Women form an integral part of the fabric of India as a nation. This is undeniable, because womenwhether their role is in the households, workplaces or government functions and welfare worksare constantly and actively contributing to building this country into a better version for the future. History, especially histories of women being unearthed nowadays, show that women have also had a huge role to play in the past, so much so that we owe our present rights and freedoms to them.And yet, women are often relegated to the footnotes of history and their achievements remain unsung. This is primarily because history, for the longest time, was only written by men and that too from their own perspective. Its largely in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that women and other marginalised communities have taken to writing their own histories, bringing to the fore the stories of thousands, if not millions, of women who have played a large or small role in shaping our past, present and future. Hundreds among these thousands of women are leaders whose life stories are inspiring enough to catalyse the emergence of more women leaders. Heres what you should know about them.Why Its Important To Celebrate Women LeadersWhether she is a leader at her workplace, in her community, household, the nation or the world, every woman leader needs to be celebrated. A leader is a person who, through their work, personality and merits, holds immense influence as a guide, mentor and pathbreaker. The fact is, leaders of every gender should be celebrated. But the reasons why women leaders need to be celebrated more are: Women in history are not usually given the credit they deserve, which is why their achievements must be brought to the fore now. Women today need more role models to follow, in every field. Celebrating those leaders who have overcome obstacles to achieve something in life can help create such role models. There are many fields in which women have only made inroads recently. They have had to break every glass ceiling imaginable to do so. Celebrating women leaders who have made it can go a long way in giving them credibility. Women in leadership positions can be great mentors. Celebrating their achievements lets the public, especially people looking to work in the same field, know whom to contact when in need of guidance.Most Famous Female Political LeadersThere are many women throughout Indian history who have played a very active role in politics, and been able to inspire people through their deeds. A lot many of these women were also part of the Indian freedom movement, but youll be able to read about them in the next section. Apart from these women, there are many who have had an impact on the Indian political scene. Here are a few you should know about.Indira GandhiAs the first female prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi must come right at the beginning of this list. She served as the PM twice: 1966 to 1977, and 1980 to 1984. Opinion about Gandhis politics is more controversial. Many hail her as the leader who helped achieve Indias victory over Pakistan in 1971. Her authoritarianism and the imposition of the Emergency in 1975, however, show that she had problematic areas too. And yet, her legacy is more inspiring than anything else.Sushma SwarajA Supreme Court lawyer, seven times member of parliament, three times member of the Legislative Assembly, and the second woman to hold the position of the Minister of External Affairs (the first was Gandhi)Sushma Swaraj was one of the most inspiring women politicians of India. She was awarded the Padma Vibhushan posthumously.Sonia GandhiItalian by birth, Gandhi moved to India after getting married to Rajiv Gandhi, and over decades, became an icon in Indian politics. Shes known as the person who has guided the Congress party and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) through many elections and national crises.Sheila DikshitThe chief minister of Delhi from 1998 to 2013the longest-serving female CM of any state till dateSheila Dikshit was a senior Congress member. She also became the governor of Kerala for a short period of time in 2014.JayalalithaThe first female chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha Jayaram was also the general secretary of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). She left behind a movie career to join politics in 1982 and became a Rajya Sabha MP in 1984.Mamata BanerjeeThe first female chief minister of West Bengal, Banerjee is popularly known as the didi of Indian politics. She launch the Trinamool Congress in 1997, and then dethroned the 34-year-old CPIM government in the state. She was also the first female railway minister of India.MayawatiThe most powerful Dalit woman leader in the country, Mayawati has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times. Her powerful influence on Indian politics has inspired many Dalit women to join Indian politics.Vasundhara Raje ScindiaThe first female chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia was introduced to active politics by her mother Vijayraje Scindia, who was also a prominent Bharatiya Janata Party leader. Raje was elected to the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly