Wonder Women in the Civil Services of India

Celebrating Women’s Day on this March 8th, here we recall 8 wonder women in the civil services of India who served as IAS and IPS officers and created wonders in the society as well as in the country. Facing all the difficulties and crossing all the barriers, these women reached the zenith and went on to inspire not only women but also men and today they are role models for many in the country.

Today is a day to celebrate womanhood and all that being a woman entails. It is not wrong to say that women are underrepresented in the Indian civil services. For every 20 male IAS officers, there is only 1 woman officer. This is a number that has to change if we need a truly representative service. Despite this, there are many women civil servants and diplomats our country can be proud of. This Women’s Day, take inspiration from four women who have achieved stupendous success in their fields.

 

“There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise.”

Kiran Bedi
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This name needs no introduction. The first woman IPS officer in India is currently the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, having ventured into politics after retirement from the service. She was known as an officer who was bold and upright, and one who was not afraid to take on the biggies. She was instrumental in bringing many reforms to the notorious Tihar Jail in Delhi. She won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1994. She was also the first Indian woman to be the Police Advisor to Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Nirupama Rao
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Nirupama Rao, a 1973 batch IFS officer had topped the all India ranking for the UPSC civil services of that year.  She became the second woman to be the Foreign Secretary of India in 2009. In 2001, she was also the first and so far, the only woman spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. During her eventful career, she held many posts including Ambassador to the United States and China; and also the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.

Meera Shankar
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Meera Shankar was the second female ambassador to the United States of America, the first lady being Vijayalakshmi Pandit. She was the Ambassador from 2009 to 2011 and was succeeded by Nirupama Rao. Shankar, a 1973 batch IFS officer served in other posts including Director in the PMO, in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, head of SAARC, India’s Ambassador to Germany, etc.  She was the centre of a controversy when she was subject to a pat-down check at a US airport when she was the Indian Ambassador to the US.

C. B. Muthamma
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If you are a woman pursuing the UPSC exam, you should read the story of Chonira Belliappa Muthamma. At a time in India when women were confined to their homes, Muthamma became a symbol of women empowerment. In 1948, she became the first woman to clear the Indian Civil Services (ICS) exam, the forerunner to today’s IAS exam. She was also the first woman IFS officer and the first woman ambassador of India (she was appointed the Ambassador to Hungary). She is remembered for her fight against a system which did not foster gender equality. Despite topping the IFS list, she was made to sign an undertaking that she would resign on getting married. She was a crusader against the inherent bias against female officers in the Indian foreign service. She had petitioned the government when she was overlooked for promotion owing to her gender. In her case, she raised many issues in the foreign service which were discriminatory to women. As a result of this case, the rules were changed and it is no longer mandatory for women IFS officers to seek permission before getting married.

Throughout her career, Muthamma had to fight against gender bias and it can be said that she paved the way for all the woman IFS officers who came after her.

Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya
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Bhattacharya was the second woman IPS officer in India after Kiran Bedi. She became the first woman IPS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre. She also became the first woman IPS officer to become the Director General of Police of a state when she was appointed the DGP of Uttarakhand. She retired from service in 2007 and joined politics. Bhattacharya had a brilliant service of 33 years for which she won many medals too. Her awards include the President’s Medal for long and meritorious services in 1989, the President’s Medal for distinguished services in 1997, and the Rajiv Gandhi Award in 2004 for excellent all round performance and as an outstanding woman achiever.

Meera Borwankar
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Meera Chadha Borwankar became the first female IPS officer from Maharashtra cadre when she joined the IPS in 1981. Known as a tough officer, she was awarded the President’s Medal in 1997. She also caps the honour of being the first woman head of Mumbai’s Crime Branch Department (2001). She is currently the Director General of the Bureau of Police Research and Development.

Smita Sabharwal
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Smita Sabharwal, an IAS of the 2001 batch, is popularly known as the ‘People’s Officer’. This Telangana cadre officer is the first woman officer to be appointed to the Chief Minister’s Office. Sabharwal is currently serving as Secretary to the Chief Minister of Telangana. She had cleared the IAS exam at the young age of 23 and had bagged an all India rank of 4. She is well-known for her good work as Collector in places like Karimnagar and Medak. She was responsible for improvement in the health, education and public utilities departments in Karimnagar. She has also won many awards for her stellar contribution.

B Sandhya
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Sandhya is the Additional Director General of Kerala Police. She joined the IPS in 1988. In her various capacities with the Kerala Police, she was involved in a lot of high profile cases. She was also responsible for implementing the Janamaithri Suraksha Project (the Community Policing Project) of Kerala which has been greatly lauded.

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