Women In Power: Journey ahead

India is known for the most popular and epic literature: ‘The Ramayana’. The Ramayana is a tale of lord Rama, his brother and his wife. Its a tale which defines the struggles that they faced and how eventually, Maa Sita was extricated from Ravana (the demon king of Lanka). In some epics however, it has been mentioned that it was Maya Sita (an illusionary duplicate of Mata Sita) who was abducted by Ravana and not Mata Sita. The tale describes the fire-god Agni sheltering Mata Sita and saving her from Ravana. It was only at the time of Agni Pariksha, that the two were exchanged, thus destroying Maya Sita. While some texts mention that Maya Sita is destroyed in the flames of Agni Pariksha, others narrate how she is blessed and reborn as the epic heroine Draupadi or the goddess Padmavati. Some scriptures also mention her previous birth being Vedavati, a woman Ravana tries to molest. But, that’s not what we ought to brief you about.

It has been very gently depicted how Maa Sita before marriage was considered as a lady full of skills and has her own way in depicting a very strong and independent personality. In the other half, however, she has been mentioned as a loving wife who has her dedications for her husband and their family. It would be inappropriate to call her being depicted as a typical housewife. Simply because it wouldn’t resonate with the definition of housewives that we interpret today.
Apparently, it is known to everyone that Maa Sita had to feel agonized at last and had to undergo ‘Agni Pariksha’ (an ordeal of fire) by which she proves her chastity before she is accepted by Rama.

But, why are we suddenly discussing Indian literature and tales? The sole reason for initiating with such excerpt is to depict how definition of women empowerment has changed over time. The treta yug depicts women empowerment in the form of Maa Sita exiling from Lord Rama thus reducing Sita to an auxiliary character. She had little control over her destiny and we hardly get to hear from her as her voice has gotten subverted by the overt glorification of Rama. Sita endured a lot of pain and challenges all throughout her life, even though being the queen of Ayodhya and the daughter of mother Earth. The story we know, had never traced her journey through motherhood, abandonment, salvation, kidnapped days and womanhood. Death is important to a man, but survival is more important to a woman.

With a split destiny ruling her life, abandoned Sita gave birth to twin sons in the wilderness and brought them up all alone. Without giving her children the protective presence of a father, she became the first single parent in history.

With the passage of periods, definition of empowerment has changed evidently. The kal yug, initially had the pioneers in the field of women empowerment as Anandi Bai, Janaki Ammal and others and is now being lead by reformers Dr. Indira Hinduraj, Tessy Thomas, Fathima Beevi and many more.

Women empowerment and India

We will shortly describe the history of women empowerment in India under three phases. The first phase, began in the mid-19th century, and was initiated when reformists began to speak in favor of women rights by making reforms in education, customs involving women. The second phase, surfaced from 1915 to Indian independence, when Gandhi incorporated women’s movements into the Quit India movement followed by emergence of independent women’s organisations. Ultimately, the third phase, post-independence, which has focused on fair treatment of women at home after marriage, in the work force, and right to political parity.
Unlike the western expansion of feminism, India’s concept of women empowerment emerged by the initiative of males, and was later joined by females.

To discuss and lead on the same, its very important to mention the contributions of Raja Ram Mohan Roy. His influence was evident in the fields of politics, public administration, education and religion. He has been known for his efforts to abolish the ill practices of Sati and child marriage. He was one of the founders of the Brahmo Sabha, the precursor of the Brahmo Samaj, a social-religious reform movement in the Indian subcontinent. The Brahmo Samaj played a major role in reforming and modernizing the Indian society. It focused truely on gender equality and conservation of rights for women. He successfully campaigned against Sati, the practice of burning widows. He sought to integrate Western culture with the best features of his own country’s traditions. He established The Hindu College, The City College and a number of schools to popularize a modern system. He aimed at doing so by replacing Sanskrit based education with English based education in India.

Yet another male pioneers who led the society on the path of women empowerment is Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. Vidyasagar was an educator and social reformer. He has been widely acknowledged for his role in upliftment of social strata for widowed women. Vidyasagar, unlike other reformers believed in the principle of filling the voids of the society, rather than forcing them to be excluded to any other alternate society. In 1853, it was estimated that Calcutta had a population of 12,700 prostitutes and public women. The exponential frequency in number of prostitutes was primarily because of the social discrimination that they had to face. The society was not progressive enough to accept them, leading to which, they were forced into such practices for fulfilling their economy concerned needs. Alternatively, many widows had to shave their heads and wear white saris, supposedly to discourage attention from men. They led a deplorable life, something Vidyasagar thought was unfair and sought to change.

