Time and again, Indian women have stepped over the threshold of their homes and into the male-dominated world that threatens to curb their freedom. Time and again, they have thwarted these attempts and with sheer hard work and resilience, achieved greatness. They have been the ‘firsts’ in their fields and in doing so, have inspired hundreds of girls waiting to make a name for themselves.
In no particular order, here’s a list of some amazing Indian women:
1. MUMTAZ, ASIA’S FIRST WOMAN DIESEL ENGINE DRIVER
Mumtaz M. Kazi has been piloting trains since the age of 20. She applied for a Railways job in 1989, and went on to become Asia’s first woman diesel engine driver. She has several awards to her credit and was awarded the prestigious ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’ by President Pranab Mukherjee earlier this year.
2. RADHIKA MENON, INDIA’S FIRST WOMAN MERCHANT NAVY CAPTAIN
Six years ago, Radhika Menon became the first woman captain of the Indian Merchant Navy. Last year, she became the first woman in the world to receive the Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea from the International Maritime Organisation after she saved seven fishermen who got lost at sea.
3. ROSHNI SHARMA, INDIA’S FIRST WOMAN TO RIDE SOLO FROM KANYAKUMARI TO KASHMIR
Sharma did what no woman had ever done before – ride solo from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. She broke the stereotype that women didn’t ride bikes, and embraced the challenges that came along with it. She became a traveler in her own right, and achieved a feat that many women would feel inspired to follow.
4. ARUNIMA SINHA, INDIA’S FIRST FEMALE AMPUTEE TO CLIMB MT EVEREST
Sinha was a national level volleyball player who lost her left leg in a tragic accident. However, she didn’t let her shortcoming stop her from scaling the heights of Mt. Everest. She became India’s first female amputee to climb the mountain and was awarded Padma Shri in 2015.
5. SHILA DAWRE, INDIA’S FIRST FEMALE AUTO-RICKSHAW DRIVER
In 1988, Dawre came to Pune to become the country’s first female auto-rickshaw driver – a profession that is, till date, considered male-dominated. She started driving autos when regular drivers went on leave and soon saved enough money to buy her own. Her name is also listed in the Limca Book of Records.
6. TESSY THOMAS, FIRST WOMAN SCIENTIST TO HEAD A MISSILE PROJECT IN INDIA
Known as the ‘Missile Woman of India’, Thomas became the Project Director for the 5,000-km range Agni-IV missile in 2009, which was tested successfully in 2012. Thomas is the first woman scientist to head a missile project in the country at the DRDO.
7. FATHIMA BEEVI, INDIA’S FIRST FEMALE SUPREME COURT JUDGE
In 1989, Fathima Beevi – a judge from the Kerala High Court – made history after she was appointed as the first female Supreme Court judge since it was established in 1950. Beevi also became the first Supreme Court woman judge in all of Asia. Her feat didn’t end there. She was also the first Muslim woman judge to be appointed to such a high pedestal in the Indian judiciary.
8. SARLA THAKRAL, INDIA’S FIRST WOMAN PILOT
Thakral became the first female to get an aviation licence and fly an aircraft at the age of 21. She even flew the Gypsy Moth in a saree. She was awarded an ‘A’ licence after successfully completing 1,000 flying hours. She would have earned ‘B’ licence to fly a commercial aircraft; however, World War 2 broke out and she was unable to realise her dream.
9. KIRAN BEDI, INDIA’S FIRST WOMAN POLICE OFFICER
After joining the Indian Police Services in 1972, Bedi became India’s first female police officer. She remained in service for 35 years before taking voluntary retirement in 2007. She also became the first Indian woman to hold the post of the United Nations Civil Police adviser.
10. KALPANA CHAWLA, FIRST INDIAN-ORIGIN WOMAN ASTRONAUT TO GO TO OUTER SPACE
An American astronaut, the late Kalpana Chawla made the country proud by becoming the first Indian-origin woman to go to outer space. In 1997, she flew on Space Shuttle Columbia as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator.
11. PRATIBHA PATIL, FIRST WOMAN TO SERVE AS THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA
A lawyer and politician, Patil became the first woman to serve as President of India. As the 12th President of our country, she held the post from 2007 to 2012. She was a member of the Indian National Congress, and became the first woman politician to hold the office of the Governor of Rajasthan from 2004 to 2007.
Hats off to these amazing ladies who showed how, with perseverance and hard work, it’s not difficult to move the mountain that is our male-dominated society.