in 1985, and went on to become a national political icon soon.Ambika SoniA member of parliament, Soni represents Punjab and has served as the nations minister of information and broadcasting. Introduced to the Congress by Indira Gandhi in 1969, Soni is still one of the most articulate women in Indian politics.Nirmala SitharamanThis economist-turned-politician is currently the Finance Minister of Indiathe first woman to hold this position. Shes not only an inspiring woman in Indian politics, but is known all over the world for her role in keeping the Indian economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.Mahua MoitraAnother economist-turned-politician, Moitra joined the TMC in 2010, and went on to be elected to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly in 2016. In 2019, she was elected a member of the Lok Sabha, and has inspired the nation with her fiery speeches since.Most Famous Women Freedom FightersThousands of women participated in the movements against the British government throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. So, why is it that we know very little of the legacy left behind by the women who fought for our freedom? We certainly know about more male leaders from the same period, which is absolutely deserving, and yet, the women need to be highlighted too. Its time we right this wrong by sharing the stories of the women who did participate in, contribute to and make sacrifices for our freedom. Heres what you should know about some of these women who joined the freedom movement.Rani Lakshmibai of JhansiRani Lakshmibais story is, in fact, the most well-known. The young, widowed queen of the state of Jhansi fell prey to the British Doctrine of Lapse after the death of her husband, because this law stipulated that a princely state under the British East India Company (EIC) would lose its status if a ruler died without a male heir. Instead of giving up the rights of her kingdom, she decided to battle against the British, joining the revolting forces of Barrackpore, Meerut, Kanpur, Lucknow, and later Delhi. She also trained the Durga Dal, the first womens military wing in Indian history. She died a martyr with her women soldiers while engaging in battle with the British, but the image of this Indian queen, riding out with her adopted son behind her back, is imprinted deep in all our minds.Begum Hazrat Mahal of AwadhThe Doctrine of Lapse also stipulated that an unworthy ruler could be deposed and their state taken over by the EIC, and this is what happened to Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh, who was exiled in 1856. When the Revolt started in 1857, the Nawabs ex-wife, Begum Hazrat Mahal, took this opportunity to overthrow the yoke of the British on Awadh. She crowned her 11-year-old son as the Nawab, making herself his regent, and quickly mounted a rebellion against the British army with the help of ministers, traders and loyal masses. So fierce was her force that even the British faltered, and offered her a truce (thrice!) and the prospect of returning Awadh to its rightful rulers. The Begum rejected all offers and continued her fight until the British reinforcements quelled the revolt in 1858, at which time she fled to Nepal, where she died in 1879.The Dalit veeranganasJhalkaribai of the Durga Dal is often celebrated as one of the Dalit veeranganas (women warriors or heroes) who led the fight against the British in 1857. But she wasnt the only one. Dalit and social historians have recently discovered the names and deeds of many women across India who contributed to the Revolt. There are some references to women of the Bhatiyara caste (known as Bhatiyarins), who ran inns across the United Provinces, Awadh and other North Indian regions. One of the most well-known Dalit figures of 1857 was, however, an unnamed woman who is celebrated as Uda Devi from the Pasi communitytheres even a bust of hers in Sikandar Bagh in Lucknow today.Women against Bengal Partition, 1905Womens participation in the movement against the Bengal Partition was high and immediate. When Rabindranath Tagore called for Rakhi Bandhan festivals to represent the unity of the people of Bengal, women across regional and religious divides answered his call en masse. Women not only participated in protests, but also attended mobilisation sessions by politicians. Kadambini Gangulyone of the first women graduates of Indiaand Swarnakumari Devi (one of Indias first female novelists and Rabindranath Tagores sister) attended the Indian National Congresss session held in Calcutta, which was to decide on the course of action against the Partition.Women Wielding Pens against PartitionOne of the most empowering ways in which women showed their protest was by wielding pens, and publishing their thoughts on essential nationalist themes like freedom, unity in diversity, Swaraj and Swadeshi. Kumudini Mitra, who edited Suprobhat, and Banalata Devi, who edited Antapur, regularly published articles in support of Indian nationalists, freedom fighters, against British propaganda, and even printed advertisements promoting Swadeshi Shilpa or indigenous industries. Sarala Devi Chaudhurani, the eminent womens rights activist of the time, wrote an inspiring play promoting