Who says that girls cannot do anything, you should know that girls have created history if you are a girl or not, but if you want to do something better in your life, then you can do just the courage to do something.
Year after year, gutsy, bright, and indomitable women from all over India are making it big and achieving grand success in diverse fields. They make the country proud with their amazing achievements. They smashed the proverbial glass ceiling with sheer grit and show to the world that if they want it with all hearts they can get it at any cost in any field, be it science, sports, business, cinema, literature, art, civil services, police services or any other field. Below, you can find the list of the most inspiring women of India. Even though there are several women deserving of great honor in their respective fields, these names have made a lasting impression in our minds. Owing to their incredible efforts, and struggle, these women have broken through the set stereotypes and created concrete legacies of their own. Their achievements and success are not limited to themselves rather they have paved the way for other women and also inspiring millions of other people.
Savitribai Phule (3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897) was an Indian social reformer, educationalist, and poet from Maharashtra. She is regarded as the first female teacher of India. Along with her husband, Jyotirao Phule, she played an important and vital role in improving women’s rights in India. She is regarded as the mother of Indian feminism. Phule and her husband founded one of the first Indian girls’ school in Pune, at Bhide wada in 1848. She worked to abolish the discrimination and unfair treatment of people based on caste and gender. She is regarded as an important figure of the social reform movement in Maharashtra.
A philanthropist and an educationist, Phule was also a prolific Marathi writer.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990) was an Indian diplomat and politician who was elected as the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly. Hailing from a prominent political family, her brother Jawaharlal Nehru was the first Prime Minister of independent India, her niece Indira Gandhi the first female Prime Minister of India and her grand-nephew Rajiv Gandhi was the sixth Prime Minister of India. Pandit was sent to London as India’s most important diplomat after serving as Nehru’s envoy to the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Nations. Her time in London offers insights into the wider context of changes in Indo–British relations. Her High-Commissionership was a microcosm of inter-governmental relations.
Rani Lakshmi Bai
Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (19 November 1828 – 18 June 1858), was an Indian queen of the Maratha princely state of Jhansi in North India currently present in Jhansi district in Uttar Pradesh, India. She was one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and became a symbol of resistance to the British Raj for Indian nationalists.
Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi (31 March 1865 – 26 February 1887) was the first Indian female practitioner of western medicine, alongside Kadambini Ganguly. She was the first woman from the erstwhile Bombay presidency of India to study and graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States. She was also referred to as Anandibai Joshi and Anandi Gopal Joshi (where Gopal came from Gopalrao, which is her husband’s first name).
Sucheta Kripalani (née Mazumdar), (25 June 1908 – 1 December 1974) was an Indian freedom fighter and politician. She was India’s first woman Chief Minister, serving as the head of the Uttar Pradesh government from 1963 to 1967.
She was born in Ambala, Punjab (now in Haryana) into a Bengali Brahmo family. Her father Surendranath Majumdar, worked as a medical officer,a job that required many transfers. As a result, she attended a number of schools, her final degree is a Master’s in History from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
Sindhutai Sapkal is an Indian social worker and social activist known particularly for her work in raising orphaned children in India. She was conferred the Padma Shri in 2021 in Social Work category.
Sapkal was born on 14 November 1948 in a cattle grazing family in Maharashtra’s Wardha district. Being an unwanted child, she was referred to as Chindhi (Marathi for “torn piece of cloth”). Abject poverty, family responsibilities and an early marriage forced her to quit formal education after she successfully passed the 4th standard. At the age of twelve, Sapkal was married to a man twenty years her senior in Wardha District. In her new home, she fought against the exploitation of local women, who collected cow dung, by the forests department and landlords. She bore three sons by the time she turned twenty. At the young age of twenty, when nine-months pregnant, Sapkal was beaten and left to die by her husband. She gave birth to a baby girl in a semi-conscious state in a cow shelter outside their house on the night of 14 October 1973. Sapkal took to begging on the streets and railway platforms to survive. Because she feared being picked up by men at night, she often spent the night at cemeteries. Such was her condition that people called her a ghost since she was seen at night in the cemeteries.
Sarojini Naidu (née Chattopadhyay; 13 February 1879 – 2 March 1949) was an Indian political activist and poet. A proponent of civil rights, women’s emancipation, and anti-imperialistic ideas, she was an important figure in India’s struggle for independence from colonial rule. Naidu’s work as a poet earned her the sobriquet ‘Nightingale of India’ by Mahatma Gandhi. She was called ‘Bharat Kokila’ by Rabindranath Tagore.
