Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

Women have broken barriers both at home and in the workplace. India has no dearth of such wonderful women. Join us in celebrating and applauding the many ‘firsts’ by Indian women this Women’s Day.

By Ashwin Dewan  • 7 min read

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

For decades, the world has witnessed many women become pioneers. And when it comes to change, Indian women have been at the forefront – they have broken glass ceilings, overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges, and effortlessly merged the roles of the homemaker and the working professional with ease. All along the way, they have created history as well by being the firsts in many fields.

On International Women’s Day with its theme of ‘Choose to Challenge’, let us come together to applaud the many firsts by Indian women. After all, these trendsetting women chose to challenge and come out victorious.

The many amazing 'Firsts' by Indian women

1. Shila Dawre

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First Indian woman auto rikshaw driver

Shila Dawre is the true embodiment of grit and determination. In 1988, at a time when women auto rickshaw drivers were unheard of, Shila Dawre created history as India’s first woman auto rickshaw driver. Pune-based Dawre has paved the way for other women drivers and sent out a message that nothing is impossible if you set your heart to it.

2. Kalpana Chawla

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First woman of Indian origin to go to space

When Kalpana Chawla, an American astronaut and engineer went into space in 1997 as a mission specialist and a primary robotic arm operator, she became the first woman of Indian origin to go to space. Regarded as a national hero in India, Chawla passed away in 2003 in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster where the spacecraft disintegrated during its re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

3. Kiran Bedi

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First woman police officer in India / First Indian woman to be appointed United National Police Advisor

Kiran Bedi became the first police officer in India when she joined the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1972. During her tenure, she introduced many reforms at Delhi’s Tihar jail that got her recognition and won her the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994. She is also an Indian politician and a social activist who served as the 24th Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry from 2016 to 2021. Interestingly, she has another first to her name. In 2003, Bedi became the first Indian and first woman to be appointed United Nations Police Advisor in the United Nations Department of Peace Operations.

4. Arunima Sinha

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First female amputee to climb Mount Everest

Arunima Sinha is the first female amputee to climb the mighty peak of Mount Everest in 2013. What made the feat remarkable was the fact that Arunima achieved this just two years after she lost her leg in a tragic train accident where she was pushed out of a running train by thieves. A Padma Shri awardee, Arunima is also the world’s first female amputee to conquer Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica.

5. Gita Gopinath

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First Indian woman to be appointed chief economist of IMF

In 2018, Gita Gopinath became the first Indian woman to be appointed as the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She succeeded Maurice Obstfeld. She is also the third woman and the second Indian after Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to be made a permanent member of the economics department at Harvard. Gopinath has authored many research articles on several topics such as exchange rates, trade and investment, and emerging market crisis.

6. Sania Mirza

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First Indian woman to win a WTA title

Sania Mirza became the first Indian woman to win a Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) title in 2005 when she emerged victorious over Alona Bondarenko in the AP Tourism Hyderabad Open. Ten years later, in 2015, she again made history by becoming the first Indian woman to be ranked no. 1 in WTA’s doubles rankings.

7. Saina Nehwal

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First Indian woman to win a medal in badminton at the Olympics

Known for her feisty and never-say-die spirit on the badminton court, Saina Nehwal became the first Indian woman to win a bronze medal in badminton at the 2012 Olympics held in London. She was awarded the Arjuna award for Badminton in 2009, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna in 2010, the Padma Shri in 2010, and the Padma Bhushan in 2016.

8. Mary Kom

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First Indian woman to win a gold medal at the Asian Games

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom, better know simply as Mary Kom, is a well-known face in the world of sports. Nicknamed Magnificent Mary, she became the first Indian female boxer to win a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2014 held at South Korea. This apart, she is also the first Indian female boxer to win gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. In 2020, she was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award.

A doting mother to three sons, Mary Kom is a perfect example of a parent serving as a role model to her kids. Not only did she return to the ring two years after the birth of her twins but managed to win a gold at the World Championships in China, 2008.

9. Priya Jhingan

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First lady cadet of the Indian Army

Her dream was to wear the green uniform and she pursued it with unwavering determination. In the end, she succeeded and came out with flying colors. Meet Priya Jhingan, the first lady cadet of the Indian army. A student of law before she joined the armed forces, Major Priya Jhingan was commissioned to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in 1993, which was a proud moment for her family.

10. Surekha Yadav

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First female train driver in India and Asia

Whenever life has bogged her down with difficulties and hardships, Surekha Yadav has simply 'chugged' ahead. Confused… Well, she is the first female train driver not only in India but Asia as well. A great feat considering train driving is often considered a profession only for men. A female locopilot of the Indian Railways, Surekha became India’s first female train driver in 1988.

11. Captain Ruchi Sharma

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First Indian woman operational paratrooper in the army

When Ruchi Sharma’s face was featured on the cover page of a leading news magazine in April 1998, she made history. For she was the first Indian woman to become an operational paratrooper in the armed forces. Capt. Ruchi has motivated many women to serve their country and after her retirement from the army, she is serving as a Principal in an army school. A recipient of the First Ladies award, she is a true role model for women all over India.


12. Mithali Raj

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First woman to score a double hundred in Test cricket.

A well-known face on the 22-yard pitch, India cricketer Mithali Raj became the first woman to score a double hundred in Test cricket. She achieved this remarkable feat courtesy her remarkable 214 runs against New Zealand at Wellington in 2004.

13. Pratibha Patil

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

First woman President of India

Pratibha Patil became the first woman President of India and held office from July 2007 to July 2012. During her tenure as president, she was instrumental in improving women’s rights in the country and played a key role in solving issues such as the agrarian crisis. After retirement, she has been involved in charity work.

Apart from the above-mentioned women, there are other Indian women who were firsts in their fields. Take a look at the table below.

Celebrating The Amazing ‘Firsts’ By Indian Women

Also read:

Facts and information about International Women's Day

First woman train driver India Surekha Yadav interview

Meet captain Ruchi India's first operational woman paratrooper

About the author:

Written by Ashwin Dewan on March 1, 2021.

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