'First Ladies' from across 112 different fields and professions, including several unsung heroines -- from the first woman porter to the first female auto-rickshaw driver, the first female train and bus driver, and even the first bartender and the first women in the army and navy, who broke the glass ceiling in their respective fields were felicitated on Saturday.
The list of 112 women, were not just from the traditional occupations, but from the odd fields also. They also included the country's first professional woman coffee taster, the first woman detective, first competitive female bodybuilder, the first woman cybercrime investigator and the first female bagpipe artist.
Among the celebrated women was the first woman auto-rickshaw driver Shila Dawre. Defying stereotypes, she started driving the auto-rickshaw in 1988.
"My parents were educated, but when I decided to be an auto-rickshaw driver, no one supported me. I left my house at the age of 18 years to become a driver. Now I feel good that there is recognition for me. Although my family was later happy with me, getting recognition at the national level is good and will help other women also come up and take to driving as a profession," Dawre told IANS during a media interaction here.
Pankaj Bhadouria, the first woman to win Master Chef India, told IANS, "It is a beautiful initiative. It is not only giving recognition to those who are already doing good but will also motivate young girls to come up and do good in life."
Upasana Taku, the first woman to lead a payments start-up, had dreams for a cashless economy before several others and started working on her dream from 2009. Taku is co-founder of leading e-payment platform MobiKwik.
"I always had this feeling that we should not waste our time in queues for just a payment, and it all started from there. I am glad that I am getting such recognition," Taku told IANS.
Kalpana Chawla (the first Indian woman in space), Bachendri Pal (first Indian woman to summit Mount Everest), Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (first Indian actress to be jury member at Cannes) and Nicole Faria (first Indian woman to win the Miss Earth title) were also included in the list.
From sports too, several women were selected for felicitation. Dipa Karmakar, the first woman gymnast to qualify for the Rio Olympics, Anjum Chopra, the first woman cricketer from India to be awarded an honorary life membership of the Marylebone Cricket Club -(MCC), Deepa Malik, the first woman to win a medal at the Paralympics and P.V. Sindhu, the first Indian woman to win an Olympic silver medal, were also in the list.
Saina Nehwal (first badminton player to win an Olympic medal), M.C. Mary Kom (first Indian woman to win a medal in Asian Games for boxing), Sakshi Malik (first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal) and Mithali Raj (first woman cricketer to achieve a record 6,000-run mark) were also included in the list along with Sania Mirza (first Indian woman to be ranked no.1 in Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Double rankings) and P.T. Usha (first Indian woman to reach the final of an Olympic).
President Ram Nath Kovind felicitated these exceptional women achievers, who are the first to set a milestone in their respective fields, at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The list, which united the women icons together, has been prepared after an extensive research by the Ministry of Women and Child Development over a period of a year.
"We should celebrate people who have done exceptional things in life. Bringing together these women is a way to celebrate them and their works," Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi told IANS.
"Through the 'first ladies' initiative, the Ministry has identified the 'first' women achievers from varied industries. We looked for the women who are first in their profession and collected these names from different sources," Gandhi said.
"Each one of them needs to be celebrated and recognised. Their achievements will inspire many other ladies in the country," Gandhi added.
The list also included women who are the first army woman, first pilot, first merchant navy captain, first woman judge, first weightlifter, first ODI captain and many such.
The felicitation, for most of the women, was a recognition for all the other women in the various fields they represent. Although most felt that every woman is special and unique, they also said they feel wonderful after meeting so many achievers about whom they have never heard about.
Lt Col (Retd) Josycila Farida Rehana, the first woman paratrooper of the Indian Army (AMC), told IANS it is no less than a lifetime achievement award for her. Born in 1940 in Mysore, Rehana joined the Indian Army in 1964.
The first woman cricket coach, Sunita Sharma, who is the recipient of the Dronacharya award, told IANS that it is better late than never. "I am happy that although little late, we are getting recognition for our contributions."
"Not just awards, but the government should also do something for the job opportunity for female players. They only have job options in Railways. Other departments should also focus on giving job options to the players," she said.
(Nivedita Singh can be reached at email@example.com)