15 Most Influential Women in Indian History

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On the occasion of International Women’s Day, today we take a look at a few of the most influential women in Indian History who helped pave the way for the women of the coming generations. This list is not ordered with numbers as we think all of these women have had a major impact on the lives of other women as well as men.

Rani Lakshmibai

Portrait of Rani LakshmiBai

Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi was an Indian queen 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.

She died in the battle of Gwalior. She told a hermit to burn her body as she didn’t want the British to Capture her Body. In the British report of this battle, Hugh Rose (a senior British Army officer ) commented that Rani Lakshmibai is “personable, clever and beautiful” and she is “the most dangerous of all Indian leaders”. Till this day, her life inspires Young girls to be brave and fight for what you believe in.

Mother Teresa

Even though she was born in Macedonia, Mother Teresa spent most of her life in India. She adopted India as her country of service. She devoted her life to service of the poor, ailing and the destitute through the Missionaries of Charities, an order of Roman Catholic nuns, in Kolkata, India.

She received many honours for her service to the people including the Bharat Ratna (India’s highest civilian award), the Padma Shri and the Nobel Peace Prize. She is still considered as a symbol of kindness by many. It is said that some Hindus even worship her as a deity.

Indira Gandhi

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi the first and, to date, the only female 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, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Anandi Gopal Joshi

Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was the first Indian female physician. 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. Anandibai gave birth to a boy, but the child lived only for ten days for lack of medical care. This proved to be a turning point in Anandi’s life and inspired her to become a physician. She broke barriers in becoming a doctor in times when even girls studying were looked down upon by many.

Jayalalithaa

Jayaram Jayalalithaa was an Indian politician and film actress who served six times as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu for over fourteen years between 1991 and 2016. She was loved by the people of Tamil Nadu as she provided them with a lot of services and schemes for their welfare. After she died the Government of India declared one-day national mourning with the national flag in all government buildings flying at half-mast. While mourning of seven days was observed by the Government of Tamil Nadu. 

PT Usha

Pilavullakandi Thekkeparambil Usha is a retired Indian track and field athlete. She has been associated with Indian athletics since 1979. She is often called the “queen of Indian track and field.”  She won a total of 18 Gold medals throughout her career in International competitions. She also won the Padma Sri and the Arjuna Award.

Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooy is an Indian American business executive and former 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. She serves on the board of Amazon, the International Cricket Council, and Schlumberger.

Savitri Devi Phule

Savitribai Phule 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 role in improving women’s rights in India. She is regarded as the mother of Indian feminism. Phule and her husband founded the first Indian girls’ school in Pune. 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.

Sarojini Naidu

Sarojini Naidu 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 name Nightingale of India.

Rudramma Devi

Statue of Rudrama Devi

Rani Rudrama Devi, or Rudradeva Maharaja, sometimes spelt Rudramadevi or Rudrama-Devi, was a monarch of the Kakatiya dynasty in the Deccan Plateau from 1263 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. Unlike her Kakatiya predecessors, she chose to recruit as warriors many people who were not aristocratic, granting them rights over land tax revenue in return for their support.

Razia Sultana

Raziya al-Din, 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 South Asia. She is also said to be the first and only female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate.

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla was an American astronaut, engineer, and the first woman of Indian descent 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

Kiran Bedi

Kiran Bedi is a retired Indian Police Service officer, social activist, former tennis player and politician who is the current Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry. She is the first female Indian Police Service (IPS) officer and started her service in 1975. She remained in service for 35 years before taking voluntary retirement in 2007 as Director General of Police, Bureau of Police Research and Development.

Begum Hazrat Mahal

Begum Hazrat Mahal, also called Begum of Awadh was the second wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. She rebelled against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. She finally found asylum in Nepal where she died in 1879. After her husband had been exiled to Calcutta, she took charge of the affairs in the state of Awadh and seized control of Lucknow. She organised an army of women. She actively took part in the revolt of 1857. She gave a stiff resistance. But after the fall of Lucknow, she escaped to Kathmandu. She was a very brave woman and such bravery in a male-dominated society was unprecedented.

Asima Chatterjee

Asima Chatterjee was the first female scientist in India. She was an organic chemist noted for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and phytomedicine. Her most notable work includes research on vinca alkaloids, the development of anti-epileptic drugs, and the development of antimalarial drugs. She also authored a considerable volume of work on medicinal plants of the Indian subcontinent. She was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university.