11 of the Most Iconic 21st Century Women to become "The First Indian Woman"
By: Navyasri, Writer, Women Entrepreneur
"You can’t do that because you are a girl!”
How often have we heard this sentence being hurled at us to stop us from doing things that are considered ‘uncharacteristic’ for a woman?
For a majority of women from two generation ago, getting education was a no-no. For most women from the previous generation, stepping out of the house to build a career was not supported. For years, the boundaries have been drawn around women to keep the society’s rules and code of conduct in-check.
But, for as long as these rules have been in place, the world has also had the ‘trailblazers’ who dared to go where no woman had gone before. These women have not only created history but have also paved the way for other women to grow and achieve their dreams.
Indian history is littered with many such pioneers who broke down gender barriers and fought for their rights in fields such as politics, the arts, science, law and many more. FromSavitribaiPhule becoming the very first female teacher back in 1848 to NirmalaSitharaman becoming the first full-time female Finance Minister in the twenty-first century, Indian women have been making history at different points in time.
Do you know who the world's first female pilot and youngest pilot were? Or how about the first female national umpire? It is always important to look back in time to gain a comprehensive understanding of a country's roots, culture, and how women have been trailblazers throughout the years.
Here is a list of some of the most iconic and ‘the first’ Indian women who have left an everlasting mark on women’s history.
NirmalaSitharaman, the first full-time female Finance Minister in independent India's history, is just the second woman to give a Union Budget after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She was named Minister of Defence on September 3, 2017, making her only the second woman after Indira Gandhi to hold the position, but the first full-time female defence minister. She has served as a Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs in the Ministry of Finance as well as an independent Minister for Commerce and Industry. She previously worked for the BharatiyaJanata Party as a national spokeswoman.
She was named 34th among the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2019 and 37th in 2021. She was also called India's most powerful woman by Fortune magazine. In 2019, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
GandikotaSarva Lakshmi is a former domestic cricket player and coach who now works as a match referee in India. She batted right-handed and bowled right-arm fast-medium outswing.
On May 14, 2019, Lakshmi became the first woman to be appointed to the International Cricket Council's International Panel of Match Referees.
Between 1989 and 2004, Lakshmi was a member of many domestic teams, including Andhra Women, Bihar Women, Railways Women, East Zone Women, and South Zone Women. In 1991, Lakshmi married. She returned to cricket after her marriage, helping the South Central Railways team win the Inter-Railways title for the first time in 1995.
She was one of five female referees who made their debuts this season when the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided to allow female referees in domestic cricket for the first time.
All four matches of the 2019 Women's T20 Challenge were officiated by Lakshmi. On May 14, 2019, she was named to the ICC International Panel of Match Referees for the first time. She became the first woman to be named as a match referee at an ICC event in October 2019, when she was named as one of three match referees for the 2019 ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier competition in the United Arab Emirates.
She was named the match referee for the first match of the 2019 United Arab Emirates Tri-Nation Series in December 2019, making her the first woman to officiate a men's ODI match.
VrindaRathi, the first female national umpire to officiate in a T20 match, made history in the T20 Mumbai League. Rathi, who lives in Mumbai, passed the BCCI's Level-2 Umpiring Exam, making her eligible to officiate in international women's cricket and junior boys' tournaments. She plans to officiate at least 60 match days per season, from September to April, after passing her Level-2 tests. Although it is not required for an international umpire to have played the game professionally, she has four years of experience as a medium pacer for Mumbai University.
Rathi also believes that women are more suited to be umpires because of their ability to maintain patience over time and their "lack of rigidity."
AarohiPandit (born 1996) is an Indian pilot. In 2019, she became the world's first female pilot (at the age of 23) and the youngest pilot (at the age of 23) to fly solo across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in a light-sport aircraft.
On May 13, 2019, she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from Scotland to Canada, stopping in Iceland's Hofn and Reykjavik and Greenland's Kulusuk and Nuuk before landing in Iqaluit, Canada. On May 4, 2019, she made history by becoming the first woman in the world to fly over the dangerous Greenland icecap in a light-sport aircraft, one of the expedition's most memorable and courageous flights.
Following that, her voyage across Canada, from Iqaluit in the north east to the south, and then west and north over the Rockies into Alaska, negotiating high winds and forest fires in 22 flights across nine Canadian provinces, was a global first.
Captain AarohiPandit arrived at Juhu, India's first civil airport, on October 15, 2021, aboard her plane, VT NBF, a Pipistrel Sinus 912 weighing only 330 kg.