Born in a Bengali family in Hyderabad, Naidu was educated in Madras, London and Cambridge. Following her time in England, where she worked as a suffragist, she was drawn to Indian National Congress’ movement for India’s independence from British rule. She became a part of the Indian nationalist movement and became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and his idea of swaraj. She was appointed the President of the Indian National Congress in 1925 and later became the Governor of the United Provinces in 1947, becoming the first woman to hold the office of Governor in the Dominion of India.
Naidu’s poetry includes both children’s poems and others written on more serious themes including patriotism, romance, and tragedy. Published in 1912, “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” remains one of her most popular poems. She was married to Govindarajulu Naidu, a general physician, and had five children with him. She died of a cardiac arrest on 2 March 1949.
Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003) was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first woman of Indian origin to go to 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 who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Chawla was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and several streets, universities, and institutions have been named in her honor. She is regarded as a national hero in India.
Justice Anna Chandy
Justice Anna Chandy (1905-1996), also known as Anna Chandi, was the first female judge (1937) and then High Court judge (1959) in India. She was, in fact, one of the first female judges in the British Empire next to Emily Murphy.
Anna Chandy was born in 1905, in the erstwhile kingdom of Travancore and raised in Trivandrum. She was an Anglican Syrian Christian who embraced Catholicism, in later life. After obtaining a post-graduate degree in 1926, she then became the first woman in her state to get a law degree. She practised as a barrister from 1929 while simultaneously promoting the cause of women’s rights, most notably in Shrimati, a magazine that she both founded and edited.
Mithali Dorai Raj (born 3 December 1982) is an Indian cricketer and Test, ODI Captain of women’s national cricket team. She is a right-handed opening Batswoman and occasional right-arm leg break bowler. She is the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket and the only female cricketer to surpass the 6,000 run mark in Women’s One Day International matches. she is the first player to score seven consecutive 50s in ODIs. Raj also holds the record for most half-centuries in WODIs. In June 2018 during the 2018 Women’s Twenty20 Asia Cup, she became the first player from India (either male or female) to score 2000 runs in T20Is, and also became the first woman cricketer to reach 2002 WT20I runs.In 2005, she became the captain of the side. Raj is the only player (female) to have captained India in more than one ICC ODI World Cup final, doing so twice in 2005 and 2017. On 1 February 2019, during India’s series against New Zealand Women, Raj became the first woman to play in 200 ODI matches. In September 2019, she announced her retirement from T20Is to focus on ODI cricket. In 2019, she became the first woman to complete 20 years in international cricket.She is the recipient of several national and international awards, including the Wisden Leading Woman Cricketer in the World in 2017, Arjuna Award in 2003, and the Padma Shri in 2015, both by the Government of India.
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi ( 19 November 1917 – 31 October 1984) was an Indian politician and a central figure of the Indian National Congress. She was the first and, to date, only female Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. She served as prime minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984, making her the second longest-serving Indian prime minister after her father.During Nehru’s time as Prime Minister of India from 1947 to 1964, Gandhi was considered a key assistant and accompanied him on his numerous foreign trips. She was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1959. Upon her father’s death in 1964, she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and became a member of Lal Bahadur Shastri’s cabinet as Minister of Information and Broadcasting. In the Congress Party’s parliamentary leadership election held in early 1966 (upon the death of Shastri), she defeated her rival Morarji Desai to become leader, and thus succeeded Shastri as Prime Minister of India.
As prime minister, Gandhi was known for her political intransigency and unprecedented centralisation of power. She went to war with Pakistan in support of the independence movement and war of independence in East Pakistan, which resulted in an Indian victory and the creation of Bangladesh, as well as increasing India’s influence to the point where it became the sole regional power of South Asia. Citing separatist tendencies, and in response to a call for revolution, Gandhi instituted a state of emergency from 1975 to 1977 where basic civil liberties were suspended and the press was censored. Widespread atrocities were carried out during the emergency. In 1980, she returned to power after free and fair elections. After Gandhi ordered military action in the Golden Temple in Operation Blue Star, her own bodyguards and Sikh nationalists assassinated her on 31 October 1984.
In 1999, Indira Gandhi was named “Woman of the Millennium” in an online poll organised by the BBC. In 2020 Gandhi was named by the Time magazine among world’s 100 powerful women who defined the last century.
Medha Patkar (born 1 December 1954) is an Indian social activist working on various crucial political and economic issues raised by tribals, dalits, farmers, labourers and women facing injustice in India. She is an alumnus of TISS, a premier institute of social science research in India.
Hima Das (born 9 January 2000), nicknamed the Dhing Express, is an Indian sprinter from the state of Assam. She holds the current Indian national record in 400 metres with a timing of 50.79 s that she clocked at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal in a track event at the IAAF World U20 Championships..
