Gargi Vachaknavi was an ancient Indian philosopher, and daughter of sage Vachaknu (from the lineage of sage Garga 800-500 BCE). Right from a young age she had a love of learning and was considered an intellectual. She acquired knowledge of the Vedas (ancient scriptures) and became renowned for her proficiency in the field of philosophy; even surpassing men in her knowledge in Vedic Literature. She is honored as a great natural philosopher.
Amrapāli was a royal courtesan of the republic of Vaishali in ancient India around 500 BC. She is mentioned in the old Pali texts and Buddhist traditions, particularly in conjunction with the Buddha staying at her mango grove.
After approximately 300 BCE, Hinduism became dominated by the Brahmins (the priestly class) and was marked by the growth of the caste system. The caste system only gave respect (including education) to women of higher castes, leaving the vast majority of women uneducated. Also, important scriptures propagated the idea that women were unfit for freedom, deserved no independence, and should be kept under the authority of men in all stages of life.
Around 1000 AD, the Abbasid Arabs who had already conquered Persia (modern Iran) took over northern India (including modern Pakistan). Little by little, many Hindus and Buddhists in northern India converted to Islam.
In the 1200's, the Mongols under Genghis Khan invaded India, and by the 1500's the Mughal Empire (covering what is now northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh) was established by Prince Babur (pictured to the left).
Mughal queen Nur Jahan (pictured to the left) held a lot of power in the early 1600s, and was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most famous exhibits of Islamic architecture.
The Mughal Empire ruled for 300 years until the mid-19th century when the British invaded and incorporated India into the British Empire.
Purdah is a religious and social practice of female seclusion prevalent among some Muslim communities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as upper-caste Hindus in Northern India. It takes two forms: physical segregation of the sexes, and the requirement that women cover their bodies so as to cover their skin and conceal their form.
While marrying children is against the law in India, some communities have this embedded into their society as a cultural norm which has been practiced for a long time (making many people resistant to social change). Sociologists trace the practice of child marriage back to the Muslim invasion that began more than 1,000 years ago. Legend reports that the invaders would sexually assault Hindu girls who were not married. Thus, to protect their daughters, Hindu families began marrying their daughters at a very young age.
This view still echoes in some local communities today. Some parents believe that as a girl reaches her teen years, she becomes exposed to high-risks of sexual depredations committed by some men. Early marriage traditions have also remained out of necessity for impoverished families. Securing early marriage can save the family money with less mouths to feed (the daughter is supported by the husband’s family). Especially in years of draught or flood, early marriage for their daughter could mean the difference between subsistence and hunger for families in small, rural villages.
(information taken from New York Times article: “Though Illegal, Child Marriage is popular in Par of India” by John F. Burns. Published: May 11, 1998. For complete article, click HERE
Sati is a custom in which a widow is burned alive on her husband's funeral pyre.
Jauhar is the practice of voluntary immolation by wives and daughters of defeated warriors, in order to avoid capture and consequent molestation by the enemy.
Devadasis means “servant of god.” Young girls are “married” to an idol, deity, or temple. These girls are often from the lowest castes in India— their parents have given them to temples as human offerings in order to appease the gods. In reality, they are sexual slaves, and forbidden from marrying. They have to earn their own income from begging in the streets and prostitution. India's government outlawed the practice in 1988, but it persists in south India, where there are an estimated 50,000 devadasis.
Raziyya al-Din (1205 –1240) was the only woman-monarch to ever rule the throne of Delhi. Like other Muslim princesses of the time, she was trained to lead armies and administer kingdoms if necessary. She established schools, academies, centers for research, and public libraries that included the works of ancient philosophers along with the Qur'an and the traditions of Muhammad.
Meera (unknown-1547) was a Hindu mystic poet and devotee of Krishna. She was one of the most significant saints of the Vaishnava bhakti movement.
Akka Mahadevi (1130-1160) was one a prominent poet in the 12th century, contributing 430 poems to Indian literature.
Nur Jahan (1577–1645) was Empress of the Mughal Empire as the chief consort of Emperor Jahangir. A strong, charismatic and well-educated woman, she is considered to be one of the most powerful and influential women of the 17th century Mughal Empire.
Begum Hazrat Mahal (1820-1879) was the first wife of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah who rebelled against the British East India Company during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. After her husband was exiled, she took charge of the affairs in the state and seized control of important territory. (pictured above)
Kittur Rani Chennamma (1778 - 1829) was the Queen of Kittur, a princely state in South India. She was best known for leading an armed rebellion against the British East India Company in 1824. The resistance ended with her arrest and she became a symbol of the independence movement in India. (memorial pictured to the right)
Rani of Jhansi (1828 –1858) was the queen of the Maratha-ruled Jhansi State and one of the leading figures of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. (portrait of Rani shown to the left)
Savitribai Phule (1831–1897) became the first Indian woman to become a teacher, and opened up the first school for girls in India in 1848. (memorial of Savitribai and her husband pictured to the right)
Chand Khatun Sultana Bibi (1550-1599), was a Muslim woman warrior who acted as the Regent of Bijapur and Ahmednagar Kingdoms. She is best known for defending the kingdom against the Mughal forces of Emperor Akbar (top picture).
Rani Abbakka Chowta (1525-1570) was a 6th Century Queen who successfully fought off the Portuguese attacks for over four decades.
Durgavati Maravi (1524-1564) was a queen who ruled for fifteen years before she was defeated in a battle by Ali emperor Akbar (middle picture).
The Begums of Bhopal (1714-1947) were the female relatives of Muslim rulers of a princely state in India, who were also considered notable rulers during this period. They did not observe purdah and were trained in martial arts.
Jijabai (1598-1674) founded the Maratha Empire, and became a queen regent because of her ability as a warrior and an administrator (bottom picture).