In many ways, her escape from the Bhuj camp was historic. She was reenacting JRD Tata's first commercial flight in India in 1932, and paying honour to the Madhapar ladies who reconstructed the Bhuj runway in 72 hours during the India-Pakistan war.
Gagandeep Kang FRS (born 3 November 1962) is an Indian microbiologist and virologist who is currently a Professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Sciences at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, India and was the executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute in Faridabad, an autonomous institute of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, from August 2016 to July 2020.
She was the first Indian woman to be inducted to the Royal Society as a Fellow in 2019. She served on the Infosys Prize Life Sciences jury in 2020. Kang is the first Indian woman scientist to be named a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in the academy's 359-year history. She was the Infosys Prize's seventh female recipient. She is the first Indian and female editor of Manson's Textbook of Tropical Medicine.
Flight Lieutenant HinaJaiswal was chosen for the elite Flight Engineers' programme in 2019. She completed the course at the 112 Helicopter Unit, Air Force Station, Yelahanka, and became the first Indian woman flight engineer in the process. She was commissioned in the engineering branch of the IAF on January 5, 2015, and has served as the Chief of Firing Team and Battery Commander in a frontline Surface to Air Missile squadron before being chosen for the coveted Flight Engineers' Course. On February 15, 2019, she completed the training and received her Flight Engineer's wing. She trained shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts for six months of tough training, displaying unwavering devotion, dedication, and tenacity.
Flt Lt HinaJaiswal is a Chandigarh native who graduated from Panjab University with a Bachelor of Engineering degree. HinaJaiswal, the only daughter of Mr. DK Jaiswal and Mrs. Anita Jaiswal, calls her accomplishment a "dream come true." She had dreamed of donning the soldier's uniform and taking to the sky as an aviator since she was a child. After successfully graduating from her alma mater, Heli-lift, her dreams have finally come true.
Harmanpreet Kaur is an Indian cricketer who leads the Indian team in Twenty20 Internationals. She is an all-rounder for the Indian women's cricket team, and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports gave her the Arjuna Award for Cricket in 2017.
She became the first Indian woman to strike a century in a Women's Twenty20 International (WT20I) match in November 2018. She became the first Indian cricketer, male or female, to play in 100 international Twenty20 matches in October 2019, during the series against South Africa. She was the first Indian cricketer to be signed by an international Twenty20 team in June 2016.
DikshaDagar (born 14 December 2000) is a hearing-impaired Indian professional golfer. In November 2015, she was ranked as India's top amateur lady golfer. DikshaDagar represented India at the 2017 Summer Deaflympics, where golf was included for the first time, and competed in the women's individual golf event, winning a silver medal and becoming the first Indian to win a Deaflympic medal in the sport of golf.
Dagar began her professional career in the spring of 2019. She won the 2019 Investec South African Women's Open, a tournament on the 2019 Ladies European Tour, in March 2019. At the age of 18, she won her first professional tournament, becoming India's youngest woman to win a Ladies European Tour title. She and two other Indian golfers, Aditi Ashok and Tvesa Malik, became the first trio of Indian golfers to compete in a single Ladies European Tour tournament at the 2020 Ladies Scottish Open.
Captain DivyaAjith Kumar
Captain DivyaAjith Kumar is an Indian Army Army Air Defense (AAD) officer. She received her diploma from the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. She is the first woman to receive the Army's Sword of Honour award, which is given to the best cadet. During the 2015 Republic Day Parade, she led an all-female contingent of 154 female officers and cadets. Kumar received the Sword of Honour, which is awarded to the best cadet. She was the first woman to receive the award.
Hima Das (born 9 January 2000), also known as Dhing Express, is a sprinter from Assam, India. She currently owns the Indian national record in the 400 metres, clocking a time of 50.79 seconds at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is the first Indian athlete to win a gold medal at the IAAF World U20 Championships in a track event. Under the state's Integrated Sport Policy, she was appointed as a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) in Assam Police. Das won the 400 m final at the 2018 World U-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, on July 12th, clocking 51.46 seconds to become the first Indian sprinter to win a gold medal in an international track event.
On September 25, 2018, the President of India bestowed the Arjuna Award upon her. Das is the second Assamese athlete to win a gold medal at an international event, following BhogeswarBaruah.
Arunima Sinha is a mountain climber and sportswoman from India. She is the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Mount Elbrus in Russia, Mount Kosciusko in Australia, Mount Aconcagua in South America, Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, and Mount Vinson in the United States. On January 4, 2019, she ascended Mount Vinson, Antarctica's seventh highest peak, becoming the world's first female amputee to do so.