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International Day for Women: Meet the original gender benders and find out where they are now

Happy Women’s Day: HT spotlights some pioneers from the region who blazed a trail in fields as diverse as academia, politics, bureaucracy, culture & sports and finds out where they are now

punjab Updated: Mar 08, 2018 10:01 IST
Team HT
(Left to right) Vidya Stokes, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Kiran Bedi and Kamaljeet Sandhu.
(Left to right) Vidya Stokes, Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Kiran Bedi and Kamaljeet Sandhu.(HT Photo )

On International Women’s day meet the original gender benders:


Claim to fame: This ace tennis player from Amritsar became the first woman to join the Indian Police Service in 1972. She was called “Crane Bedi” due to her extensive use of cranes to tow away wrongly parked cars, including that of then PM Indira Gandhi.

Where is she now: Bedi is the lieutenant governor of Puducherry since May 2016. She joined the BJP before the 2014 general elections and contested the Delhi assembly polls unsuccessfully.


Claim to fame: She became the first woman speaker of the Himachal Vidhan Sabha in 1985 when she was 58. Daughter-in-law of Satyanand Stokes, an American missionary who started the apple revolution in HP, she would have become the oldest person to contest assembly polls last year had her nomination papers not been rejected.

Where is she now: Stokes lives in her ancestral house at Thanedhar in Kotgarh region. Stokes, who has quit active politics, attributes her longevity to a grain-free diet.


Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, the only woman CM of Punjab. (HT File)

Claim to fame: The only woman to hold the office of Punjab chief minister in 1977, she was 27 when she was pushed into politics. She opposed militancy in Punjab and upstaged Harcharan Singh Brar to become the CM of the state. “Brar chalee gayee, Bhattal aa gaya,” was how people described her.

Where is she now: Bhattal is keeping a low profile in Chandigarh after her defeat to SAD candidate Parminder Singh Dhindsa from the Lehragaga assembly seat last year.


Meenakshi Anand Chaudhary (HT File )

Claim to fame: She is the first woman chief secretary of Haryana. Her younger sister Urvashi Gulati also became a chief secretary. Daughters of Prof JC Anand, a political science professor at Panjab University, the three bureaucrat sisters — Meenakshi, Urvashi and Keshni — became an inspiration for women in the state notorious for its low sex ratio.

Where is she now: Chaudhary, who lives in Panchkula, has ventured into philanthropy with her trust Saanjha Welfare Society that provides free books to slum children. She is also perpetuating the memory of her parents with a memorial lecture and medals at the PU.


Meenakshi Anand Chaudhary

Claim to fame: Known as one of Patiala’s most educated girls in her youth, she went on to become the first woman vice-chancellor of Punjabi University in 1975.

Punjab hasn’t seen another woman V-C. Sandhu was one of three women V-Cs in the world at that time. Later, she was appointed the first woman chairperson of the Staff Selection Commission in New Delhi (1980-1985).

When asked if she was a feminist, she is said to have retorted: “Not the bra-burning kind.”

Where is she now: Now in her 90s, Sandhu is leading a retired life in Chandigarh.

She co-edited a book on her husband, Giani Gurdit Singh, with their son Roopinder Singh, an editor, in 2008, and has devoted herself to preserving and furthering his legacy.


The miracle from Chandigarh: Mann Kaur (HT File )

Claim to fame: A track-and-field athlete, she holds the world record in the over-100 years’ category for a variety of events. Kaur shot to fame after winning the 100-metre gold at the World Masters Games in Auckland, New Zealand in 2017, and was dubbed the “Miracle from Chandigarh”. The centenarian took up athletics when she was 93.

Where is she now: Currently living in Patiala, Kaur is gearing up for the 2018 edition of the World Masters Athletics to be held in Spain in September. The 102-year-old will also be part of a walkathon in Chandigarh on the occasion of Women’s Day on Thursday.


Jhingan was cadet number 001 at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. (HT File )

Claim to fame: She is the first woman to join the Indian Army as an officer. Jhingan was cadet number 001 at the Officers Training Academy in Chennai. Daughter of a police officer, she set her heart on the olive green when she was in school. She retired as a Major from the judge and advocate general branch after 10 years of service.

Where is she now: She teaches at Lawrence School in Sanawar. Married to Lt Col Manoj Malhotra (retd), she lives in Himachal with their son Aryaman. Odd Ball India is now planning to produce a biopic on Jhingan’s life.


Claim to fame: Punjabi writer Prof Dalip Kaur Tiwana was the youngest Punjabi novelist to receive the Sahitya Akademi award for her novel “Eho Hamaraa Jeevana” (And Such is Her Fate) in 1972. The first woman to get a PhD degree from Punjabi University, Patiala, she was also the first Punjabi to receive the Saraswati Samman.

Where is she now: She continues to wield the pen and is a source of inspiration to her readers and students, including poet Surjit Patar whom she taught.


Claim to fame: A former quarter-mile runner from Punjab, Sandhu became the first Indian woman athlete to win the gold medal in the Asian Games. She scripted history during the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games when she made it to the top of the podium in the 400m race.

Where is she now: Sandhu retired from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, in 2008. Nowadays, she divides her time between Chandigarh and Canada, where her children are settled.


Neena Tiwana

Claim to fame: Neena Tiwana was the first woman from north India to graduate in 1965 from the National School of Drama.

She joined the famed institute a mere 13 days after her marriage to theatre activist Harpal Tiwana.

Apart from acting in over 100 plays in India and abroad, she also essayed roles in five Punjabi movies, including critically acclaimed “Long Da Lishkara”, “Deewa Bale Sari Raat” and “Bhabho”.

Where is she now: She lives in Patiala and is still active in theatre.

(With inputs from Manraj Grewal Sharma, Nirupama Dutt, Aneesha Bedi, Saurabh Duggal and Vishal Rambani)