#Sepia Stories

International Women’s Day 2021: 10 Female Educators Who Have Shaped India

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We are who our teachers shaped. India’s history has some very powerful female teachers who broke barriers and spoke up for emancipation of women and education of the girl child. Here’s a list of 10 Indian female educators who shaped India despite facing questions and criticism for prioritising learning over other things.

1. Vimla Kaul

Vimla Kaul became a teacher to the underprivileged students in Delhi who couldn’t afford going to school. She believes that education is a need and everyone should get an equal opportunity to avail it. She never gave up on any student who was slow at learning. According to her, many government schools fail to provide quality education to children and then follow the no-detention policy. As a result, the students are not able to construct even basic sentences in either English or Hindi.

2. Savitribai Phule

Savitribai Phule was a woman much ahead of her time. Besides being a teacher, she was also a Marathi writer and a Philanthropist. She took charge of educating girls at a time when the caste system was rigid and women were denied the right to education. She could not pursue formal education as she was from a lower caste. It was her husband Jyotirao Phule who taught her. Phule founded India’s all-girls school in Pune for which she was criticised and even pelted with stones.

3. Begum Hamida Habibulla

Begum Hamida Habibulla received her training as a teacher at Whiteland’s College, London and continued as an educator in India for six decades. Habibulla is known for her immense contribution as an educator. She took the responsibility of educating students from the marginalised sections. She also taught girls who had to quit going to school due to financial crisis. Along with her mother-in-law, Habibulla founded Talimgah-e-niswan, a school for girls coming from the minority sector. The school has grown exponentially and has more than 3,500students at present.

4. Fatima Sheikh

Fatima Sheikh was a contemporary of Savitribai Phule. She became one of our country’s first Muslim female educators. Her journey started as she joined forces with the Phules and educated Dalit girls. Coming from a marginalised section herself, she faced several hardships. Sheikh even went against her family to make her career as an educationist. She wanted more Muslim women to join the profession and became a driving force behind a silent educational revolution in India.

5. Begum Zafar Ali

Begum Zafar Ali was the first woman matriculate of Kashmir. She grew up to become an educationist, social activist and a legislator. Begum Ali held the position of the Head Mistress at various schools. She visited people convincing them about the merits of female education. Her aim was to empower women by encouraging them to seek education. Begum Zafar Ali served as a member of the Legislative Assembly from 1977-1982. She played a primary role in bringing reforms in education, emancipation of women and other social issues.

6. Durgabai Deshmukh

Durgabai Deshmukh was a freedom fighter who followed Gandhian principles and set up schools to train women in spinning and weaving. Having completed her M.A. and B.L. degrees, she founded ‘Andhra Mahila Sabha’ to teach girls so that they could appear for the Banaras Hindu University Matric exam. Later, the institute trained females for various other activities like nursing, journalism and teaching.

7. Mahadevi Verma

Mahadevi Verma was a poet, freedom fighter and educationist. She wrote poems in Hindi and excelled in the genre of Chhayavaad, a literary movement of romanticism in modern Hindi poetry. Verma served as the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth, Allahabad.

8. Chandraprabha Saikiani

Chandrapabha Saikiani is credited for starting the women’s movement in Assam. She struggled to get herself and her sister educated. As there were no schools for girls, she would travel long distances to study at a Boys’ school. Saikiani started her first school at the age of 13 under a thatched hut to ensure the empowerment of other girls. She received a scholarship to study at the Nagaon Mission School and continued striving for women’s education.

9. Anutai Wagh

Anutai Bagh was a pioneer of preschool education in India. She focused on an indigenous curriculum that required cheap teaching materials and aimed at providing the students with a holistic development. In 1925, Wagh stood first in the Vernacular Final Exam and in 1929, she completed her Primary Teacher’s Certificate course at Women’s Training College in Pune. She faced tremendous backlash from conservatives while teaching at a school in Chandwad Taluka, Maharashtra. Anutai Wagh later enrolled in a night school and completed her matriculation and graduation at the age of 51.

10. Ramabai Ranade

Ramabai Ranade was one of India’s first female educators and social workers. She got married at the tender age of 11. Her husband, MG Ranade encouraged her to get educated and taught her Marathi, English and Social Sciences. Ramabai Ranade started a Hindu Ladies Social Club which trained women in public speaking and knitting. Once a member of the Prarthna Samaj (founded by her husband) and Seva Sadan, she emphasised on the need for women’s education and organised vocational and professional training for poor women, widows and abandoned wives.

Today, the legacy of these incredible female educators is continued by several young generation teachers.

Mukti Dangli lost her eyesight when she was 11 years old but it didn’t stop her from starting Pragnachakshu Mhila Seva Kunj, an NGO for the visually impaired which currently houses more than 400 students and provides them with training in computer languages and teaching.

Geeta Dharamrajan, a Padma Shri awardee is a teacher and writer who found Katha, an establishment working towards upskiling people from slums and rural areas in Delhi.


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