16 Indian Women Who Became Chief Ministers Despite Patriarchy And Gender Roles

According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, as many as 39 crimes were reported every hour in India in 2016, up from 21 in 2007.

Even Holi – a festival of joy and colours has now become a pretext to harass women, exacerbating the trepidation of a woman walking down a street in Delhi. That’s how unsafe women in India are. Even though there is time left before Indian women have as much freedom as men in public spaces, many Indian women have been successful in hitting the glass ceiling and creating a niche for themselves in Indian politics.

Let’s take a look at these women politicians who rose to the position of chief ministers, defying patriarchy and gender roles.

1. Sucheta Kriplani (Uttar Pradesh; October 1963 – March 1967)

In 1963, Sucheta, a Gandhian, became the first woman CM of Uttar Pradesh. Kriplani, a freedom fighter, became the first Indian woman to hold the post of the CM in any state. She is remembered for her role in the Quit India movement. She also founded the women’s wing of the Congress in 1940.

2. Nandini Satpathy (Odisha; June 1972 – March 1973, March 1974 – December 1976)

Often referred to as the ‘Iron Lady of Orissa’, Nandini Satpathy held the position of the CM twice, first in 1972 and then in 1974. She attempted to resist Indira Gandhi’s policies during Emergency and joined the group of protesters led by Jagjivan Ram, which then became the Congress for Democracy, but later rejoined Congress. She is a well known Odia writer, known for her translation of Taslima Nasreen’s “Lajja” into Odia. Her birth anniversary on June 9 continues to be celebrated as Nandini Divas or National Daughter’s Day.

3. Shashikala Kakodkar (Goa, Daman and Diu; August 1973 – April 1979)

Shashikala, popularly known as ‘Tai’, was an eminent leader of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party and served as the CM of Goa, Daman and Diu for six years. A staunch advocate of the Marathi language, Kakodkar served as the leader of Bharatiya Bhasha Suraksha Manch, a political outfit demanding Konkani and Marathi be made the medium of instruction in elementary education.

4. Syeda Anwara Taimur (Assam; December 1980 – June 1981)

Syeda Anwara Taimur, a member of INC, became the first woman Muslim CM of India, when she became the CM of Assam in 1980. During her tenure, the Assam movement against illegal immigrants (mostly Bangladeshi nationals) in Assam was gaining momentum. The movement led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) became increasingly violent, cutting short Anwara’s tenure as President’s rule was imposed in Assam.

5. Janaki Ramachandran (Tamil Nadu; January 1988 – January 1988)

After the demise of her husband Marudur Gopalan Ramachandran, Janaki, a former actress, was asked by the party members of (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) AIADMK to take his place. In January 1988 she became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu but her tenure lasted for only 24 days as her government dismissed by the central government headed by Rajiv Gandhi after a of violent scuffle on the floor of state assembly which left at least 30 lawmakers injured.

6. J. Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu; June 1991 – May 1996; May 2001 – September 2001; March 2002 – May 2006; May 2011 – September 2014; May 2015 – December 2016)

Popularly known as ‘Amma’, Jayalalitha, an Indian actress-turned-politician, served six terms as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. In 1991, she became the second woman CM of Tamil Nadu. She made some landmark decisions in her tenure by creating women-only police stations, introduced the foreign-based automobile plant for the first time in India, ceased activity of 500 liquor shops in the state and also introduced ‘Amma Canteens’ to benefit the poorer sections of the society. In the 2016 assembly elections, she became the first leader in Tamil Nadu to serve consecutive terms since 1987. She died at the age of 68 on December 5, 2016 after a prolonged illness. More than 10,000 heartbroken mourners were present in her funeral just to catch one last glimpse of their beloved ‘Amma’.

7. Mayawati (Uttar Pradesh; June 1995 – October 1995; March 1997 – September 1997; May 2002 – August 2003; May 2007 – March 2012)

Mayawati, a leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party, has served as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. Popularly hailed as ‘Behenji’, in June 1995 she became first Dalit woman CM of India. Mayawati was introduced into politics by a prominent Dalit politician Kanshi Ram. Narasimha Rao, a former PM of India, has called her rise from humble beginnings a ‘miracle of democracy’. Her appointment to the office was always followed by implementation of policies for uplifting her vote-base, primarily Dalits. These policies included job guarantees, debt waivers, land redistributions and shuffling of bureaucracy to promote Dalit officers.

8. Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Punjab; January 1996 – February 1997)

Rajinder, a Congress leader, is the first and only woman CM of Punjab. She was appointed the CM in 1996, after the former CM Harcharan Singh Brar resigned. Bhattal comes from a family of freedom fighters and her political prowess was noticed by the former President of India Giani Zail Singh. Her swearing-in as the CM was followed by schemes for upliftment of the poor farmers, which included free electricity to power wells but its implementation was deferred.