Irom Chanu Sharmila
Irom Chanu Sharmila (born 14 March 1972), also known as the “Iron Lady of Manipur” or “Mengoubi” (“the fair one”) is a civil rights activist, political activist, and poet from the Indian state of Manipur, which is located on the north-eastern side of India. On 5 November 2000, she began a hunger strike in favour of abolishing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 that applies to the seven states and grants security forces the power to search properties without a warrant, and to arrest people, and to use deadly force if there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is acting against the state. She ended the fast on 9 August 2016, after 16 long years of fasting. Having refused food and water for more than 500 weeks (she was nasally force feed in jail), she has been called “the world’s longest hunger striker”. On International Women’s Day, 2014 she was voted the top woman icon of India by MSN Poll.
Usha Mehta (25 March 1920 – 11 August 2000) was a Gandhian and freedom fighter of India. She is also remembered for organizing the Congress Radio, also called the Secret Congress Radio, an underground radio station, which functioned for few months during the Quit India Movement of 1942. In 1998, the Government of India conferred on her Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of Republic of India.
Tessy Thomas (born April 1963) is an Indian scientist and Director General of Aeronautical Systems and the former Project Director for Agni-IV missile in Defence Research and Development Organisation. She is the first ever woman scientist to head a missile project in India.
Kiran Bedi (born 9 June 1949) is an Indian politician, retired police officer, social activist and former tennis player, who was the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry from 28 May 2016 to 16 February 2021. She is the first Indian female to become an officer in the Indian Police Service and started her service in 1972. She remained in service for 35 years before taking voluntary retirement in 2007 as Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development.
Flight Lieutenant Avani Chaturvedi (born 27 November 1993) is an Indian pilot from Rewa district, Madhya Pradesh. She was declared as the first woman combat pilot along with two of her cohorts, Mohana Singh Jitarwal, and Bhawana Kanth. The trio was inducted into the Indian Air Force fighter squadron in June 2016. They were formally commissioned by then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on 18th June 2016, to serve the nation.
Laxmi Agarwal (born 1 June 1990) is an Indian acid attack survivor, a campaigner for rights of acid attack victims, and a TV host. Laxmi Agarwal was attacked in 2005 in New Delhi at the age of 15, after rebuffing the romantic advances of Naeem Khan. Her story, among others, was told in a series on acid attack victims by Hindustan Times. She has since established grassroots campaigns for tackling the surge of acid attacks; one of her petitions has led the Supreme Court to order the central and state governments to regulate the sale of acid and the Parliament to enable easier prosecutions of acid attack perpetrators. She was the former director of Chhanv Foundation, a NGO dedicated to help acid attack survivors in India.
Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom (born 24 November 1982) is an Indian amateur boxer, politician, and incumbent Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. She is the only female to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times, the only female boxer to have won a medal in each one of the first seven World Championships, and the only boxer (male or female) to win eight World Championship medals. Nicknamed Magnificent Mary, she is the only Indian female boxer to have qualified for the 2012 Summer Olympics, competing in the flyweight (51 kg) category and winning a bronze medal. She had also been ranked as the world’s No. 1 female light-flyweight by the International Boxing Association (amateur) (AIBA). She became the first Indian female boxer to win a gold medal in the Asian Games in 2014 at Incheon, South Korea and is the first Indian female boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She is also the only boxer to become Asian Amateur Boxing Champion for a record six times.
Sania Mirza (born 15 November 1986) is an Indian professional tennis player. A former doubles world No. 1, she has won six Grand Slam titles in her career. From 2003 until her retirement from singles in 2013, she was ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association as India’s No. 1 player. Throughout her career, Mirza has established herself as by far the most successful Indian female tennis player ever and one of the highest-paid and most high-profile athletes in the country. In her singles career, Mirza had notable wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Vera Zvonareva, and Marion Bartoli, as well as former world No. 1s Martina Hingis, Dinara Safina, and Victoria Azarenka. She is the highest-ranked female player ever from India, peaking at world No. 27 in mid-2007. However, a major wrist injury forced her to give up her singles career and focus on the doubles circuit. She has achieved a number of firsts for women’s tennis in her native country, including surpassing $1 million in career earnings (in the end over $6.9 million), winning a singles WTA title, and winning a Grand Slam title (eventually, three each in women’s doubles and in mixed doubles), as well as qualifying for (and eventually winning) the WTA Finals in 2014 alongside Cara Black, defending the title the following year partnering with Martina Hingis.So far, Mirza is the only Indian female player to win a WTA title of any kind, and the only to reach the top 100 singles rankings. She is the third Indian woman in the Open Era to feature and win a round at a Grand Slam tournament, and the first to advance past the second round. With 42 crowns, Mirza has won more WTA doubles titles on the tour than any other active player. In addition, she has spent 91 weeks as the world No. 1 in doubles. In 2005, Mirza was crowned the WTA Newcomer of the year, and in 2015 she and Martina Hingis were the doubles team of the year, and later had a 44-match winning streak, one of the longest in history. She has also won a total of 14 medals (including 6 gold) at three major multi-sport events, namely the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Afro-Asian Games.
