Over the recent years, a large number of women are clearing the civil service exam and getting into the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS). Though it seems very normal now, the situation was different in the past. In the first half of the 20th century, especially before India became an independent nation, access to education among women was very rare. And, as a result, the participation of women in the administration was negligible.
Now, we are learning about two extraordinary women - Isha Basant Joshi and Anna Rajam Malhotra - who overcame all the constraints of the society and became India’s first women IAS officers.
Isha Basant Joshi
Born on 31 December 1908, Isha Basant Joshi was an administrator, author and editor. Better known as India’s first woman IAS officer, Joshi was educated at the prestigious La Martinere Girls High School in Lucknow. In fact, she was the first Indian girl to get admission in this "Bastion of the British”.
Later, she continued her education at Isabella Thoburn College in Luckow and completed her Master of Arts from the Lucknow University. To pursue higher studies, she went to Britain and became a part of the Indian Administrative Services.
Isha Basant Joshi was posted as a Magistrate and then as an Assistant Commissioner in Delhi. During her career, she has held many positions in various departments, including senior roles in the Ministry of Education.
After her retirement in 1966, Joshi started her next phase of career as an author and used to publish books under the name of Esha Joshi. Some of her major works are The Jewel in the Case and other stories, Spindrift: Poems and Sanctuary.
Anna Rajam Malhotra
Born in 1927 in a remote village in Kerala, Anna completed her intermediate education at Providence Women’s College in Calicut. After completing her graduation from the Malabar Christian University in the same city, she went to Tamil Nadu to pursue her Masters in English Literature from the University of Madras.
In 1950, Anna Rajam Malhotra cracked the Civil Services Exam and became the first woman IAS officer in independent India. In fact, during the recruitment process, she was persuaded by the authorities to opt for the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) or a Central Service despite her merit. However, Anna stood her ground and chose the IAS.
Despite her willingness to serve in the field as a sub-collector, she was given a secretarial post by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu.
During her career, Anna had to face many humiliations by those who constantly doubted her capabilities. At times, she was even mocked by women colleagues. With her determination and commitment to the service, Anna progressed in her career and went to become the first woman to hold a secretarial post in the Central government.
It was under Anna’s able leadership, India’s first computerised contained port was built in Mumbai. In 1982, she played an instrumental role in successfully organizing the Asian Games in 1982 in Delhi.