If you have been checking the news or casually strolling through social media, you will know Kamala Harris has become the vice president-elect of the United States in 2020 Presidential Elections. What’s the big deal, right? Well, she has added several firsts to her name, thanks to her historic win. She is the first woman, first Black, first Indian-American and first Asian vice president-elect of USA.
But speaking of “inspirational”, Indian women have been making a mark in the political sphere for a long time. Many Indian women have played a big role in Indian National politics, impacting the nation and paving the way for other women. These women have been fierce, far-sighted and bravely commanded the tricky world of politics. Here are 6 women who broke the political glass ceiling in India, the world’s largest democracy.
An Indian lawyer and politician, Pratibha Patil was the first woman to hold office as the President of India. She held the office of the Head of State of India from 2007 to 2012. She first entered politics in 1962 and managed the public health and social welfare departments as a Minister in the Maharashtra Govt from 1967 to 1972. She has also held the positions of Cabinet Minister and Deputy Chairman (Rajya Sabha). Patil briefly retired from politics after completing a five-year term but returned to public service in 2004 when she was appointed the Governor of Rajasthan. She also set up Shram Sadhana Trust, which runs hostels for working women in New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune; and an engineering college for rural students in Jalgaon district.
The first and, till date the only woman prime minister of India—Indira Gandhi became the 3rd Prime Minister of India in 1977. Indira Gandhi was a part of the freedom struggle & served as the Minister of Information & Broadcasting between 1964 to 1966 before becoming the Prime Minister. In total, Indira Gandhi served as the Prime Minister for 15 years. During her Prime Ministership, she held the additional charge of Finance Ministry, Defence Ministry & External Affairs Ministry at different times.
A freedom fighter and politician, Sucheta Kripalani was India’s first woman Chief Minister, who served as the head of the Uttar Pradesh government in 1963. A shy, self-conscious child and an avid reader, she came to the forefront during the Quit India Movement and worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi, who described her as “a person of rare courage and character”. Kripalani was part of the sub-committee that drafted the Indian Constitution and was also the founder of the All India Mahilla Congress, established in 1940.
Indian economist and former Defence Minister of India, Nirmala Sitharaman is the country’s first full-time woman Finance Minister. She was also India’s first full-time woman Defence Minister as well. Indira Gandhi managed both these portfolios as an additional charge during a part of her Prime Ministership. Additionally, Sitharaman has also served as a member of the National Commission for Women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was made in-charge of the COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force with Forbes Magazine ranking her 34th among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 2019.
An Indian diplomat and politician, Meira Kumar served as a speaker of the Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2014, the first woman to hold that position. In 1973, Kumar entered the Indian Foreign Service, where she served for more than a decade before entering politics in 1985. As a speaker, Kumar launched several initiatives within the Lok Sabha, including one designed to reduce the amount of paper used in the house. She has also lent her support to the growing nationwide movement opposing violence against women in the country.
An Indian politician and Supreme Court lawyer, Sushma Swaraj was India’s first full-time Minister of External Affairs. Before Sushma Swaraj, Indira Gandhi served as Minister of External Affairs as additional charge while being the Prime Minister. At the age of 25, she became the Cabinet Minister of Haryana and thus, the youngest Indian cabinet minister in a state government. She also briefly served as Chief Minister of Delhi, becoming its first woman chief minister of the national capital. In this capacity, she gained a reputation for her warm interactions with Indian citizens and quick response time on social media. Swaraj was called India’s “best-loved politician” by Wall Street Journal.
Disclaimer: The above mentioned are purely factual statements and are in no way a commentary on any political party or alliance.
This is not an exhaustive list. The aim is to highlight and applaud notable women from all spheres who held influential positions, and were the first to achieve the aforementioned things in the country.