Women are second to none. Gone are the days when men were expected to go off to work in the office and hold high positions while women were supposed to stay at home and look after the family. Not anymore. Here are a few women who contributed to this change in mindset.
Dr Madhuri Kanitkar- the most decorated woman in the Indian Armed Forces
Dr Madhuri Kanitkar is the third woman to be promoted as a Lieutenant General in the Indian Armed Forces, after Punita Arora and Air Marshal Padma Bandopadhyay. Her husband, Lt Gen Rajeev Kanitkar, retired as the Quartermaster General of the Indian Army. They are the first couple to reach the Lieutenant General rank in the Indian Armed. She was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal in 2018, Vishisht Seva Medal in 2014. Apart from this, she was awarded the Chief of the Army Staff Commendation Card five times – a record of the sort as there is no provision of the service rule for the 5th Commendation card for meritorious service.
Teejan Bai – the traditional folk singer
64-year-old Teejan Bai is a traditional folk singer belonging to the Pardhi Scheduled Tribe from Chhattisgarh. Teejan Bai is known the world over for popularizing Pandavani a tribal art form enacting stories from the Mahabharata. Teejan Bai started singing when she was 13 years old but over a period of time was expelled by the ‘Pardhi’ tribe. This is because people in the Pardhi tribe believed that women were prohibited from singing Pandavani. This notwithstanding Teejan Bai was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1987, Padma Bhushan in 2003, and Padma Vibhushan in 2019. She was conferred the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize –the highest civilian honour in Japan in a ceremony attended by Japanese Prince Akishino (the younger son of Emperor Hirohito), and his wife. Though illiterate, Teejan Bai has been awarded an honorary doctorate by a number of universities in India.
Avani Chaturvedi– the first woman combat pilot to fly a MiG-21 Bison solo
Avani Chaturvedi the first woman combat pilot was inducted into the IAF fighter squadron in June 2016. Chaturvedi became the first Indian woman pilot to fly a MiG-21 Bison solo for 30 minutes in 2018. This was called a “big day” and heralded the beginning of a new era in the history of the Indian Armed Forces where women were kept away from combat roles. Prior to this, women made up just 2.5% of India’s armed forces and were mainly deployed in non-combat roles. Avani Chaturvedi was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant and honoured with a doctorate degree by the Banasthali Vidyapeeth.
Indra Nooyi the first woman CEO in PepsiCo’s 42-year history
Indra Nooyi the former chairperson and chief executive officer (CEO) of PepsiCo, ranks among the world’s 100 most powerful women. Nooyi stepped down after serving for 24 years with PepsiCo and 12 years as its first female CEO in 2018. Indra Nooyi has now been selected for the National Women’s Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021 along with Michelle Obama, Mia Hamm and Katherine Johnson. A chemistry graduate from Madras Christian College and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta Nooyi moved to the United States where she did a master’s degree in public and private management from the Yale School of Management. She worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group, held Motorola, and Asea Brown Boveri (now ABB) before joining Pepsi as senior vice president of corporate strategy and development. In due course of time, Nooyi became the fifth chairman and CEO in PepsiCo’s 42-year history, and the first woman to lead the soft-drink and snack-food giant as well as one of the only 11 female chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. Under her leadership, Pepsi’s spiralled upwards from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017. The government of India honoured her with the Padma Bhushan — the third-highest civilian award of the country — in 2007
Justice M. Fathima Beevi – the first woman Judge in the Supreme Court of India
Justice Fathima Beevi was the first Muslim woman in the Higher Judiciary and the first woman to be appointed Judge in the Supreme Court of India. In 1950, Fathima became the first woman to top the Bar Council of India’s exam and enrolled as an advocate. Soon she started her career in Kerala’s lower judiciary, much to the displeasure of many people who could not accept a woman magistrate in Kerala courts. Over the next three decades, Fathima Beevi proved them wrong and became the first woman Supreme Court Judge in an Asian country. After retirement from the Supreme Court, she served as a member of the National Human Rights Commission, Chairman of Kerala Commission for Backward Classes and Governor of Tamil Nadu. This made her the first female Supreme Court judge to be appointed as a Governor. As the Governor of Tamil Nadu, she rejected the mercy petitions of four people in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. She was also one of the contenders supported by the left parties for the post of President of India while the NDA government proposed the name of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam.
Justice Anna Chandy – the first Indian woman high court judge
Justice Anna Chandy became the first woman in Kerala to get a law degree in 1926 and started practising as a criminal lawyer before being appointed as one of the first female judges in India during the British era in 1937. She was elevated to the post of District Judge in 1948. She was picked up as the first Indian woman high court judge on 9 February 1959. Anna Chandy thus became not only India’s first female judge but also the first woman in the commonwealth nations to become a High Court judge. She served as a judge in the Kerala high court for eight years until 5 April 1967 before moving on to the Law Commission. Labelled as a “first-generation feminist”, she founded and edited a magazine called Shrimati; and wrote her autobiography titled Atmakatha in 1973. She died at the age of 91 in 1996.
