In a time where women couldn’t afford equal opportunities, these five trailblazing women set out to achieve what would have seemed to be impossible. Battling a spectrum of assertions of conventional roles, these women have established their indomitable presence in a wide range of fields from politics to defence.
1. Kamala Das, Poet
One of the most influential poets in the history of Indian writing in English, Kamala Das voiced the predicament of women confined within the four walls of domestic spaces. A revolutionary bilingual poet with an almost confessional style of writing, her works have often been compared to that of Slyvia Plath. Married at 15, she pursued her passions in poetry despite societal barriers and later, undertook the role of a syndicated columnist. She found her voice in a society that actively tried to deter her and created for herself, a space to have the freedom of choice. For her outstanding contribution to Indian English Poetry, she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1985.
2. Nandini Harinath, Rocket Scientist
In a discipline dominated by men, Nandini Harinath is a role model to all women who want to pursue the hard sciences. A rocket scientist at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Satellite Centre in Bengaluru, Nandini was the Deputy Operations Director for the Mangalyaan mission and has successfully steered the Mars Orbiter. In her 20 years of work, she has worked on 14 missions. Interestingly, she credited her budding passion for science to the popular Star Trek series.
3. Prem Mathur, Pilot
Captain Prem Mathur became the first woman in India to fly a commercial plane in a time where airlines denied women the opportunity to do so. After being rejected by eight airlines, she had given up all hope until a call from Deccan Airlines, Hyderabad changed the course of history. At the age of 38, she flew her first flight as a co-pilot for the airlines. In the course of her career, she flew figures like Indira Gandhi and Lady Mountbatten. Unwavered by heights, she won the National Air Race two years later after receiving her license.
4. Divya Ajith Kumar, Captain in Indian Army
Women hailing from diverse economic and social backgrounds in India, even today have to overcome huge odds to flourish in the armed forces. With fewer opportunities for women to break the glass ceiling, at the age of 21, Divya Ajith Kumar beat 244 fellow cadets, comprising both men and women, to win the Best All-Round Cadet Award and get the coveted “Sword of Honour,” the highest award given to a cadet of the Officers Training Academy. This honour was bestowed upon her after excelling in P.T. tests, swimming tests, field training, service subjects, obstacle training, drill tests and cross-country enclosures. Captain Divya Ajith Kumar also led an all-women contingent of 154 women officers and cadets during the Republic Day Parade in 2015.
5. Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister
A formidable woman who rose to power in 1966, hailing as the first woman Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi was destined for politics. Under her administration, India has seen the implementation of revolutionary reforms such as equal pay for equal work for men and women, the Green Revolution and land reforms focusing on the upliftment of the poorer sections of the economy. She garnered widespread public support for her success in the Pakistan war, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards on October 31, 1984, as a repercussion to Operation Bluestar. Although a subject of widespread criticism for her ruthless methods of governance, Gandhi’s decisiveness and fierce independence have left her truly unforgettable in the pages of history.