9. Rabri Devi (Bihar; July 1997 – February 1999, March 1999 – March 2000, March 2000 – March 2005)

Rabri Devi, a member of Rashtriya Janata Dal and wife of Lalu Prasad Yadav, served as the CM of Bihar three times between 1997 and 2005. Rabri was dragged out of the four walls of her home and pushed into the world of politics so as to replace Lalu when he had to resign from the office of CM in 1997. Despite being a political novice, her stint as a politician is remarkable.

10. Sushma Swaraj (Delhi; October 1998 – December 1998)

Sushma Swaraj, the current Minister of External Affairs, held the position of the first woman CM of New Delhi in 1998. Swaraj, a woman of wit and bureaucratic proficiency, joined politics as a student leader of ABVP in 1970, organising protests against corruption and the tyranny of Indira Gandhi’s government. She joined JP Narayan’s for ‘total revolution’ and gave free legal advice to those detained by police for anti-Emergency activities. A prominent BJP member, she has been elected 7 times as a Member of Parliament and 3 times as a Member of Legislative Assembly.

11. Sheila Dikshit (Delhi; December 1998 – December 2013)

Sheila Dikshit is India’s longest-serving woman CM who led the INC to three consecutive victories in New Delhi. In 1984, Dikshit was nominated as an Indian delegate of the United Nations Commission on the issue of the status of women by Indira Gandhi and represented India for five years in the same. This marked her entry in politics and rise in Congress. She has championed the rights of women and was even jailed in 1990 when she led a people’s movement against atrocities committed on women. The metro rail project in New Delhi is also attributed to her, as it was in her tenure the project was carried forward.

12. Uma Bharti (Madhya Pradesh; December 2003 – August 2004)

Uma Bharti ’, currently serving as a cabinet minister in the central government, is a renowned BJP leader. In 2003, she led BJP’s sweeping win in Madhya Pradesh and was appointed as the CM but had to resign in 2004 when an arrest warrant was issued against her for her alleged role in the Hubli riots. After being expelled from BJP in 2005 on grounds of indiscipline and anti-party activities, Bharti founded the Bharatiya Janshakti Party but her outfit achieved little success. She was re-inducted to the BJP in 2011. She was also one of the prominent faces of the Ram Janamabhoomi movement which led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

13. Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan; December 2003 – December 2008; December 2013 to present)

Vasundhara Raje, a BJP leader, became the first woman CM of Rajasthan. She held the office of the CM from 2003-2008 and reclaimed the office in 2013. Even the 2018 state assembly elections is expected to be held under her leadership, a testimony to her influence in state politics. She’s also a recipient of the United Nations’ ‘Women Together Award’ for the services rendered towards the self-empowerment of women.

14. Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal; May 2011 – Present)

Mamata Banerjee is the first woman CM of West Bengal and became the first lady CM to win two consecutive terms in 2016. Banerjee is the founder of  the All India Trinamool Congress. Popularly known as ‘didi’, Mamata Banerjee created history in the 2011 elections, uprooting the 34-year-long rule of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the state. She is also the first woman railway minister of the country and has held this post twice. She received the 2017 UN Public Service Award on the behalf of her government for the ‘Kanyashree Prakalpa’ initiative aimed at reducing high child marriage rates and increasing female education rate in the state of West Bengal.

15. Anandiben Patel (Gujarat; May 2014 – August 2016)

Anandiben Patel, the former CM of Gujarat, is currently the governor of Madhya Pradesh. Anandiben, a BJP leader, became the first lady to hold the office of the CM in Gujarat in 2014. Pressing for gender equity and increased participation of women in political processes, she made a landmark decision of giving 33% reservation to women in the state police force so as to empower them.

16. Mehbooba Mufti (Jammu & Kashmir; April 2016 – Present)

Mehbooba Mufti became the first woman CM of J&K and India’s 16th woman CM in April 2016. Following Mufti Saeed’s demise, Mehbooba, the president of the PDP, became the undisputed choice to take over her father’s position, becoming the second Muslim woman to head an Indian state. She came into political limelight during the 1996 Assembly elections when she won from the Bijbehara constituency. Mehbooba had a shaky start as she had served only 3 months in the office when the trouble over Burhan Wani’s killing erupted but was able to get a grip on the situation in Kashmir.

These women have not only registered their presence in the political landscape of our country but also inspired the women of India to actively engage in the political processes. They are the women who dared to dream beyond the set gender roles.


Image source: Mamata Banerjee/ Facebook, Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images, Santosh Harhare/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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