaya Lakshmi was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post. She served as the president of the Indian National Congress twice. She was also India’s ambassador to Russia during the late forties, and the governor of Maharashtra, later. Pandit is best known for being the first woman president of the UN General Assembly.

4. Rani Lakshmi Bai (19 November 1828 – 17 June 1858)

The Hindi saying that goes like this, Khoob Ladi Mardani thi Woh To Jhansi Wali Rani Thi is the most apt for describing this brave queen of Jhansi. ‘Rani of Jhansi’ began to strengthen her position - seeking the support of others, she formed a volunteer army consisting not just of men, but also women. Her bravery, courage, wisdom, her progressive views on women’s empowerment in the 19th century India, and her sacrifices made her an icon of the Indian Independence Movement. Her story became a beacon for the upcoming generations of freedom fighters.: Rani Lakshmi Bai (19 November 1828 – 17 June 1858) © readersmail.com Rani Lakshmi Bai (19 November 1828 – 17 June 1858)

Image credit: readersmail.com

The Hindi saying that goes like this, Khoob Ladi Mardani thi Woh To Jhansi Wali Rani Thi is the most apt for describing this brave queen of Jhansi. ‘Rani of Jhansi’ began to strengthen her position - seeking the support of others, she formed a volunteer army consisting not just of men, but also women. Her bravery, courage, wisdom, her progressive views on women’s empowerment in the 19th century India, and her sacrifices made her an icon of the Indian Independence Movement. Her story became a beacon for the upcoming generations of freedom fighters.

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5. Anandibai Joshi (31 March 1865 – 26 February 1887)

Anandibai Joshi was one of the first South Asian female physicians and the first Indian female physician, to be trained in the tradition of Western medicine. She was the first female of Indian origin to study and graduate with a degree in medicine in the United States. She is also believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot on American soil. In the 17th century, Indian women felt really uncomfortable with male doctors providing gynecological services. In her application letter, Joshi wanted to render to the poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. Joshi died young but the lady was the first ray of hope of change for Indian women and continues to inspire us even today.: Anandibai Joshi (31 March 1865 – 26 February 1887) © thebetterindia.com Anandibai Joshi (31 March 1865 – 26 February 1887)

Image credit: thebetterindia.com

Anandibai Joshi was one of the first South Asian female physicians and the first Indian female physician, to be trained in the tradition of Western medicine. She was the first female of Indian origin to study and graduate with a degree in medicine in the United States. She is also believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot on American soil. In the 17th century, Indian women felt really uncomfortable with male doctors providing gynecological services. In her application letter, Joshi wanted to render to the poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. Joshi died young but the lady was the first ray of hope of change for Indian women and continues to inspire us even today.

6. Sucheta Kriplani

Sucheta Kriplani was a great freedom fighter of India. Sucheta worked in close association with Mahatma Gandhi during the time of partition riots. She went along with him to Noakhali in 1946. She was one amongst the handful women who got elected to the Constituent Assembly. She became a part of the subcommittee that was handed over the task of laying down the charter for the constitution of India. On August 15, 1947, i.e. the Independence Day, she sang the national song Vande Mataram in the Independence Session of the Constituent Assembly. In 1963, she became the first woman to hold a prestigious position of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. © desinema.com Sucheta Kriplani

Image credit: desinema.com

Sucheta Kriplani was a great freedom fighter of India. Sucheta worked in close association with Mahatma Gandhi during the time of partition riots. She went along with him to Noakhali in 1946. She was one amongst the handful women who got elected to the Constituent Assembly. She became a part of the subcommittee that was handed over the task of laying down the charter for the constitution of India. On August 15, 1947, i.e. the Independence Day, she sang the national song Vande Mataram in the Independence Session of the Constituent Assembly. In 1963, she became the first woman to hold a prestigious position of the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.

