To be an ambitious and talented woman in India is a difficult dream to carry through. In India, the role of woman is so strongly entrenched in tradition that many find it difficult to break free of it. So, Indian women have long been struggling to assert themselves in positions of power. While advancements are being made, and some strong female Indian voices are campaigning for change, today only 5 of the top 100 richest Indians are women: There is still a long way to go. This minority reveals the extent to which the Indian woman’s position is still very much in the home. However, India is currently undergoing rapid economic development – with it, women’s access to education and independence is growing.
The five women listed below are independently wealthy, and they represent an important step in the improvement of gender equality in India. They open up the option of female empowerment to fellow Indian women and encourage other ambitious Indian women to ask – ‘why not me?’ They symbolise a modern femininity which they strive to promote around them, and invite reflection on women’s capacity to innovate and prosper even in the traditionally male-dominated domains of business, science and politics. Although it’s certainly worth noting that only one of the women in our list is ‘self-made’ according to Forbes. However, as is explored below, the women who were born or married into wealth have made sure that their voices resonate in society by supporting gender equality campaigns and institutions, occupying political roles, attaining high-powered jobs in the media, or getting involved in human rights and the arts.
The five women on our list have been ranked according to their net worth from lowest to highest, as estimated by the Forbes ‘India’s Richest’ list.
5. Shobhana Bhartia – $645 million
After graduating from Calcutta University, Shobhana Bhartia followed in her father’s footsteps to the publishing industry. Living in Delhi, she runs the mass media company Hindustan Times Media that publishes the English and Hindi versions of the Hindustan Times daily, and the business newspaper Mint. The group also operates four radio stations and a diverse selection of websites. She inherited the Hindustan Times Group from her father and has proceeded to run it with much success since 2008. She has been accredited with pioneering the company’s long-term vision and strategy. Currently 57 year old, Shobhana Bhartia is one of India’s most powerful businesswomen. She features on Forbes’s ‘Asia’s most powerful businesswoman to watch’ and was awarded the title of India’s ‘Media Person Of The Year’ for 2013 by the International Advertising Association. Her influential power and leadership skills were further acknowledged by the fact that she was appointed as a member of the Rajya Sabha (the Indian House of Parliament) between 2006 and 2012. This is particularly significant in a country where currently only 10, 6% of the Rajya Sabha representatives are female.
4. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw – $655 million
Truly symbolic of the potential for female success in India, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is the ultimate definition of a self-made woman. Currently 60 years of age, she is the only entirely self-made woman on our list. Mazumdar-Shaw is India’s very first biotech entrepreneur. Educated in sciences at the University of Bangalore and at the University of Melbourne, Mazumdar-Shaw founded the biotechnology company Biocon. Biocoin produces and sells affordable medication for the treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disease – the treatment of which is usually extremely expensive. India faces a serious problem that Mazumdar-Shaw has devoted her life to countering: the number of cancer diagnoses is growing, yet the country is unable to provide treatment for all. Not only has Mazumdar-Shaw helped stunt pharmaceutical research, but she has also been using her riches for good: since 2005 she has donated around $33 million (in infrastructure, research, aid etc.) to her own hospital as well as to other humanitarian causes. Moreover, she has pledged 75% of her wealth to philanthropy after her death. Her name will without a doubt go down in India’s medical history.
3. Anu Aga – $730 million
71 year-old Anu Aga’s wealth originates in her family’s shares in Thermax, an engineering company. Her father founded the firm which Aga and her husband then inherited. Upon her husband’s death, Aga ran the company alone. She retired in 2004 but retained an important position with the company as Director on the Thermax Board. From this position she has been able to enhance the company’s standing on the world stage and made it a key player in environmental projects. She is a Chairperson for the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Western Region. From this position she spreads her opinions on corporate governance and social responsibility. She is remarkably invested in her country’s social well-being: an important pioneer for gender equality and for human rights in India, as well as a strong supporter of organisations for the education of children from slums. Recognised for her important social role, she has been a member of the Rajya Sabha since 2012.
2. Indu Jain – $2.6 Billion
Based in New Delhi, 77 year old Indu Jain is currently the chairperson for India’s largest media conglomerate Bennett, Coleman & Co. The media house publishes 13 newspapers and 18 magazines, one of which is the Times of India – the magazine with the highest circulation rate in the world. Jain’s enthusiastic and entrepreneurial approach to her work as chairperson has given new life to Bennett, Coleman & Co. Most notably, she founded the Times Foundation which runs programs encouraging social cohesion, equality, inclusivity and social development, as well as encouraging the improvement of discussion and relations between Indian citizens and their government. Jain also holds an important role in the development of gender issues in India. She actively supports women’s rights and encourages female entrepreneurship: for example she is the proud founder and president of the Ladies wing of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), an association of Indian business enterprises. She is also a pioneer in the domain of culture and the arts: she chairs the Bharatiya Jnanpith Trust, a research and literary organisation which preserves historical Indian literature, and rewards the most remarkable current writers.
1. Savitri Jindal – $7.6 Billion
With a net worth of an impressive 4, 9 billion dollars, 63 year old Savitri Jindal is India’s richest woman. She is also the 14th richest Indian person, and thus an important symbol of female power for the country. Jindal’s primary source of wealth is OP Jindal Group, a steel and power organisation which her husband Om Prakash Jindal established in 1952. He brought significant innovation and international attention to the Indian steel industry. Today, it is an 18 billion dollar conglomerate , and one of India’s most dynamic businesses of the past thirty years. When Om Prakash died in 2005, his wife became the non-executive chairperson of the group, and their four sons took over the running of his enterprise. Scandals in 2010 surrounding Jindal’s youngest son Naveen have posed threat to the Group and prompted a decline in profits, but Savitri has managed to preserve her place as India’s number one wealthiest woman. She is an influential figure on a political level as well, occupying the position of minister for urban local bodies with the Haryana state Congress party.