nationalism, which was published in Bharati. Khairunnesa Khatun, the principal of Sirajgunj Hossainpur Girls High School (now in Bangladesh), published an article titled For The Love Of The Motherland, in the magazine Nabanoor.Sarojini NaiduAlso known by the sobriquet given to her by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Nightingale of India, for her brilliance as a poet, Sarojini Naidu is easily the most remembered woman freedom fighter of India. Educated in England, she joined the party, and quickly rose through its ranks to become the President of the INC in 1925. To aid her fellow Indian women in getting their rights, she established the Womens Indian Association in 1917. After the end of British rule, Naidu was elected as the Governor of the United Provinces, making her the first woman in independent India to hold such a huge public office.Aruna Asaf AliAn educator and activist, Aruna Asaf Ali joined the INC in 1928, and participated in the Salt Satyagraha of 1930, for which she was jailed. She was arrested again in 1932, and this time around she started a movement in Tihar Jail to improve the conditions of political prisoners. In 1942, she took charge of the movement, presided over the INCs Bombay session, and hoisted the Indian flag at the Gowalia Tank Maidana deed for which she was dubbed the heroine of 1942. After independence, she founded the National Federation of Indian Women, the Communist Partys womens wing. In 1958, she was also elected the first Mayor of Delhi.Lakshmi SahgalCaptain Lakshmi Sahgal was the leader of the Rani of Jhansi regiment of Subhas Chandra Boses Indian National Army (INA). While this aspect of Sahgals life may be known to most, many are still unaware that this brave leader who took up arms against the British was a trained doctor with an MBBS degree, who was practising in Malaysia before meeting Bose and enlisting in his army. She joined the INAs march to India across Burma, was arrested in 1945, and sent back to India in 1946 to face the INA trials in Delhi. Sahgal continued her work after independence by leading medical aid efforts for Bangladeshi refugees in 1971, Bhopal Gas Tragedy victims in 1984, and for the victims of the anti-Sikh riots following Indira Gandhis assassination in 1984.Sucheta KriplaniYoure likely to know her as the first woman chief minister of India, an office which she held from 1963 to 1967, but Kriplani was also a freedom fighter who led with passion and rage. A professor of Constitutional History at Benaras Hindu University, Kriplani provided aid to Partition riot victims in 1946. The founder of the All India Mahila Congress, Kriplani sang Vande Mataram in front of the Constituent Assembly on August 14, 1947, minutes before Nehru gave his famous Tryst with Destiny speech.Matangini HazraWhile not much is known about this freedom fighters life, the martyrdom of Matangini Hazra, or Gandhi Buri (old lady Gandhi, in Bengali), is something no one should ever forget. A supporter of Gandhian Swadeshi, Hazra not only spun her own khadi, but also participated in the Salt Satyagraha, for which she was arrested. She was injured while attending an INC conference in 1933. In 1942, during the Quit India movement, she held protests against the British in front of the Tamluk Police Station. Reports suggest that as she stepped forward to prevent the police from opening fire on people, she was shot repeatedly, and died while chanting Vande Mataram to her last breath.Savitribai Phule (1831-1897)Savitribai Phule was a social reformer and educator who fought for the rights and education of women and lower-caste individuals.Fatima Sheikh (c. 1838-1920)Fatima Sheikh was a pioneer in women's education and worked closely with Savitribai Phule in promoting social reforms.Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922)Pandita Ramabai was a social reformer and scholar who championed the cause of women's education and empowerment.Dr. Rakhmabai (1864-1955)Dr. Rakhmabai was a trailblazer in the field of medicine and an advocate for women's rights in colonial India.Mother TeresaMother Teresa, a Nobel laureate, was a missionary who dedicated her life to serving the poorest of the poor in India.Anandi Gopal JoshiAnandi Gopal Joshi was the first Indian woman to become a doctor and an inspiration for women in the field of medicine.Jhalkari BaiJhalkari Bai was a brave warrior who played a vital role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857.Durgavati DeviDurgavati Devi was a social reformer and politician who fought for women's rights and education.Bhikaiji CamaBhikaiji Cama was a prominent figure in the Indian independence movement and played a significant role in raising the Indian flag abroad.Sucheta KripalaniSucheta Kripalani was a prominent freedom fighter and politician, serving as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh.Things You Can Learn from These WomenThings you can learn from these women: Despite being largely unrecognised by history, many of these women leaders have been at the centre of great events. That is truly inspiring because it shows that doing your duty is a huge reward in itself. Despite immense obstacles laid on their door by patriarchy, taboo and stereotypes, these women had the grit to