7. Justice Anna Chandy (4 May 1905- 20 July 1996)

Often described as a “first generation feminist,” Chandy was the first woman in her state of Kerala to get a law degree. During her time as a barrister, she advocated for women’s rights. In 1931, she contested in the election to the Shree Mulam Popular Assembly, and despite getting hostility from her competition and the media, she was elected in 1932. She then went on to become munsif, making her the first female judge in India. In 1948, she was elevated to the position of district judge, after which she was appointed as the first female judge in an Indian high court by the Kerala High Court on 9 February 1959 — a position she retained for nine years.: Justice Anna Chandy (4 May 1905- 20 July 1996) © wikimedia.org Justice Anna Chandy (4 May 1905- 20 July 1996)

Image credit: wikimedia.org

Often described as a “first generation feminist,” Chandy was the first woman in her state of Kerala to get a law degree. During her time as a barrister, she advocated for women’s rights. In 1931, she contested in the election to the Shree Mulam Popular Assembly, and despite getting hostility from her competition and the media, she was elected in 1932. She then went on to become munsif, making her the first female judge in India. In 1948, she was elevated to the position of district judge, after which she was appointed as the first female judge in an Indian high court by the Kerala High Court on 9 February 1959 — a position she retained for nine years.

8. Sarojini Naidu (13 February 1879 – 2 March 1949)

Born in 1879, Sarojini Naidu, named as ‘The Nightingale Of India’ was a child prodigy. She was always a topper in her studies and proficient in several languages. She got involved in the Indian independence movement around 1905 and was an active participant in India’s struggles. In 1925, she was elected as the first woman President of the Indian national Congress and following India’s independence she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. Many of her literary works such as The Golden Threshold, The Bird Of Time, The Broken Wing have been read widely and critically acclaimed. She passed away in 1949.: Sarojini Naidu (13 February 1879 – 2 March 1949) © womenshistory.com Sarojini Naidu (13 February 1879 – 2 March 1949)

Image credit: womenshistory.com

Born in 1879, Sarojini Naidu, named as ‘The Nightingale Of India’ was a child prodigy. She was always a topper in her studies and proficient in several languages. She got involved in the Indian independence movement around 1905 and was an active participant in India’s struggles. In 1925, she was elected as the first woman President of the Indian national Congress and following India’s independence she became the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. Many of her literary works such as The Golden Threshold, The Bird Of Time, The Broken Wing have been read widely and critically acclaimed. She passed away in 1949.

9. Captain Prem Mathur

After acquiring her commercial pilots licence, she was turned down by eight private airlines, none of which wanted a woman pilot.Finally, she went for an interview at Deccan Airways, in Hyderabad. When asked how she would handle night halts when she would likely have to sleep in close quarters with men, she answered, “You will not regret hiring me.” Passing all the legal requirements, and quizzed on all the information required, she became the first woman pilot in India.: Captain Prem Mathur © quora.com Captain Prem Mathur

Image credit: quora.com

After acquiring her commercial pilots licence, she was turned down by eight private airlines, none of which wanted a woman pilot.Finally, she went for an interview at Deccan Airways, in Hyderabad. When asked how she would handle night halts when she would likely have to sleep in close quarters with men, she answered, “You will not regret hiring me.” Passing all the legal requirements, and quizzed on all the information required, she became the first woman pilot in India.

10. Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003)

Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut and the first Indian woman in space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. In 2003, Chawla was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Kalpana is an inspiration to many people in India and around the world. Her hard work and her only motive had made her life. She was different from others, she only wanted to become an astronaut. Her family was against her, when she was to leave to USA, but she had her own ideas and intentions. We have to learn a lot from Kalpana Chawla, who achieved her goal with a lot of hard work and suffering rather than others common people.: Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) © artcreationforever.com Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003)

Image credit: artcreationforever.com

Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-American astronaut and the first Indian woman in space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. In 2003, Chawla was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Kalpana is an inspiration to many people in India and around the world. Her hard work and her only motive had made her life. She was different from others, she only wanted to become an astronaut. Her family was against her, when she was to leave to USA, but she had her own ideas and intentions. We have to learn a lot from Kalpana Chawla, who achieved her goal with a lot of hard work and suffering rather than others common people.

If these women inspire you, you must definitely take a look at these successful women from history, who broke the social chains to become pioneers in their respective fields. And these women entrepreneurs who have made a mark for themselves.

How do these women from history inspire you? Tell us in the comments below!

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Happy Women's Day: Celebrating womanhood

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