Mirza was named one of the “50 Heroes of Asia” by Time in October 2005. In March 2010, The Economic Times named Mirza in the list of the “33 women who made India proud”. She was appointed as the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia during the event held to mark the International Day To End Violence Against Women on 25 November 2013. She was named in Time magazine’s 2016 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Shakuntala Devi (4 November 1929 – 21 April 2013) was an Indian mathematician, writer and mental calculator, popularly known as the “Human Computer”. Devi strove to simplify numerical calculations for students. Her talent earned her a place in the 1982 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records. However, the certificate for the record was given posthumously on 30 July 2020, despite Devi achieving her world record on 18 June 1980 at Imperial College, London. Devi was a precocious child and she demonstrated her arithmetic abilities at the University of Mysore without any formal education.
Saalumarada Thimmakka, also known as Aalada Marada Timakka, is an Indian environmentalist from the state of Karnataka, noted for her work in planting and tending to 385 banyan trees along a four-kilometre stretch of highway between Hulikal and Kudur. She has also planted nearly 8000 other trees. With the support of her husband, she found solace in planting trees.
She received no formal education and worked as a casual labourer in a nearby quarry. Her work has been honoured with the National Citizen’s Award of India. Her work was recognized by the Government of India and she was conferred with Padma Shri in 2019. A U.S. environmental organisation based in Los Angeles and Oakland, California called Thimmakka’s Resources for Environmental Education is named after her. Central University of Karnataka has announced an honorary doctorate for Thimmakka in the year 2020.
Kanaklata Barua (22 December 1924 – 20 September 1942), also called Birbala and Shaheed (martyr), was an Indian independence activist and AISF leader who was shot dead by the British police while leading a procession bearing the National Flag during the Quit India Movement of 1942.
Barua was born in the Borangabari village of the undivided Darrang district of Assam as the daughter of Krishna Kanta and Karneshwari Barua. Her grandfather Ghana Kanta Barua was a famous hunter in Darrang. Her ancestors were from the Dolakakharia Barua kingdom of the erstwhile Ahom state who relinquished the Dolakakharia title and continued retaining Barua title. Her mother died when she was only five and her father, who remarried, died when she reached thirteen. She went to school till class three but then dropped out to take care of her younger siblings.
Pratibha Devisingh Patil (born 19 December 1934) is an Indian politician who served as the 12th President of India from 2007 to 2012. A member of the Indian National Congress, Patil is the only woman to have held the office. She previously served as the Governor of Rajasthan from 2004 to 2007.
Captain Prem Mathur
Prem Mathur is the first Indian woman commercial pilot and started flying for Deccan Airways. She obtained her commercial pilot’s licence in 1947. In 1949, she won the National Air Race.
Mathur was rejected by eight airlines before she got a job at Deccan Airways in Hyderabad in 1947. She was offered the job at the age of 38 where she became the first Indian woman to fly a commercial plane. She received her license from the Allahabad Flying Club. She flew her first plane as a co-pilot. During her career at Deccan Airways, she flew high-profile people like Indira Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Lady Mountbatten.
Bachendri Pal (born 24 May 1954) is an Indian mountaineer, who in 1984 became the first Indian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. She was awarded the third highest civilian award Padma Bhushan by Government of India in 2019.
Arunima Sinha is an Indian mountain climber and sportswoman. She is a seven time India women’s national volleyball team player, mountaineer and the World’s first female amputee to scale Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Mount Elbrus (Russia), Mount Kosciusko (Australia), Mount Aconcagua (South America), Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia) and Mount Vinson.She was pushed from a running train by some robbers in 2011 while she was resisting them. As a result, her left leg had to be amputated below the knee, she got rods in the right leg and multiple fractures in spinal cord.Her aim was to climb each of the continents’ highest peaks and hoist the national flag of India. She has already done seven peaks till 2014: Everest in Asia, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciuszko in Australia, Aconcagua in Argentina, and Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) in Indonesia. She completed her final summit of Mount Vinson in Antarctica on 1 January 2019.In 2015 the government of India honored her with the Padma Shri award, the fourth highest civilian award of India.
Raziya al-Din (r. 1236–1240), popularly known as Razia Sultana, was a ruler of the Delhi Sultanate in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. She is notable for being the first female Muslim ruler of the Indian Subcontinent.
