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Meet the Female Civil Servants Who Shaped Our Country 

Indian Masterminds Stories

Several centuries ago, women’s primary roles were limited to family and household responsibilities. Women gradually began to emerge from the four walls of their homes and take on the roles of leaders and administrators. Whether it was the struggle for freedom or becoming a part of democracy and government formation, they rose to every front. According to some surveys, women currently contribute 18% of GDP. Their roles and numbers have both increased, whether they are corporate or bureaucratic. 

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, IM presents the story of such shining female bureaucrats who have played crucial roles in nation-building. 

C. B. MUTHAMMA 

Ms. C.B. Muthamma became the first woman to clear the Indian Civil Services (ICS) examination (now UPSC CSE) in 1948. She was the first woman to join the Indian Foreign Service and became the first female diplomat. She was appointed as the Indian Ambassador to Hungary, at the time.

Ms. Muthamma also served as a diplomat in Rangoon, London, and on the Pakistan and American Desks in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. She is known to be the pioneer of gender equality in the civil service. 

KANCHAN CHAUDHARY BHATTACHARYA 

Ms. Kanchan Chaudhary Bhattacharya was the second woman IPS officer in India after Kiran Bedi and the first woman IPS officer in the Uttar Pradesh cadre. An IPS of the 1973 batch, she became the first woman ever to serve as the Director-General of Police of a state when she was appointed the DGP of Uttarakhand.

For her exceptional work in policing, Ms. Bhattacharya was honored with the President’s Medal for Long and Meritorious Services in 1989, the President’s Medal for Distinguished Services in 1997, the Rajiv Gandhi Award for Excellent All-Round Performance, and the Outstanding Woman Achiever award, 2004.

NIRUPAMA RAO 

A 1973 batch IFS officer, Ms. Nirupama Rao, 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 and served on the position until 2011. Author of the book, ‘The Fractured Himalaya’, Ms. Rao served as India’s Ambassador to the United States, China, and Sri Lanka (High Commissioner) during her career.

Dr. B SANDHYA 

An IPS officer of the 1988 batch, Ms. B Sandhya retired as Director General of the Kerala Fire and Rescue Services, Home Guard, and Civil Defence.

She is known for her literary contributions, which have won her several awards, including the Edasseri Award in 2007. Ms. Sandhya completed her Master of Science in Zoology and PhD from Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani. She started her career as a project officer at the Kerala State Co-operative Fisheries Federation, and from there she joined the Indian Police Service after passing the Indian Civil Services Examination in 1988. As an IPS officer, she has served in various districts of Kerala, including Kannur, Kollam, and Thrissur.

SANTHA SHEELA NAIR

A former IAS officer from the 1973 batch, Ms. Nair, became the first woman district collector of Trichy and retired as secretary to the Government of India. She served as the Union Joint Secretary for Fertilizers and the Fertilizer Commissioner from 1990 to 1994.

She has had a long and illustrious career spanning over 50 years of service to her country. She has been a champion of sustainability and was instrumental in making rainwater harvesting a legal requirement in the state of Tamil Nadu. This program was successfully implemented, impacting a population of 65 million and averting the Chennai water crisis in the 2000s.

PREETI SUDAN 

An IAS officer of the 1983 batch, Ms. Sudan has held significant positions both at the state (Andhra) and national levels, including serving as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, handling responsibilities in disaster management, and Secretary of the Department of Food and Public Distribution. Besides this, she served the country as the Health Secretary of India and was a key strategist during Covid-19.

The officer is known for her role in supporting the development and implementation of crucial initiatives like the National Health Policy and the Ayushman Bharat Yojana. An alumnus of the London School of Economics, Ms. Sudan also worked as a consultant at the World Bank.

RAJNI SEKHRI SIBAL 

A retired IAS officer of the Haryana cadre and 1986 batch, Ms. Sibal is currently serving as the Independent External Monitor (IEM) of the Security Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and EXIM (Export-Import) Bank.

The first female topper of the Indian Civil Service, Ms. Sibal has held various roles in the Government of India and the Government of Haryana. She has previously served as the Director General of Employment and Training under the Ministry of Labour and Employment and then as the Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.

She has also headed the National Institute of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development during her career. Ms. Sibal retired as the first Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries in 2020. 

MANJARI JARUHAR 

Ms. Jaruhar is ranked fifth among the first five female IPS officers in India and is the first female IPS officer in Bihar. She retired as the Special Director General of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).

The author of ‘Madam Sir’, the Story of Bihar’s First Lady IPS Officer,  Ms. Jaruhar, is also a recipient of the Government of India Police Medal for Meritorious Service and the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service.

ARUNA SUNDARAJAN 

A retired IAS officer of the 1982 batch Kerala cadre, Ms. Sundarajan served the country for more than three decades in areas that include Economic and Development Administration, Investment Promotion, and IT/Telecom. 

She was posted as the IT secretary of Kerala and was instrumental in establishing the IT department in 1998. She had a significant role to play in the development of e-governance in the state of Kerala and also conceived and spearheaded the Akshaya project (e-literacy).

She can be credited as the feminist torchbearer who headed the Kudumbashree project, which has created benchmarks in the field of women empowerment and has created significant employment opportunities for women.


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