Women in India have historically gone through two stages in their lives: subjection and deliverance. She has been oppressed and suppressed at times, and she has also been revered as the deity of the household. From the Vedic era till today, her status, as well as position, has been changing with the passage of time.
For instance, they were revered in ancient times and had an equal position to their male counterparts. But with time, women’s positions underwent degradation and were subjected to unprecedented misery mainly due to religious indoctrination and patriarchy. However, they stood the test of time and battled countless storms to break the barriers and overcome socially imposed restrictions.
Therefore, it is only fitting to highlight some of these fearless women in recent times who have carved a path by going against the tide and creating a name in the history of India.
Born on 24 May 1954, Bachendri Pal, an Indian mountaineer, turned 68 this year. On 23 May 1984, just a day before her birthday, she made history by becoming the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. On achieving the feat, she joined the ranks of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, the first men to scale Mount Everest.
She not only made the nation proud, but her achievement inspired many people, especially women in India. As a result, her name has simultaneously been associated with women’s empowerment in India.
Pal had faced a lot of challenges before she achieved this success. Hailing from a small village named Nakuri in Uttrakhand, India, she was born in a rural working-class family and was one of seven siblings. Though the conservative society of that time didn’t even allow women to go to school, let alone become mountaineers, she succeeded against all odds.
Back then, girls were not extended even primary school education, and boys were sent to school. However, against all odds, Pal did her schooling. Though her parents thought she would study only till the 10th class, her school principal sent a special request to let her continue her studies as she was an outstanding student.
She then completed her B.Ed and MA from DAV Post Graduate College, Dehradun. After that, she planned on getting a job and supporting her family financially. But, her encounter with the principal of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) changed the track of her life.
Although she faced strong opposition from her family and relatives who wanted her to become a school teacher, it didn’t change her aim of becoming a professional mountaineer.
Pal was always fascinated by the trekkers who used to pass by her village, and the opportunity to be part of the institute that could convert her interest in a career led her to achieve the best in the field of mountaineering. After doing summits of many smaller peaks, she soon got selected to be a part of India’s first mixed-gender team to attempt an expedition to Mount Everest. The historical event has had its fair share of difficulties.
Pal has led many mixed and all-women expeditions after the ‘Everest 84‘ achievement. In 1985, she led an all-woman team to Mount Everest. Again leading an all-woman rafting expedition from Haridwar to Kolkata in 1994, she covered around 2500km.
Starting from Arunachal Pradesh and concluding at Siachen (Ladakh), she led an all-woman team on a 4500km long trans-Himalayan expedition in 1997.
Recently in 2018, she was part of Mission Ganges, where a team of 40 people collected over 55,000kg of garbage, travelling from Haridwar to Patna on rafts.
Chhaya Sharma is an IPS officer from the batch 1999. She was part of the Arunachal Pradesh-Goa-Mizoram and Union Territory cadre and served as DGI at the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). She is also the first woman DCP of South Delhi. Sharma’s basic lesson is that being a police officer doesn’t mean one has to emulate machismo to show your strength. Inner steel is more important–and women have lots of it.
Senior IPS officer Chhaya Sharma played an important role in finally getting the death sentence for all the accused of this heinous incident by solving the mystery of the Nirbhaya case that shook the country and the world; she has returned to Delhi Police after eight years. He has been appointed as Joint Commissioner in the Economic Offenses Wing (EOW) of Delhi Police.
After the Nirbhaya case, in April-2013, Chhaya Sharma was promoted to the rank of DIG and went to Mizoram, where she looked after the work of CID. After two years, she returned to Delhi on Central Deputation and was appointed as DIG Investigation in Human Rights Commission. After working there for five years, in July 2020, he was posted as Director in CVC, and from there, she returned to Delhi Police. Her husband, Vivek Kishore, became a DIG in Mizoram during this.
M. Fathima Beevi became the first female judge in the Supreme Court, a position she held till her retirement on 29 April 1992. Yet, for all her achievements, she remains an enigma, shunning the spotlight and living a quiet life in her hometown post her retirement. Her photographs show a determined expression: her head firmly covered with her saree’s pallu, spectacles lodged on the bridge of her nose and her matter-of-fact demeanour.
Justice M. Fathima Beevi began her journey to the Supreme Court from a small village in Kerala. She was born on 30 April 1927 in Pathanamthitta town in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in Kerala in pre-Independence India. Born to Annaveetil Meera Sahib and Khadeeja Beevi, she was the eldest of eight siblings. As a young girl, Fathima was an earnest student, and her father, a government servant, encouraged both his sons and daughters equally to study well. She did her early schooling in the Catholicate High School in Pathanamthitta and passed her matriculation in 1943, going on to study Science for six years in Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram), where she graduated.
At the time, for a young girl to live apart from her family and go to the city was a bold move, and her father backed her decision wholeheartedly. She wanted to pursue her MSc in Chemistry, but her father dissuaded her. He felt that if she did her MSc, she would end up as a college teacher or a professor in Trivandrum.
He was ambitious for her and wanted her to study law. So, in keeping with his wishes, she joined the Government Law College, Trivandrum. At the time, Anna Chandy was the first woman judicial officer working near Travancore. Her father was very impressed by Chandy’s achievements; perhaps, she motivated him to dream of his daughter making her mark in the judiciary.
An earnest and hard-working student, Fathima Beevi was but one of the five girl students in her class to enrol. After that, she interned under a senior lawyer for a year. In 1950, she would make the first of the many firsts her career was dotted with. She became the first woman to top the Bar Council of India’s exams and was awarded the Bar Council gold medal for 1949–50.
When she became a judge, she also became the first woman judge of a Supreme Court in Asia. She would also be the first female Muslim judge of a Supreme Court in India and Asia. She is reported to always have been courteous and balanced in court and made it a point to be well prepared with the case history whenever she heard a case. She was reportedly in favour of reservations for women, which could possibly increase the number of women judges at the higher judiciary.
Rajani Pandit, hailing from Maharashtra, is India’s first female private detective. She has solved 75 thousand cases both at the national and international levels. Her work experience in this profession, which has scared even the most daring men, spans 22 years. During her murder investigations, she has gone undercover many times in great danger with her tape recorder to catch the criminals.
Kavita Devi is the first female WWE champion from Haryana, India. Her road to the top has not been easy, peppered with many obstacles, one of them being the language barrier. The 32-year-old was trained by ‘The Great Khali‘ at his training academy in Punjab. She took part in WWE’s biggest stage during the Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania in New Orleans in 2018.