A daughter of Mamluk Sultan Shamsuddin Iltutmish, Razia administered Delhi during 1231–1232 when her father was busy in the Gwalior campaign. According to a possibly apocryphal legend, impressed by her performance during this period, Iltutmish nominated Razia as his heir apparent after returning to Delhi. Iltutmish was succeeded by Razia’s half-brother Ruknuddin Firuz, whose mother Shah Turkan planned to execute her. During a rebellion against Ruknuddin, Razia instigated the general public against Shah Turkan, and ascended the throne after Ruknuddin was deposed in 1236.
Rudrama Devi (Rudradeva Maharaja, Rudramadevi, Rani Rudrama or Rudrama-devi), was a monarch of the Kakatiya dynasty in the Deccan Plateau from 1263-1289 (or 1295) until her death. She was one of the very few women to rule as monarchs in India and promoted a male image in order to do so. This was a significant change and one that was followed by her successor and also by the later Vijayanagara Empire.
Akka Mahadevi (c.1130–1160) was one of the early female poets of the Kannada literature and a prominent person in the Lingayatism sect of Hinduism in the 12th century. Her 430 extant Vachana poems (a form of spontaneous mystical poems), and the two short writings called Mantrogopya and the Yogangatrividhi are considered her most notable contribution to Kannada literature. She composed fewer poems than other saints of the movement. The term Akka (“elder Sister”) is an honorific given to her by great Lingayat saints such as Basavanna, Siddharama and Allamaprabhu and an indication of her high place in the spiritual discussions held at the “Anubhava Mantapa”. She is seen as an inspirational woman in Kannada literature and in the history of Karnataka. She considered the god Shiva (‘Chenna Mallikarjuna’) as her husband, (traditionally understood as the ‘madhura bhava’ or ‘madhurya’ form of devotion).
Saina Nehwal (born 17 March 1990) is an Indian professional badminton singles player. A former world no. 1, she has won over 24 international titles, which includes eleven Superseries titles. Although she reached the world’s 2nd in the 2009, it was only in 2015 that she was able to attain the world no. 1 ranking, thereby becoming the only female player from India and overall the second Indian player – after Prakash Padukone – to achieve this feat. She has represented India three times in the Olympics, winning a bronze medal in her second appearance.Nehwal has achieved several milestones in badminton for India. She is the only Indian to have won at least one medal in every BWF major individual event, namely the Olympics, the BWF World Championships, and the BWF World Junior Championships. She is the first Indian badminton player to have won an Olympic medal, the first Indian to have reached the final of the BWF World Championships, along with being the only Indian to have won the BWF World Junior Championships or. In 2006, Nehwal became the first Indian female and the youngest Asian to win a 4-star tournament. She also has the distinction of being the first Indian to win a Super Series title. In the 2014 Uber Cup, she captained the Indian team and remained undefeated, helping India to win bronze medal. It was India’s first medal in any BWF major team event. Nehwal became the first Indian to win two singles gold medals (2010 and 2018) in Commonwealth Games.
Considered one of the most successful Indian sportspersons, she is credited for increasing the popularity of badminton in India. In 2016, the Government of India (GoI) conferred the Padma Bhushan – India’s third highest civilian award – on her. Previously, the nation’s top two sporting honours, namely the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna and the Arjuna Award, were also conferred on her by the Government of India. Nehwal is a philanthropist and was ranked 18th on the list of most charitable athletes.
Vandana Luthra (born 12 July 1959) is an Indian entrepreneur and the founder of VLCC Health Care Ltd, a beauty and wellness conglomerate represented in Asia, the GCC and Africa. She is also the chairperson of the Beauty & Wellness Sector Skill Council (B&WSSC), an initiative that provides training under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana scheme.
Sushma Swaraj ( 14 February 1952 – 6 August 2019) was an Indian politician and a Supreme Court lawyer. A senior leader of Bharatiya Janata Party, Swaraj served as the Minister of External Affairs of India in the first Narendra Modi government (2014–2019). She was the second woman to hold the office, after Indira Gandhi. She was elected seven times as a Member of Parliament and three times as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. At the age of 25 in 1977, she became the youngest cabinet minister of Indian state of Haryana. She also served as 5th Chief Minister of Delhi for a short duration in 1998 and became the First female Chief Minister of Delhi.