Unfortunately, India has marginalised the concept of feminism by restricting it only to the well privileged strata. The poor and the more needy ones are generally neglected. The word feminism is generally misused and thus, we tend to use women empowerment instead of the same. It has not been blind to the society that women from different strata as well as different disciples, have different definitions of empowerment. VIDWAAN being concerned with the scientific niche analyses the characters in empowerment as WOMEN IN STEM (i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine).

The best protection any women can have is Courage. Society frames women to be lost and conquered, but education leads them to be found and glorified.


‘Women empowerment is not just a catchy slogan, its a key factor in the social and economic success of nations. When women succeed, the society follows.’

What is Women Empowerment?

Women empowerment is unlike of any boundaries by definition. Bracing this social event in a few phrases would not bring justice to the real reformers who established it. Similar to every social practice, women empowerment too has multiple definitions varying from one individual to another. It holds different meanings to different psyches and this divergence, associations and interpretations is making the basic understanding of “women empowerment” more complex.

For instance, to a woman working in agricultural fields, empowerment might be subjected as visible competence with the male counterparts related to her niche. It might be a better overall financial growth that could support her family. For a scientist however, the definition might have a different aspect. For her, the definition might be described as equal opportunities for women in education and to choose a preferred discipline without her being subjected to the social burdens of home based tasks. The latter has been evidently exempled by women like Asima Chatterjee, Anandibai Joshi, Janaki Ammal and various others.
This blog will focus on highlighting some of these personalities who did exceptional work on the grounds of women empowerment.

The Seven ‘SHE’ wonders:

1. Savitribai Phule:

Savitribai Phule: Country’s first female teacher and the pioneers of reforms for women empowerment.

Savitribai Phule was a Dalit woman and a pioneer of feminism in India. She was the country’s first female teacher who went on to set up 17 more schools that imparted education to women of all castes. She was married to Jyotirao Phule. At the time of their marriage, she was still an illiterate. Jyotirao educated Savitribai at their home. She worked alongside her husband and other women, to abolish caste and gender discrimination from the society. She also set up the ‘Balhatya Pratibandhak Griha’ to prevent female infanticide, and campaigned against the killing of widows and pregnant rape victims. Unfortunately, Savitribai and Jyotirao’s success came with much resistance from the local community with conservative views. Savitribai Phule is highly revered by advocates of the feminist movement in India today. The eminent and renowned, Savitribai Phule Pune University has been credited to her sacrifice and her efforts for girl education.

2. Anandibai Joshi and Kadambini Ganguly:

Anandibai Joshi and Kadambini Ganguly: The pioneers of female practitioners of western medicine.
Anandibai Patel and Kadambini Ganguly

Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi and Kadambini Ganguly were the two first Indian female practitioners of western medicine who passed out in the same year.
Anandibai also became the first woman from Bombay presidency of India to study and graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine from a foreign country. Anandibai was married to Gopalrao Joshi, who worked as a postal clerk in Kalyan. She gave birth to a boy child at the age of 14. But, lack of medical conditions failed the survival of child. This incident created a void in her thoughts, thus, determining her to step into the field of medicine. Her supportive husband shared her progressive thoughts and advanced her in pursuing her choice.
Ganguly, on the other hand has posed as the first woman to gain admission to Calcutta Medical College in 1884, subsequently trained in Scotland, and established a successful medical practice in India. She was heavily criticised by the then conservative society opposing women liberation. In an incident, she was even called a ‘whore’ in the magazine ‘Bangabashi’, but that could not deter her determination. Her supportive husband Dwarkanath Ganguly took the case up to the court and eventually won with a jail sentence of 6 months announced to the editor Mahesh Pal.

3. Janaki Ammal:

Janaki Ammal: First Indian scientist to receive Padma Shri Award.

Ammal was the first Indian scientist to have received the Padma Shri Award in 1977, who went on to occupy the reputed post of the director-general of the Botanical Survey of India. Kerala born Janaki was arguably the first woman to obtain a PhD in botany in the U.S. (1931), and remains one of the few Asian women to be conferred a DSc by her alma mater, the University of Michigan. A pioneering botanist and cytogeneticist, Janaki Ammal is credited with putting sweetness in India’s sugarcane varieties. Her phenomenal study of chromosomes of thousands of species of flowering plants is yet another achievement worth mentioning. There is even a flower named after her, a delicate bloom in pure white called Magnolia kobus Janaki Ammal. Unfortunately, Janaki Ammal’s contribution to Indian botanical research remains mostly unknown outside academic circles.

4. Asima Chatterjee:

Asima Chaterjee: First Indian woman to be awarded D. Sc of any Indian University.

