Friday, 8 March 2019

12 Great Women in Indian History

The history of Indian women is full of pioneers, who have always stood up for their rights and fought their battles despite restrictions and limitations. They are the shining beacons of hope and have displayed exemplary dedication in their respective fields. This Women’s Day, I want to share the stories of 12 Indian women, who clearly deserve a standing ovation.

Ahilyabai Holkar

Punyaslok Rajmata Ahilyadevi Holkar (May 31, 1725 – August 13, 1795) (ruled December 11, 1767 – August 13, 1795) of India ruled as a Holkar dynasty Queen of the Malwa kingdom, India. Khanderao Holkar, Ahilyadevi's husband, died in the battle of Kumher in 1754. Twelve years later, her father-in-law, Malhar Rao Holkar, died. She inherited the throne and became the queen of Malwa (present-day Malwa falls into western Madhya Pradesh and south-eastern Rajasthan. She was one of India's great women rulers. Her reign lasted for 30 years and she ruled with the utmost compassion and pride. During her time, the region prospered and scaled many new heights. She is often cited as the "philosopher queen" and an "absolute ideal ruler." She even personally led armies into battle. As a tribute, Indore's domestic airport and university are named after her. Her war time exploits became legendary. Ahilyadevi earned a reputation for administering justice fairly during her rule without partiality or partisanship. She sentenced her only son, found guilty of a capital offense, to death by being crushed by an elephant.

Abala Bose

Abala Bose was a British Indian social worker, Known for her efforts in the advancement of women’s education and her contribution towards the alleviation of the condition of widows. Abala Das born in 1865; died in 1951. She attended Calcutta University; studied medicine in Madras. She was married to physicist Jagadish Chandra Bose, in 1887.
Abala Bose was an early feminist and frequently wrote about why women needed more education and stressed that women's minds were just as important as men. Later in her life, she set up the ‘Nari Shiksha Samiti’, a non-profit whose mission was to educate girls and women. She also opened a home for widows and a rehabilitation center for women.

Cornelia Sorabji

Cornelia Sorabji (1866 - 1954) is the first female advocate in India; first woman to study law at Oxford University. After received a first-class degree from Bombay University in 1888, Cornelia Sorabji was admitted to Oxford in 1892, a milestone that predates the women’s suffrage movement in Britain. Here, Sorabji became the first woman to sit the Civil Law exams but was not able to graduate as women could not be awarded degrees until 1920. She returned to India in 1894. After a long struggle with the authorities, she became legal advocate for women in purdah, whose religious and cultural beliefs prevented them from speaking to men outside their family.

Anasuya Sarabhai

Fondly known as 'Motaben', pioneering labour leader Anasuya Sarabhai (1885-1972) holds a unique place in the history of India. Anasuya Sarabhai completed her higher education at the London School of Economics. Then she return to India, where she helped women by advocating for labour rights. She founded the Ahmedabad Textile Labour Association, India's oldest union of textile workers, in 1920, becoming the first female leader of a trade union in India. On her 132nd birthday, Google India celebrated with a doodle remembering her achievements.

Anandi Gopal Joshi

Anandi Gopal Joshi, considered by some as India's first female doctor, was one of the earliest female physicians in India. Anandi died at a tender age of just 21. But before that, she became the first female physician and the first Indian woman to obtain a medical degree in the United States in 1887. Her condition was deteriorating while she was in the second year of studies. Yet, she still completed her studies and returned to India. She was later diagnosed with tuberculosis, which ultimately caused her death.

Justice Anna Chandy

Justice Anna Chandy (1905 - 1996), also known as Anna Chandi, was the first female judge not only in India but the entire British Commonwealth. She was also the first woman in India to become a High Court judge. She achieved this feat in the pre-independence era in 1937. After independence, in 1948, she became a district court judge. After serving 11 years at that position, in 1959, she was promoted to the high court in Kerala. She wrote an autobiography, Atmakatha, that discussed her achievements and inspired future generations. She founded a magazine named Shrimati, which aimed to promote the cause of women’s rights.

Amrita Sher-Gil

Amrita Sher-Gil was a prominent Indian painter, and one of the notable avant-garde women artists of the early 20th century. Amrita Sher-Gil was born in 1913 and started painting at the age of eight. She is one of the pioneers of modern Indian art and was known as India's Frida Kahlo. She died at the early age of 28, but her artwork is still praised and sold for top dollar. She received recognition with her oil painting named Young Girls in 1932.

Begum Akhtar

Begum Akhtar was born on 7th October, 1914 in Faizabad town of Uttar Pradesh. Her name was Akhtaribai Faizabadi though she was much popular as Begum Akhtar. Begum Akhtar is known as "Queen of Ghazals" in Indian classical singing circles. Most famous for ghazals, she also composed them. She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and was awarded Padma Shri and later, Padma Bhushan, posthumously by Govt. of India.
Begum Akhtar performed last in a concert in Balaramapuram near Thiruvananthapuram. That day she felt that her voice was not up to the mark and raised her pitch. This put much stress on her and her health deteriorated. The situation became critical and she had to be rushed to the hospital. She breathed her last on 30th October 1974, leaving many fans disappointed and heart broken.

Ismat Chugthai

Ismat Chughtai (August 1915 – 24 October 1991) was an eminent Urdu writer, known for her indomitable spirit and a fierce feminist ideology. She is addressed as the first Urdu writer who highlighted and wrote on female sexuality, femininity, and women rights. She is considered one of the four pillars of Urdu afsana along with Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishen Chander and Rajinder Singh Bedi. She also wrote stories for mainstream cinema. Some of her notable films include Ziddi (1948), Aarzoo (1950), and Garam Hawa (1973).

Asima Chatterjee

Asima Chatterjee (1917 - 2006) became the first female scientist in India when she received a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. She was the first woman to be awarded a Doctor of Science by an Indian University - in 1944, by the University of Calcutta. She was also the first woman to be elected as the General President of the Indian Science Congress, a premier institution that oversees scientific research. Her area of interest was natural products with special reference to medicinal chemistry. She devoted her time extensively to developing anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs.

Arati Saha

Arati Saha was an Indian long-distance swimmer. Born in Calcutta, West Bengal; on 24th September, 1940. In 1959, just five days past her 19th birthday, she became the first and fastest Asian woman to successfully swim across the English Channel in 16 hours 20 minutes. She is the first female sportsperson to be awarded Padma Shri—the fourth highest civilian award in India—in 1960.

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first female of Indian origin to go to space. She was born in Haryana's Karnal on March 17, 1962. She flew to the US to obtain Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in Arlington. Later, she settled in the US and became a citizen. After finishing her PhD in 1991, she applied for NASA Astronaut Corps where she kick-started her space journey.
She conducted her first flight in 1997 as a primary robotic arm operator and mission specialist. On her second space mission in 2003, Kalpana Chawla along with other six crew members died when the Space Shuttle disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana.

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