There is no question that the world is currently experiencing a tremendous shift in the history of women. Not just globally, but women in India have also achieved significant progress. They've already shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, and they're now showing their value on a worldwide scale. Women's voices are increasingly being heard in Parliament, the courts, sports arenas, board rooms, and on the streets, and the evidence is all around us.
While women in the West have had to battle for basic rights such as the ability to vote for almost a century, India's Constitution grants women equal rights to men from the beginning. Unfortunately, due to impediments such as illiteracy and restrictive customs, a majority of women in this nation are uninformed of their rights. Names like Indira Gandhi, India's Iron Woman who served as Prime Minister, and Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-born woman who fought her way through NASA to become the first woman in space, as well as beauty queens like Aishwarya Rai and Susmita Sen, have already created history as the very first Indian women in their respective fields.
Recently, a new name was added in this list. Captain Harpreet Chandi, popularly known as Polar Preet, a 32-year-old Indian-origin British lady, made history by becoming the first woman of colour to complete a single solo voyage to the South Pole.
Captain Chandi was born on February 7, 1989, in Derby, England. Her mother became the sole provider for her when her parents got divorced when her mother was 35 years old. She was 14 years old when she joined the Sutton Tennis Academy in England from 2003 to 2005. She later moved to the Czech Republic in 2005 to continue her tennis training at the Novak Tennis Academy, where she won the Army Tennis Champs Award in 2007.
She studied BSc Physiotherapy at St George's University in London, England, from 2009 to 2012. In 2019, she enrolled in a part-time Master of Sports and Exercise Medicine programme at Queen Mary University of London, England.
In December 2013, she began working as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist for the National Health Service in Nottingham, England. She was stationed at Blandford, England, for more than two years before being assigned as the British Army's OC PCRF (Officer Commanding Policy and Charging Rules Function).
She assisted in the rehabilitation of 2400 troops throughout her time as an OC. In July 2018, she was appointed as a physiotherapist by the British Army (during the United Nations Operational Tour in South Sudan) after nearly two years of service. She later joined the British Army and was stationed in Preston, United Kingdom, as a clinical training officer/physiotherapist.
While working there, she organised a number of combat training combats for Combat Medical Technicians (CMTs). She has trekked and ran marathons in Kenya, Morocco, Mexico, the Alps, and Nepal, among other locations. She organised a 30-hour endurance marathon to raise money for charity while serving in the British Army. As the Clinical Training Officer for a medical regiment in the northwest of England, she organised and verified training for Army medical personnel.
In 2021, she engaged David Jerman, a British Army reservist.
During her preparations for the South Pole trip, she pulled two gigantic tyres for two months to prepare for dragging the hefty sledge during her Antarctic voyage in 2021.
On January 3, 2022, she completed her 40-day solo expedition to the South Pole, becoming the first woman to do so. Capt. At the end of day 40, Chandi declared her historic victory on her live blog after travelling 700 miles (1,127 kilometres) while dragging a pulk or sledge with all of her equipment and enduring temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius and wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour.
Capt. Chandi says she's always wanted to test the limits of the human body, and she sees her current position as an opportunity to accomplish just that.
Her blog even featured a live tracking map of her expedition. On the 40th day of her trek, she wrote, “day 40-Finished. Preet has just made history becoming the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition in Antarctica. You are capable of anything you want. No matter where you are from or where your start line is, everybody starts somewhere. I don't want to just break the glass ceiling; I want to smash it into a million pieces.”
Indian women's history is littered with pioneers who broke down gender boundaries and fought for their rights and advancement. Strong, educated, and ambitious women from all across India make their impact on the globe in a variety of professions, from being India's first female Prime Minister to striking a double century in cricket to climbing to the North & South Pole and winning the Bharat Ratna.