Going by Tolstoy’s quote, the sheer outer appearance of a person can not be a parameter for determining beauty. On the contrary, certain contributions and achievements of people towards society and the world at large can be a way to define beauty.
India is a land known for its diversity in culture, religion, language, and other things, but gender inequality is an issue that still conquers many regions. However, as awareness grew around the concept of feminism and gender equality, challenging the stereotypes of most Indian minds, women came out to put forth some commendable and influential contributions that can only be appreciated or at some point even worshipped.
10 Most Influential Women in India
In India, women are often worshipped in the form of Devi Durga, Maa Kali, Goddess Laxmi but still have deep-rooted misogyny and patriarchy in its system itself. Defying the odds of these primitive sentiments, there are a number of women who have their names scribbled in the ‘Hall of Fame’ due to their achievements in a number of fields, keeping our heads high in the global scenario.
Though there can be no particular list of influential women in India, as there are numerous ladies who have garnered immense respect from its audiences, in terms of their work and skills. However, here are these 10 influential women who have given hope to the ones who need it, and had a great impact on all of mankind.
1. Kalpana Chawla
Out of household chores, women working outside the four walls of their house, have been quite often looked down upon in India. But Kalpana Chawla did not just make it out of her house itself but braced her achievements up to the space to become the first-ever Indian woman to travel outside Earth’s atmosphere.
Chawla traveled twice out of space working for NASA. First in the year 1997 and on her second and final mission, met with a rather epic ending when she along with STS-107 crew perished into space in the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster in 2003.
Even years after her demise, her legacy lives on through the numerous institutions, roads, awards, and honors named after her. But most of all, she helped inspire a generation to never quit on their dreams to fly far away in the Galaxy.
2. Romila Thapar
History has remembered many women for different reasons. However, when the name Romila Thappar comes into mind, we can picture a woman who has provided us with distinct shades of history itself. After completing her second bachelor’s honors degree and a doctorate in Indian history from the University of London in 1958 she started her journey at Delhi University as an Indian Ancient History reader.
She went on to force light upon our collective past and reason with many incidents that shaped the world that we live in today. From the arrival of Europeans in India in the sixteenth century to even the origin of Hinduism, her perceptions have been quite informative and interesting.
Her detailed work can be followed up with ‘Ashoka and the Decline of the Mauryas’, ‘A History of India: Volume 1’, ‘Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300’, and many others to gain knowledge about India and its history.
3. Laxmi Agarwal
There’s a definite reason why women in India still are afraid to go out on the streets at night or even just be the way they wish to be. The reason being, men still are not yet ready to accept the fact that a woman is an individual and has her own accords and ethics to liberally follow. On one hand, Incidents like Nirbhaya still sends chills down our spine, on the other, acid attack survivor Laxmi Agarwal’s story makes us hope once more to fight such evil.
Agarwal was just 15 years old when Nadeem Khan approached her with a marriage proposal and on denial of the same proposal, Nadeem took brutal revenge by throwing acid on her face. This was not just a single case, there have been numerous complaints of acid attacks on women for some time.
Laxmi became the hope for all those battling from such attack by giving them a much-needed voice, and campaigning with #StopSaleAcid, and appealing to the Supreme Court of India to regulate the sale of acid. Her cries for justice went across borders when she was duly praised by Michelle Obama and received the International Women of Courage award.
4. Mary Kom
If there is still doubt in your mind about women being weaker beings, just remind yourself of the achievements Mary Kom has braced so far. Kom’s boxing talents are known to the world as she gracefully held on to six consecutive World Championship golds. But her initial fights started way back in her home, fighting poverty to the patriarchy for what she believed to be her passion.
Mary was at the peak of her career when she decided to marry, eventually taking a break from boxing. She became a mother soon after, raising questions on her boxing career-ending. “The strength of a mother is second to none” became applicable in her case as she kept her winning streak alive with acquiring 6 World Championships gold medals, 5 Asian Championships gold medals and 1 Commonwealth Games gold till date.
