Women Leaders in Indian Education


“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
* B. R. Ambedkar

Education is the basic human rights of people. And women entering the field of education expanded their scope of nurture and care towards the young learners. On the occasion of Women’s Day, I would like to share the contribution of some eminent women in the field of education who made a remarkable impact in the development of the country.

  1. Savitribai Phule – Savitribai was the first female teacher of our country who fought against all odds such as casteism, gender inferiority, and non-cooperation from the community to make a path for many fearless women to come forward and contribute to the nation. She was one of the first woman in India who shared the idea of feminism to promote education and literacy for both the genders. Her husband, Jyotirao Phule, taught her to read and write, after which they together founded the first girls school called Bhide Wada in 1948. Both broke the conventional way of living in a society and changed the preconceived notions to encourage both the genders to pursue studies, like a torchbearer. Later, they also started a “native library” reaching out to many across the state to share and understand the society and think of its development.
  2. Chandraprabha Saikiani – Chandraprabha was a freedom fighter who fought for equal rights to women and believed in equality of education. She took her rights to get educated despite opposition from the society and went to school with boys. Afterschool, at a small age she would share what she learned in school to her friends, like a teacher. Later, she became a teacher and then Head Mistress. In a world where women had no voice she became the voice of her people to fight against discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. She also played a significant role in the Indian freedom movement: Civil Disobedience movement and Non cooperation movement. Her will to get educated inspired women around her to stand for themselves and live equal rights to education. Today, All Assam Pradeshik Mahila Samiti, a non-governmental organization, founded by her is still touching na Uplifting many lives.
  3. Vimla Kaul – Vimla is an inspiring teacher who saw the potential as independent learners in underprivileged children in the slums of Delhi. After retiring in 1993, she founded the school Guldasta in the parks of Delhi and persevered to provide education for more than 25 years. She believes that children are the future of our country and education should be for all as it is the key to a better future. Even after retirement she is still touching lives as a teacher and encouraging curious minds.
  4. Mahadevi Varma – Mahadevi was a writer and poet in Hindi literature in India who played a prominent role in the Chhayavad movement. As an educationist, she was also the Principal and later became the Vice-Chancellor of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, which is a women’s college in Allahabad. She became an eminent figure in Hindi literature where she expressed about women’s rights and patriarchy through her writings and began the feminist literature. She became the first woman to be made a fellow of the Sahitya Akademi. Verma recognised and promoted literature contributions by women and later also founded the All India (Women’s) Poetry Conference in India held in Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth.
  5. Durgabai Deshmukh – The Iron lady of India who played key roles as freedom fighter, social worker, lawyer and a politician. She obtained her B.A. and M.A. in Political Science and later completed her law degree in British occupied India as well as defying social norms. She then became the only member of the Constituent Assembly and Planning Commission in India and formed national policy on social welfare. Durgabai believed in providing education to all and established the organisation Andhra mahila Sabha in 1937 that educated women and provided health facilities to them, which today is a well known institute for women’s welfare and education in South India. As an avid follower of Mahatma Gandhi, she participated in the Non cooperation movement. She later became the first chairperson of the National Council on Women’s Education which was established by the Government of India in 1958.
  6. Mukti Dagli – Mukti lost her vision at the age of 7 due to meningitis which led her to drop out of school and face struggles as a blind girl. But later she completed her education and earned her B.A. degree. She is the unstoppable educationist who served Andhjan Mandal (Blind People’s Association), Amreli for 12 years and further founded the Pragnachakshu Mahila Seva Kunj (PMSK) with her husband, Pankaj Dagli, which is a non-profit organisation in Surendranagar that aims to provide education, food and accommodation to blind girls. The organisation has empowered more than 200 blind girls till date.
  7. Vasudha Prakash – Dr. Vasudha is the founder of V-Excel Educational Trust which is a platform to provide right care and education to specially-abled students. She has earned her doctorate from the USA and aims to improve education towards specially-abled children. She believes that if attention is given at a young age there are high chances of improvement and they have the tendency to live a normal life and support themselves. She has dedicated her life to understand and improve the special schooling system in India and focuses on holistic training and various skill development. The organisation has helped many children to lead an independent life and have service jobs.
  8. Begum Zafar Ali– She was an educationist, women’s liberation activist, social worker and a legislator. Being the first woman to matriculate with a gold medal in Kashmir. She played significant roles to empower women as she went door to door to spread awareness regarding girl’s education. Later she notably contributed to the Teachers Club to emphasize on Women’s rights and issues faced by them in the society. She was also secretary of All India Women’s Conference before Independence. Further, she established a vocational training centre for women of limited means. Begum became a member of the Legislative Assembly and gave special importance to women’s liberation and rights to education.

India is a country built by its people which was not possible without the active involvement of women. From taking the rights to be educated to giving the rights of education for all, women have significantly contributed to the society by breaking boundaries and leading the country to the path of development. Currently, women outnumber men as teachers in school. This cannot be a mere coincidence. But every year more and more students are empowered irrespective of their caste and gender. This would not have been possible without the fights these great personalities fought for us.

By –

Mrs. Achala Verma, Dean Academics from Birla Balika Vidyapeeth (Pilani, Rajasthan)