Indira Gandhi was the first female prime minister of India. She was the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a prominent figure in the independence movement and would become India’s first independent prime minister in 1947. Upon Nehru’s death, he was succeeded by Lal Bahadur Shastri, and Gandhi was appointed Minister of Information and Broadcasting. When Shastri died suddenly, she ran for office and won the election of 1966. She soon proved herself to be powerful speaker and clever politician, and the hostility towards her as a woman in politics caused her to develop nerves of steel (during one speech, a protester threw a rock which broke her nose; without pausing, she lifted her sari to hide her bleeding nose and continued the speech). She ordered the first development of nuclear weapons in India, and also headed what came to be known as the Green Revolution, a program to boost agricultural productivity and food security and combat the widespread malnutrition. She also reformed the country’s banking system, widening people’s access to banking facilities and providing banking service for the rural poor. After she won again in 1971, in 1974 the High Court of Allahabad declared her victory void on grounds of electoral malpractice and called for her resignation. Gandhi responded by declaring a state of emergency in order to restore order, during which a lot of members of the opposition were arrested. She lost the election in 1977, and the leader of the opposing Janata Party ordered the arrest of Gandhi and her son Sanjay, automatically expelling her from Parliament. Her arrest and trial gained sympathy from much of the public. The Janata Party dissolved in 1979, and Gandhi ran for election in 1980 and won by a landslide. In June of 1984, she implemented Operation Blue Star, a forceful raid carried out by Indian troops of the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, with the purpose of finding and arresting rumored Sikh separatists. Later that year, she was shot and killed while walking in her garden by two Sikh members of her personal guard. Though many of her actions during her time in office remain controversial, she is still remembered as “a tigress among one hundred monkeys.”
Indira Gandhi: An Intimate Biography by Pupul Jayakar
Indira: the life of Indira Nehru Gandhi by Katherine Frank
Lakshmi Bai’s mother died when she was very young, leaving the child rearing to her father, an advisor to the Peshwa of Bithoor. That was how she gained knowledge of not only reading and writing, but of archery, horseback riding, musketry and swordfighting. In 1842, she married the Raja of Jhansi, becoming Rani (Queen) of Jhansi. In 1851, she had a son. He died as an infant, and the Raja died a year and a half later. She adopted a son to ensure that she would be succeeded. When the British East India Company found out that her only heir was adopted, they ruled that his claim to the throne of Jhansi was invalid, annexed the state, gave Lakshmi Bai a small pension and ordered her out. Lakshmi Bai filed a formal appeal in the British courts, but was ignored. In 1857, the Indian army mutinied against the British, and Lakshmi Bai declared open revolt. She attacked the British fort at Jhansi and recaptured her territory. She spent the rest of that year consolidating her kingdom and personally leading highly trained forces of both men and women into battle. Perceiving danger, British general Sir Hugh Rose led an invasion against her. She held out for two weeks before a relief force came to her aid. In 1858, she led forces against the Maharaja of Gwalior, who had deserted the rebel cause, and defeated him. Unfortunately, while occupying the fort at Gwalior, her army was attacked by the British and she was killed in combat. Her followers built a funeral pyre and burned her body on the spot, as per her wishes, so that it would not fall into enemy hands. She is a national heroine in India today.
The Queen of Jhansi by Mahasweta Devi