Neerja Bhanot, Ashoka Chakra (7 September 1963 – 5 September 1986) was an Indian head purser who died while saving passengers on Pan Am Flight 73 which had been hijacked by terrorists during a stopover in Karachi, Pakistan, on 5 September 1986, just two days before her 23rd birthday. Posthumously, she became the youngest recipient of India’s highest peacetime gallantry, the Ashoka Chakra Award, as well as several other accolades from the governments of Pakistan and the United States. She was shot while helping passengers escape through the emergency exits. Her life and heroism inspired the biopic Neerja, which was released in 2016 and was directed by Ram Madhvani starring Sonam Kapoor.
Sultana Chand Bibi (1550–1599 CE) was an Indian Muslim ruler and warrior. She acted as the Regent of Bijapur Sultanate and Ahmednagar Sultanate (in current day Maharashtra. Chand Bibi is best known for defending Ahmednagar against the Mughal forces of Emperor Akbar in 1595.
Seema Rao, sometimes referred to as India’s Wonder Woman, is India’s first woman commando trainer, having trained Special Forces of India for over two decades without compensation. She is an expert in close quarter battle (CQB) — the art of fighting in tight proximity — and is involved in training various Indian forces. She works in partnership with Major Deepak Rao, her husband.
Aruna Asaf Ali
Aruna Asaf Ali ( Ganguly ) (16 July 1909 – 29 July 1996 ) was an Indian educator, political activist, and publisher. An active participant in the Indian independence movement, she is widely remembered for hoisting the Indian National flag at the Gowalia Tank maidan, Bombay during a Quit India Movement in 1942. Post-independence, she remained active in politics, becoming Delhi’s first Mayor.
Tarabai Bhonsale (1675 – 9 December 1761) was the regent of the Maratha Empire of India from 1700 until 1708. She was the queen of Chhatrapati Rajaram Bhonsale, daughter-in-law of the empire’s founder Shivaji and mother of Shivaji II. She is acclaimed for her role in keeping alive the resistance against Mughal occupation of Maratha territories after the death of her spouse, and acted as regent during the minority of her son. Her efforts for preservation of indigenous culture is widely lauded.
Kittur Chennamma (23 October 1778 – 21 February 1829) was the Indian queen (rani) of Kittur, a princely state in present-day Karnataka. She led an armed rebellion against the British East India Company in 1824 in defiance of the doctrine of lapse in an attempt to maintain Indian control over the region, but was defeated and died imprisoned. One of the first female rulers to rebel against British rule, she has become a folk hero in Karnataka and symbol of the independence movement in India.
Shila Dawre, India’s first woman auto-rickshaw driver. She has been recognised in the Limca Book of Records and conferred with ‘First Ladies’ award. She also dreams to start an academy for women interested in becoming trained auto drivers.
Richa Kar, the owner of an online lingerie brand Zivame. The entrepreneurial journey of Richa Kar wasn’t smooth from the beginning as she gets opposed by her parents. Richa says that her father did not understand what work she wanted to do.
Gita Gopinath (born 8 December 1971) is an Indian American economist who has been the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund since 2019. In that role she is the Director of IMF’s Research Department and the Economic Counsellor of the Fund. She is on leave of public service from the economics department of Harvard University where she is the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Economics. She is also a co-director of the International Finance and Macroeconomics program at the National Bureau of Economic Research and has worked as the Economic Adviser to the Chief Minister of Kerala.
Jahanara Begum ( 23 March 1614 – 16 September 1681) was a Mughal princess and the Padshah Begum of the Mughal Empire from 1631 to 1658 and again from 1668 until her death. She was the eldest child of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Often referred to simply as Begum Sahib (Princess of Princesses), she was the elder sister of the crown prince, Dara Shikoh, and Emperor Aurangzeb.
Sarla Thukral (1914 – 15 March 2008) was the first Indian woman to fly an aircraft. Born in 1914, she earned an aviation pilot license in 1936 at the young age of 21 and flew a Gypsy Moth solo. She had a four-year-old daughter. After obtaining the initial licence, she persevered and completed one thousand hours of flying in the aircraft owned by the Lahore Flying Club. Her husband, P. D. Sharma, whom she married at 16 and who came from a family which had nine pilots, encouraged her. While Sharma had been the first Indian to get his airmail pilot’s license, flying between Karachi and Lahore, his wife would be the first woman in India to attain her “A” license, when she accumulated more than 1,000 hours of flying.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay (3 April 1903 – 29 October 1988) was an Indian social reformer and freedom activist. She was most remembered for her contribution to the Indian independence movement; for being the driving force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, handlooms, and theatre in independent India; and for upliftment of the socio-economic standard of Indian women by pioneering the co-operation.
Indu Malhotra is a retired judge and senior counsel of the Supreme Court of India. She was the second woman to be designated as Senior Advocate by the Supreme Court. She also authored the third edition of The Law and Practice of Arbitration and Conciliation (2014).