5. Arundhati Roy
Literature has the power to invoke certain emotions at a mass level due to the empathy all humans are granted. Similarly, Arundhati Roy’s writings have precisely connected many in a string of sentiments and often transferred us in a world the writer created. While her fiction novel ‘The God of Small Things’ became an international bestseller and later won the Booker Prize in 1997, her voice never wavered while stating her opinion on several political and social matters that we often choose to ignore.
Roy’s contribution does not end here only, as she went to write many critical opinionated pieces regarding political conflicts and social stigmas. ‘The Algebra of Infinite Justice’ and ‘Kashmir the Case for Freedom’ are among the critical contributions that may have received criticism at large, but the voice in them was intensely truthful and fearless.
6. Mira Nair
If literature has the power to transport us into the writer’s imaginary world, the film is a visual representation of it, which can impact equally through the characters, dialogues and the expression of these characters. Several of Mira Nair’s work has the same influence not just in India but across the globe as well.
‘Salaam Bombay!’, ‘Kamasutra: A Tale of Love’, ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and ‘The Namesake’ are few of her films that have garnered huge love from audiences and critics alike. While ‘Monsoon Wedding’ won a Golden Lion, ‘Salaam Bombay’ was nominated for an Academy Award, BAFTA Award and Golden Globe Award only proving her prowess in the film-making industry.
7. PV Sindhu
There are very few Indian women sportsperson who have had the honor to make the whole nation proud, often chanting their names for the glory they brought back home. PV Sindhu is one such woman, who has given enough reasons for the Indian fans to chant her name in a country where we mostly here Kohli or Tendularkar’s name on almost every lip.
PV Sindhu restored our faith in women’s BWF World Badminton Championship at a time when no women had created history. Her promising skill in badminton first came into mass view, when she earned the Bronze medal in 2013. After which there was no stopping her, as she repetitively improved from Bronze to acquiring Silver in 2017 and 2018 and finally gracefully snatching away the Gold from Nozomi Okuhara in 2019.
8. Kiran Bedi
From playing Tennis as a child to becoming the first woman of India to join Indian Police Services, Kiran Bedi has been one of the most inspirational women in India. Her face is well acknowledged by Indians for her sheer contributions in fighting crime as a public servant.
In her tenure of 35 years of serving as a Police, she somehow managed to control the incessant crime against women in West Delhi, launched a campaign against Drug Abuse while she was posted in North Delhi which later became Navjyoti India Foundation. She was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994 for several reforms introduced by her in Tihar Jail. Her contributions as police to make the world a better place is something that will be remembered in troubled times.
9. Bachendri Pal
From writing a novel to becoming a police officer, or even scaling mountains women have done it all that male ego was not even ready to accept. Bachedri Pal is one such woman, who became the first woman mountaineer to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1984.
Showing an early interest in mountaineering at a young age of 12 in a school picnic, she went on to become the first female to scale the highest peak of the world. 35 years after her achievements she was awarded the Padma Bhushan – the third-highest civilian honor by the Government of India. Her achievements paved the way for many women namely, Chhanda Gayen, Malavath Purna and many more in the coming years in scaling their individual dreams.
10. Hima Das
There is only one word that can define Hima Das, which is ‘unstoppable’. Her stint of winning 5 consecutive golds in a period of just one month is unforgettable. She was named ‘Dhing Express’ for her unbelievable record-breaking sprees. She is also reported to be the first Indian athlete to win gold in IAAF World U20 Championships.
Young Hima was more interested in playing Football but was referred otherwise to try out tracks instead. And man, this proved out to be a turning point, as she never looked back since then. Das has the Arjuna Award to her name as well and keeps adding to her legacy.
While the debate on gender equality still persists, many women have proven their worth in the different fields holding their own accords and by creating records to stand alongside men in contributing to our collective history. However, these women have provided a ray of hope countless times through their works and voices, telling every woman to stand up and fight off the blatant discrimination and never settle before a brighter tomorrow arrives.