The role and status of women in India traditionally were confined to the four walls and the family, however, it was treated a superior status by the community. Over the past decades, the status of women has been subjected to many changes. Our country has also witnessed a transition in the status of women with the inclusion of women in diverse fields and excelling in them equally to the so-called higher gender. From homemaking to administration, this transition period had women in the most intrinsic roles in all the fields including literature, science, finance, and astrophysics.
Women, however, were equally competent and intelligent as their men counterparts. They were talented enough in the respective roles of their organizations that even persuaded men to show themselves superior to women. Nevertheless, women were inclined to prove their might and change the perception of the society which once believed women were incapable of. Against all odds, women could achieve equal rights and roles as men giving a befitting reply to all those who questioned their credibility.
Here are few women heroes who were the first in their roles and designations in their respective fields.
Kiran Bedi – First Woman IPS officer
Kiran Bedi was India’s first woman to join the officer ranks of the Indian Police Service. She remained in service for 35 years before taking voluntary retirement in 2007 as Director General, Bureau of Police Research and Development. Also named The Iron Lady, she was the first woman in uniform to lead the all-male contingent of the Delhi Police at the Republic Day Parade in 1975. She was also a social activist, former tennis player and politician who is the current Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry.
Priya Jhingan – First Woman to join the Indian Army
Many of us are aware that women were not allowed to join the Indian Army. It wasn’t until 1992 that, a young determined lady, sent a letter to the Chief of Army Staff, General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, demanding that the services should open a gate for women as well. She then became the Indian Army’s first female officer. Priya, the young and fierce lady, also being the daughter of a police officer, wanted to wear a uniform and serve the country from her tender age.
Chanda Kochhar – India’s First Female Bank CEO
Chanda Kochhar is the first woman to run a bank in India. She is the Managing Director and CEO of ICICI bank. She was ranked four in the Fortune magazine’s list of most powerful women in business outside the United States. She also became the first Indian woman to receive the prestigious Woodrow Wilson Award for Global Citizenship, joining the ranks of Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.
Indira Gandhi – First Female Prime Minister of India
Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, the only child of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was so far the only female Prime Minister of India. She served as Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977 and then again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984, making her the second-longest-serving Prime Minister after her father. She was an Indian stateswoman and central figure of the Indian National Congress in the 20th century.
Pratibha Patil – First Woman President of India
Pratibha Devisingh Patil, an Indian politician and a member of the Indian National Congress, is the only woman to hold the office. She also served as the Governor of Rajasthan from 2004 to 2007. She became the first woman Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces. She made history when she flew in fighter jet Sukhoi 30 MKI (SB 139) in Pune, becoming the first woman head of state to fly in a warplane at the age of 74.
Homai Vyarawalla – India’s First Female Photojournalist
It was post-independence, when India was still under the regime of the British, fighting for its liberty. It was that period when women were hardly allowed to be educated. Against all odds, Homai Vyarawalla, then chose to take up the profession of photography equally with men, hence becoming India’s first female photojournalist. Vyarawalla was known for photographing the best moments of the history post-independence, after independence and many leaders. She played a significant role in documenting the important events during India’s independence movement.
Homai Vyarawalla was born to a Parsi family on December 9, 1913, in Navsari, Gujarat. Ms. Vyarawalla and her family moved to Mumbai in 1932, where she went on to study at the Bombay University and JJ School of Art. Homai was married to Manekshaw Vyarawalla, accountant, and photographer for the Times of India. She picked up the art of photography from her husband, and eventually went on to build a career in the same field. She launched her career in the 1930s and worked on the onset of World War II. The black and white images that she published in The Illustrated Weekly of India magazine, earned her respect.
Vyarawalla’s contribution to the photojournalism was immense. She had photographed the first Indian flag that was hoisted at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947. Her contributions also included photographing Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s last press conference in India, and several political leaders, including former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Lal Bahadur Shastri. Some of her best works that photographed Nehru addressing the crowds in Delhi, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, departure from India, and Gandhi’s funeral, left an impeccable impression. She even photographed Queen Elizabeth’s and former United States President Dwight Eisenhower’s visits to India.
Soon after her husband’s death, in 1970, she gave up photography. After she retired, she passed on her photos to Delhi-based Alkazi Foundation for the Arts. She died at the age of 98 in 2012 in Vadodara. Vyarawalla’s decision to take up the profession of photography was a bold step then, as women were not encouraged to do so at that time. She initially published her work using the pseudonym ‘Dalda 13’, which was attributed to her birth year.
It was her contribution and her determination to work equivalent to men during the Independence movement, that has made everyone to remember her (works) to this day. Honoring the first female photojournalist, Google Doodle on December 9, 2017, paid tribute with a doodle on her 104th birth anniversary.