Sunitha Krishnan (born 1972) is an Indian social activist and chief functionary and co-founder of Prajwala, a non-governmental organization that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates sex-trafficked victims into society.
Krishnan works in the areas of anti-human trafficking and social policy. Her organization, Prajwala shelters rescued women and children and set up one of the largest rehabilitation homes in the country. She is making it possible for NGOs organizations to manage jointly a range of protective and rehabilitative services for women and children who have been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. She was awarded India’s fourth highest civilian award the Padma Shri in 2016.
Shobana Chandrakumar Pillai
Shobana Chandrakumar Pillai (born 21 March 1970), better known mononymously as Shobana, is an Indian film actress and Bharatanatyam dancer. She acts predominantly in Malayalam language, in addition to Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and English language films. She has won two National Film Awards, one Kerala State Film Awards, Kalaimamani in 2011 and numerous other awards.
Uda Devi was a warrior in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, who fought against the British East India Company. While upper caste histories highlight the resistance contributions of upper caste heroines like Jhansi Rani, the reality was also that the battles for independence from British colonial rule also featured Dalit resistance fighters like Devi. Devi and other female Dalit participants are today remembered as the warriors or “Dalit Veeranganas” of the 1857 Indian Rebellion. She was married to Makka Pasi who was a soldier in the army of Hazrat Mahal.
M. Fathima Beevi (born 30 April 1927) is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. Appointed to the apex Court in 1989, she became the first female judge to be a part of the Supreme court of India, and the first Muslim woman to be appointed to any of the higher judiciaries in country. On her retirement from the court, she served as a member of the National Human Rights Commission and later as the Governor of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu from 1997 to 2001.
Arati Saha (née Saha; 24 September 1940 – 23 August 1994) was an Indian Bengali long-distance swimmer, best known for becoming the first Asian woman to swim across the English Channel on 29 September 1959. In 1960, she became the first Indian sportswoman to be awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour in India. Born in Kolkata, India, Arati had been introduced to swimming at the early age of four. Her precocious talent was spotted by Sachin Nag, and later she was inspired by the ace Indian swimmer Mihir Sen to try to cross the English Channel.
Reita Faria Powell, (born 23 August 1943) to Goan parents in Bombay (now Mumbai), is an Indian physician, former model and beauty pageant titleholder who won the Miss World title in 1966, making her the first Asian woman to win the event. She is also the first Miss World winner to be qualified as a physician. Faria was born in Bombay (now Mumbai). After winning the Miss Bombay Crown, she won the Eve’s Weekly Miss India contest 1966 competition (not to be confused with the Femina Miss India, won by Yasmin Daji).
Matangini Hazra (17 November 1870 – 29 September 1942) was an Indian revolutionary who participated in the Indian independence movement until she was shot dead by the British Indian police in front of the Tamluk Police Station (of erstwhile Midnapore District) on 29 September 1942. She was affectionately known as Gandhi buri, Bengali for old lady Gandhi.
Lakshmi Sahgal (born Lakshmi Swaminathan) (24 October 1914 – 23 July 2012) was a revolutionary of the Indian independence movement, an officer of the Indian National Army, and the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Azad Hind government. Sahgal is commonly referred to in India as Captain Lakshmi, a reference to her rank when taken prisoner in Burma during the Second World War.
Aruna Roy (born 26 May 1946) is an Indian political and social activist who founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) (“Workers and Peasants Strength Union”) along with Shankar Singh, Nikhil Dey and many others. Roy is known for her clear and vocal stand on the question of Right to Dissent and Known for her work for the vulnerable sections of society, she was also a member of the NAC, national advisory committee which was set up by the then UPA-1 government which was headed by Sonia Gandhi through most of its tenure. She is the National President of National Federation of Indian Women.
Falguni Nayar is the Founder and CEO of Nykaa, a retail store selling beauty and wellness products. It has products from 1200 plus huge brands like Lakme, Loreal, and has its presence in many states across India.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (born 23 March 1953) is an Indian billionaire entrepreneur. She is the executive chairperson and founder of Biocon Limited and Biocon Biologics Limited, a biotechnology company based in Bangalore, India and the former chairperson of Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. In 2014, she was awarded the Othmer Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to the progress of science and chemistry. She is on the Financial Times’ top 50 women in business list. In 2019, she is listed as the 68th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. She was named EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020.
Indra Nooyi (née Krishnamurthy; born October 28, 1955) is an Indian-American business executive and former chairperson and chief executive officer (CEO) of PepsiCo. She has consistently ranked among the world’s 100 most powerful women. In 2014, she was ranked at number 13 on the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, and was ranked the 2nd most powerful woman on the Fortune list in 2015. In 2017, she was ranked the 2nd most powerful woman once more on the Forbes list of The 19 Most Powerful Women in Business.