overcome these odds. Many of these women have become leaders in fields that are usually dominated by men. Their success shows that women can become pioneers in any field they choose to work in. All of these women have gained experience at a time when communication and information technologies werent as well developed as they are today. This makes their resourcefulness truly inspiring and something to learn from as well.ConclusionIn a country as diverse and culturally rich as India, the stories of these remarkable women leaders serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of women and their ability to lead and effect change. From the political arena to the battlefields of independence, these women have shown that leadership knows no gender. Their journeys are a source of inspiration for generations to come, urging women to pursue their dreams and ambitions with unwavering determination.As we reflect on their contributions, let us not forget that there are countless more unsung heroines in the annals of Indian history, whose stories continue to inspire and uplift. In celebrating the accomplishments of these female leaders, we honor their legacy and reiterate the importance of gender equality and empowerment.May their stories inspire individuals to defy expectations, shatter stereotypes, and strive for a more inclusive and equitable future. These women remind us that leadership, courage, and vision have no gender, and that the pursuit of one's dreams is a universal right, regardless of who you are.FAQsQ1: Why are these women important in Indian history?A1: These women are important because they broke gender barriers, fought for equality, and contributed significantly to India's progress.Q2: Are there more female leaders in Indian history?A2: Yes, there are many more female leaders in Indian history. The ones mentioned here are just a few examples.Q3: What can we learn from these women's stories?A3: Their stories teach us about courage, leadership, and the importance of fighting for a just and equal society.Q4: Who are some of the most powerful female leaders in Indian history?A4: Some of the most powerful female leaders in Indian history include Indira Gandhi, Rani Lakshmibai, Mother Teresa, and Sarojini Naidu, among others.Q5: What contributions did Indira Gandhi make to Indian politics?A5: Indira Gandhi was India's first female Prime Minister and served multiple terms. She played a significant role in shaping India's modern political landscape, with key policies and initiatives like the Green Revolution and the nationalization of banks.Q6: What was Rani Lakshmibai known for in Indian history?A6: Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi was a fearless queen who played a pivotal role in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against British colonial rule. She is celebrated for her bravery and leadership during the revolt.Q7: How did Mother Teresa impact India and the world?A7: Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic nun who dedicated her life to helping the poor and the sick in Kolkata, India. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, an organization that continues to provide charitable services worldwide.Q8: What role did Sarojini Naidu play in the Indian freedom movement?A8: Sarojini Naidu, also known as the 'Nightingale of India,' was a poet, freedom fighter, and the first woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress. She actively participated in the Indian freedom struggle and advocated for women's rights.Q9: Who was Kalpana Chawla, and what did she achieve?A9: Kalpana Chawla was an Indian-born American astronaut and the first woman of Indian origin in space. She flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia but tragically lost her life in the Columbia disaster in 2003.Q10: What were some challenges these female leaders faced in their respective times?A10: Female leaders in Indian history faced various challenges, including gender bias, societal norms, and in some cases, resistance from political opponents. They had to break barriers to achieve their goals.Q11: How have these powerful female leaders influenced Indian society and culture?A11: These female leaders have had a profound impact on Indian society and culture by breaking gender stereotypes, advocating for social change, and contributing to India's progress in various fields, including politics, education, and humanitarian work.Q12: Are there contemporary female leaders in India who are making a significant impact?A12: Yes, there are contemporary female leaders in India who are making significant contributions in various fields, including politics, business, and social activism. Women like Nirmala Sitharaman (Finance Minister), Priyanka Chopra (actress and UNICEF ambassador), and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (biotech entrepreneur) are among those making a mark.Q13: How can we continue to honor and remember the legacies of these powerful female leaders in Indian history?A13: Honoring and remembering the legacies of these leaders can be done through educational programs, museums, monuments, and the inclusion of their stories in curricula. Celebrating their achievements can inspire the next generation of leaders.