Asima Chatterjee was an Indian organic chemist applauded for her work in the fields of organic chemistry and phytomedicine. Chatterjee grew up in Calcutta in a middle-class family where she was encouraged to be in academics. Her father was very interested in botany and Chatterjee shared in his interest. She graduated with honors in chemistry from the Scottish Church College of the University of Calcutta in 1936. She was the first woman to be awarded the D.Sc. (Doctor of Science) of any Indian university. Chatterjee successfully developed the anti-epileptic drug, Ayush-56 from Marsilia minuta and the anti-malarial drug from Alstonia scholaris, Swrrtia chirata, Picrorphiza kurroa and Ceasalpinna crista. The patented drugs have been marketed by several companies.

5. Fathima Beevi:

Fathima Beevi: The first woman judge in the Supreme Court of India.

Its not very often that you visit a court and find it proportionate with women and men in equal ratio. Infact, practically speaking, the ratio is so that it cannot be even compared, with males dominating the niche. In 1989, Fathima Beevi overcame incredible odds and shattered all the preowned stereotypes. She not only became the first woman judge in the Supreme Court of India but was also the first Muslim woman to reach this post in all of Asia! Interestingly however, Fathima’s original plan was to pursue a M. Sc (Master’s in Science) in Chemistry, which she switched to law after learning about Anna Chandy, the first woman judge in India. Anna paved the way for women to take up law in a country filled with male barristers and judges.

6. Dr. Indira Hinduja

Dr. Indira Hinduja: She pioneered the Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) technique

Dr. Hinduja is an exceptional justification to prove that the new age medical science has shown a positive growth in women empowerment. A field that demands perfectionists and not sexists. Dr. Hinduja is an Indian gynecologist, obstetrician and infertility specialist. She pioneered the Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) technique resulting in the birth of India’s first GIFT baby on 4th January 1988. Also, she has been credited for delivering India’s first test tube baby at KEM Hospital, Mumbai on 6 August 1986. She is also acknowledged for developing an oocyte donation technique for menopausal and premature ovarian failure patients, giving the country’s first baby out of this technique on 24 January 1991. For her overwhelming contributions to the society, she has been honoured with many awards including Young Indian Award (1987), Bharat Nirman Award for Talented Ladies (1994), Lifetime Achievement Award by Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society of India (1999) and others.

7. Tessy Thomas:

If Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is the Missile Man of India, then Tessy Thomas is the Missile Woman of the country.
Tessy Thomas is a scientist at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). She served as the Project Director for the Agni IV and V missiles, making her the first woman to lead missile teams in India. Dr. Thomas’ expertise on the solid propellent systems were critical in the development of the re-entry system of the missile, which helped it withstand great velocities and temperatures of 3,000° Celsius on re-entering the atmosphere.
Dr. Thomas has received several prestigious awards for her work, including the ‘DRDO Scientist of the Year’, in 2008, DRDO Performance Excellence Award for 2011 and 2012, India Today Women of the Year award in 2009, and the list is endless. After all, it’s her signature on the Agni series of intercontinental ballistic missiles – the backbone of India’s nuclear deterrent. Considering the gender gap in the field of science in India, Tessy has shown tremendous achievement heading the nation’s apex defence project.

Our efforts:

Today we hear many talks and loquacious debates on women empowerment. But despite of all the awareness and freedom that is bestowed in name of HER, her progress skids to a halt when cases of violence or any unprecedented regression evil emerges. Many exemplary women reformers have paved path for future SHE wonders… the journey which has been rough but revolutionary. It’s time that we make a contribution in the society’s fight for gender equality. And the best way to do it is by strengthening females and educating males.

Every day should be a women’s day for putting an end to any sort of discrimination and achieving gender-based equality and women’s emancipation.

Take your call!!

There is an absolute need for change in the mindset of people in every nation. It is unfortunate that even after 73 years of Independence, we are still talking in terms of ending gender discrimination and the abhorrent practice of female foeticide. Education, empowerment, entitlement and emancipation are required to usher in a society where women are treated as true equals in all spheres of life.
As the famous Sanskrit shloka says, ‘where women are honoured and respected, divinity dwells and all actions are futile where women are not honoured’. In fact, India is personified as Bharat Mata and rivers have been named after the goddesses like Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Kaveri.
Women have proved time and again that they are second to none in various fields — from Rani Lakshmibai in warfare to Gagandeep kang in field of medicine.
Indian women have made stellar contributions in several fields including politics, arts, literature, sports, education and various others. Women are now being inducted into the combat stream of the armed forces and the nation proudly acknowledged the induction of the first three women fighter pilots. That being said, we conclude the blog by the following notion given by Swami Vivekanand.

The best thermometer to the progress of a Nation is its treatment of its women.

Swami Vivekanand

8 thoughts on “Women In Power: Journey ahead

  1. Awesome read. I really like the wonderful and witty use of captions in the blog. Great job Siddharth.

  2. This is an excellent piece of work defining wonderfully the most powerful women of history.. Really great!?

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