Vani Kola is an Indian venture capitalist. She is the founder and managing director of Kalaari Capital, an Indian early stage venture capital firm. She was listed as one of the most powerful women in Indian business by Fortune India in 2014.
Vani Kola was born in 1963 or 1964 in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana), India. She commenced her post-secondary education at age 16. She attended Osmania University in Hyderabad, where she studied electrical engineering and was “one of six girls among 400 engineering students”. She earned her Bachelor of Engineering before leaving India in the late 1980s to pursue her Master of Engineering from Arizona State University in the United States.
Mayilamma was an Indian social activist whose claim to fame was the campaign against Coca-Cola Company in Plachimada in Palakkad, Kerala. She belonged to a native tribal community. She was the recipient of the Speak Out award by Outlook magazine and the Sthree Shakthi Award. She is also known as the ‘Plachimada Heroine’.
Joymoti Konwari, was the wife of Tai-Ahom Prince Gadapani (later Supatphaa). She was accorded the honorific Mohiyokhi on account of her heroic endurance of torture until the end, dying at the hands of royalists under Sulikphaa Loraa Roja without disclosing her exiled husband Prince Gadapani’s whereabouts, thereby enabling her husband to rise in revolt and assume kingship. Gadapani and Joymoti’s son Rudra Singha had the Joysagar Tank dug at the spot where she was tortured. The first Assamese film Joymoti, directed in 1935 by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, was based on her life.
Prabhavatigupta (fl. 405), was queen and regent of the Vakataka dynasty. She was the queen consort of Rudrasena II, and ruled as regent during the minority of her sons, Divakarasena, Damodarasena, and Pravarasena, from 385 until 405. Her father was Chandragupta II, the emperor of the Gupta Empire and her mother was Kuberanaga. She married Rudrasena II of the Vakataka. After his death in 385, she ruled as regent for her young sons, Divakarasena, Damodarasena, and Pravarasena, for twenty years. In this, she was supported by her father and the Vakatakas were practically part of the Gupta empire. This period is often referred to as the Vakataka-Gupta age.
Priya Jhingan is an Indian Army officer and Lady Cadet No 1 and Silver Medalist from the first batch of 25 lady officers who were commissioned in the Indian Army in 1993. Being the daughter of a police officer, Priya initially wanted to join the Indian Police Service but decided to write to the then Chief of Army Staff General Sunith Francis Rodrigues to allow her to join the army. Her request was accepted in 1992 for training at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. She started her military training from 21 September 1992 along with 24 other lady cadets. She graduated as the Silver Medallist of the First Women’s Course on 06 March 1993 Her request to join an infantry battalion was rejected by the army as there were no such provisions for the same .
Harita Kaur Deol
Flight Lt. Harita Kaur Deol (10 November 1971 – 24 December 1996) was a pilot with the Indian Air Force. She was the first woman pilot to fly solo in the Indian Air Force. The flight was on 2 September 1994 in an Avro HS-748, when she was 22 years old. Hailing from Chandigarh in a Sikh family, in 1993, she became one of the first seven women cadets inducted into the Air Force as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers. This also marked a critical phase in training of women in India as transport pilots. After initial training at Air Force Academy, Dundigul near Hyderabad, she received further training at Air Lift Forces Training Establishment (ALFTE) at Yelahanka Air Force Station.
Durba Banerjee was the first pilot of Indian Airlines in 1956 and the first Indian woman commercial pilot. As a child while growing up Banerjee liked planes and flying, becoming a pilot was her passion. She was the first woman of her times to break stereotypes and venture into this field.
Onake Obavva ( 18th Century) was a brave woman who fought the forces of Hyder Ali single-handedly with a pestle (Onake) in the kingdom of Chitradurga of Karnataka, India. Her husband was a guard of a watchtower in the rocky fort of Chitradurga. In the state of Karnataka, she is celebrated along with Abbakka Rani, Keladi Chennamma and Kittur Chennamma, as the foremost women warriors and patriots. She belonged to the Holayas (Chalavadi) community.
Durgavati Devi popularly known as ‘Durga Bhabhi’ (7 October 1907 – 15 October 1999) was an Indian revolutionary and a freedom fighter. She was one of the few women revolutionaries who actively participated in armed revolution against the ruling British Raj. She is best known for having accompanied Bhagat Singh on the train journey in which he made his escape in disguise after the Saunders killing. Since she was the wife of Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA) member Bhagwati Charan Vohra, other members of HSRA referred to her as Bhabhi (elder brother’s wife) and became popular as “Durga Bhabhi” in Indian revolutionary circles.