Priya Jhingan – the first woman officer to join the army
Daughter of a police officer, Priya Jhingan created history when she wrote to the then Chief of Army Staff General Sunith Francis Rodrigues to allow her to join the army as an officer. As luck would have it, her request was accepted and she was inducted for training at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai along with 24 other lady cadets. She graduated as the Silver Medalist of the First Women’s Course on 06 March 1993. Her request to join an infantry battalion was rejected. But being a law graduate she was instead inducted into the Judge Advocate General branch. After nearly 10 years of eventful service in the Army, Major Jhingan was released in 2003. Major Priya Jhingan was felicitated by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, for being a woman of repute who left a lasting impression on the Indian Army in Feb 2018.
Roshni Nadar Malhotra – the richest woman in India
Roshni Nadar Malhotra the only child of Shiv Nadar the founder of HCL ranks among the Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. As the CEO and Executive Director of the $9.9 billion HCL Corporation Roshni Nadar Malhotra is responsible for providing strategic guidance to the organization. She was said to be the richest woman in India in the IIFL Wealth Hurun India Rich List in 2019. Even the Kotak Wealth Hurun – Leading Wealthy Women 2020 list, evaluates her among the most successful woman having a total wealth of Rs 54,850 crore.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw – the wealth creator
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw the Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, Asia’s leading bio-pharmaceuticals enterprise is a first-generation entrepreneur and a highly respected businesswoman. In the last, nearly four decades under her leadership Biocon has evolved from an industrial enzymes company to a fully-integrated, innovation-led, emerging global biopharmaceutical enterprise committed to reducing therapy costs of chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer and autoimmune diseases. TIME magazine ranked Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw among the 100 most influential people in the world. Forbes magazine listed her among the ‘World’s 100 Most Powerful Women’, while Fortune ‘Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Asia-Pacific.’ She has been recognized as the only Indian on Forbes’ list of ‘World’s Self-Made Women Billionaires’ and ranks among Foreign Policy magazine’s ‘100 Leading Global Thinkers. One of the 100 most influential people across the globe in the field of medicine she has been awarded Padma Shri (1989) and Padma Bhushan (2005) by the government of India.
Anandibai Joshi, India’s first female physician
Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was one of the first Indian females to attend a two-year medical degree in the United States, before returning back to India as the first woman to practice western medicine. Born in a Marathi family in Maharashtra, Anandibai Joshi was married at the age of 9 and gave birth to a child at the age of 14. Unfortunately for her, the child lived for only 10 days due to lack of medical care. This proved to be a turning point in Anandi’s life and inspired her to become a physician. Anandi and her husband Gopalrao shifted to Kolkatta so that she could learn to read and speak Sanskrit and English. But Anandibai soon realized that the knowledge available in India in those days was not enough and was only available in the west. Gopalrao supported Anandi’s decision and arranged for her to study in the United States. Gopalrao’s decision sparked uproar in the Brahmin community which couldn’t accept a married woman going to a foreign country alone to study Western medicine. This apart they felt that crossing the ‘seven seas’ could make Anandi lose their caste. Anandibai justified her decision in an address to the local community. She pointed out the lack of female physicians and emphasized that only a Hindu women physician could help Hindu women in need. She volunteered to be the first. The rest is history as she went on to become the first Indian woman to get MD in western medicine. Today she has a crater on Venus called ‘Joshee’ – after her.
Anna Rajam Malhotra – the first woman IAS officer in India
Anna Rajam Malhotra (born Anna Rajam George) passed the civil services examination in 1950 (the first woman to do so) and went on to join the 1951 batch as the first woman IAS officer. During those days it was next to impossible to imagine a female Malyali IAS officer. The selection board consisting of four ICS officers including R.N. Banerjee the then Chairman of UPSC tried their best to make her change her mind and instead offered her the Indian Foreign Service or Central Services because they were ‘more suitable for women’. But, she stood her ground. However, this was not the end of the unfair treatment and discrimination as her appointment letter read, “In the event of marriage your service will be terminated”. Anna Rajam’s first posting as an IAS officer was in Tamil Nadu where the chief minister C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) himself was known for his bias against women in public life. Rajaji could not grasp how a woman civil servant could handle law and order in a district so he got her posted in the Secretariat. But not for long as Anna Rajam Malhotra was eventually as Sub Collector of Tirupattur – the first woman to hold the charge in Madras State. In due course Anna Rajam Malhotra went on to serve under – seven chief ministers and two Prime Ministers – Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. She also happened to be the first Malayali woman to be posted as Secretary in the central government and was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1989. She died at the age of 91.