India's first Minister of Law and Justice, B. R. Ambedkar inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement. He also fought against social discrimination prevalent in India at that time. Widely regarded as the chief architect of the Constitution of India, Ambedkar was posthumously honored with India's highest civilian award - The Bharat Ratna.
Sarojini Naidu was an Indian poet and political activist. An important figure in the Indian Independence Movement, she was a proponent of anti-imperialistic ideas, women's rights, and civil rights. Her illustrious career as a poet earned her the nickname Nightingale of India. After India became independent, she became the first woman to hold the office of Governor in the Dominion of India.
Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian social reformer who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. Satyarthi is best known for his campaign against child labor in India. Kailash Satyarthi is credited with founding several social activist organizations like Global March Against Child Labour, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, and Global Campaign for Education.
Anna Hazare is an Indian social activist known for his efforts to improve rural places in India. His contribution to the development of Ralegan Siddhi earned him the Padma Bhushan in 1992. He is also known for his fight against corruption; he went on a hunger strike in 2011 to exert pressure on the government to enact an anti-corruption law.
Padma Lakshmi is a model, television host and author. She has hosted cooking competition program Top Chef and has published cookbooks. She has acted in films and television too and is also an activist working for immigration and women’s rights and is a critic of skin-lightening creams. She was married to novelist Salman Rushdie for a little over three years.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was an Indian politician and independence activist. He formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy of Hindutva and was a leading figure in the Hindu Mahasabha. He was known for his strong oratory skills and was an eloquent writer. He was initially charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi but was later acquitted.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy was an Indian social and religious reformer. He is credited with co-founding the Brahmo Sabha, a social-religious reform movement. Often referred to as the Father of the Bengal Renaissance, Roy has had an influential role in fields like politics, education, and religion. In 2004, he was ranked 10th in BBC's Greatest Bengali of all time poll.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was an Indian independence activist, Islamic theologian, and scholar. He played a key role in the Indian independence movement, serving as a senior leader of the Congress. His contribution to the Indian education system is recognized across India by celebrating his birthday as National Education Day.
Maneka Gandhi is an Indian politician, environmentalist, and animal rights activist. She is credited with inspiring several individuals towards social entrepreneurship. Maneka Gandhi is best known as an animal rights leader for which she has received several international awards. She is also credited with establishing an animal welfare organization named People for Animals.
Lala Lajpat Rai was an Indian politician who played a major role in the Indian Independence movement. He is credited with inspiring many young men, including Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad, to join the freedom struggle through journalistic writings and activism. He was popularly known as Punjab Kesari.
Kasturba Gandhi was an Indian freedom fighter and political activist. Best remembered as the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Kasturba took part in Indian independence movements along with her husband. Her life and career inspired a play titled Kasturba which was written by Narayan Desai and directed by Aditi Desai. The play was staged several times in India.
The daughter of Kannada poet P. Lankesh, Gauri Lankesh began her career as a journalist for The Times of India. She also worked as an editor of Lankesh Patrike. Later, she was known for her firebrand left-wing activism against Hindutva and was eventually shot dead by three men near her Bengaluru home.
Anoushka Shankar is a British-Indian music composer and sitar player. Over the years, she has been nominated for several Grammy Awards and has won many prestigious awards, such as Songlines Music Award. In 2004, she was named in the 20 Asian Heroes list published by Time. Anoushka Shankar is also known for her activism and is a supporter of animal rights.
Baba Amte was an Indian activist and social worker best remembered for his work that aimed at empowering people suffering from leprosy. Dubbed the modern Gandhi of India, Amte received several prestigious awards, such as the Gandhi Peace Prize, Dr. Ambedkar International Award, Ramon Magsaysay Award, and the Padma Vibhushan.
Ramon Magsaysay Award-winning Indian author Mahasweta Devi is regarded as a gem of the Bengali literary world. She had also been a left-wing social activist, and her works such as Hajar Churashir Maa and Rudali have either tribals or people from the marginalized communities as their protagonists.
Vinoba Bhave was an Indian social reformer and advocate of human rights and nonviolence. A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Bhave played an important role in the Indian freedom movement. In 1958, he became the first person to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. In 1983, Vinoba Bhave was posthumously honored with the prestigious Bharat Ratna award.
Rukmini Devi Arundale was an Indian dancer and choreographer. An exponent of Bharatanatyam, Rukmini Devi helped revive the original sadhir style of the dance form. She also popularized Bharatanatyam among Indian upper-caste elites for which she was named in India Today's 100 People Who Shaped India list. In 1956, Rukmini Devi Arundale was honored with the Padma Bhushan.
Medha Patkar is an Indian social activist known for her work concerning several issues raised by farmers, tribes, women, and laborers facing injustice in India. She is also known for popularizing the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) movement which opposes the construction of large dams across the Narmada River. Medha Patkar is the recipient of many awards including the Mother Teresa Award.
Nandi Award-winning comedian Kovai Sarala has been loved by Tamil and Telugu audiences for her roles in films such as Sathi Leelavathi and Uliyin Osai. She began her acting career in 9th grade and has since then appeared in over 300 films. She is now part of the Makkal Needhi Maiam party.
Born to an Indian freedom fighter, Ram Manohar Lohia grew up to follow in his father’s footsteps and joined the Indian National Congress to oust the British. He was also associated with Gandhiji’s Quit India movement. He had also co-established the Congress Socialist Party and written extensively on the caste system.
Mahadev Govind Ranade was an Indian social reformer, scholar, author, and judge. Ranade is credited with co-founding the Indian National Congress as well as founding several organizations like the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, Widow Marriage Association, and Vaktruttvottejak Sabha. He also contributed as an editor of a nationalist publication named Induprakash.
Initially a Rediffusion copywriter, Rahul Bose quit the agency after bagging a role in English August. A prolific stage actor, he has also been part National Award-winning films such as Mr. and Mrs. Iyer and Antaheen. A talented rugby player, too, he plays for the Indian national rugby team.
One of Orissa’s political icons, Biju Patnaik had led the Indian state as its chief minister for two terms. Often regarded as the Hero of Kalinga, he had a major role in shaping the post-independence infrastructure of Orissa and was also part of India’s freedom struggle. He was also a skilled pilot.
Sunderlal Bahuguna was an Indian environmentalist best remembered for his involvement in the Chipko movement. The movement, which aims at conserving forests, received a major boost after Bahuguna created the slogan ecology is the permanent economy. The movement inspired similar movements across India. Sunderlal Bahuguna is also remembered for leading the anti-Tehri Dam movement.
Bipin Chandra Pal was an Indian nationalist, social reformer, writer, orator, and freedom fighter. Along with Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal was part of the famous Lal Bal Pal triumvirate. Pal played a key role in the establishment of the Swadeshi movement. He also worked for popular publications and promoted his brand of nationalism.
Indian environmental activist and physicist Vandana Shiva is known for her anti-GMO campaigns. The Gandhi of grain is the founder of RFSTN, which promotes sustainable agriculture, and is against globalization. She developed an interest in environmentalism after witnessing a forest at her hometown being cleared for a project.
Social activist and journalist Teesta Setalvad is best known for establishing the Sabrang Trust, aimed at peace-building after the 1992 Mumbai riots, and the CJP, aimed at seeking justice for the 2002 Gujarat riot victims. The Padma Shri awardee has also successfully obtained 117 convictions against the Gujarat rioters.
Indian social reformer and Malayali literary icon Kumaran Asan is known for his revolutionary impact on Malayali poetry. He died when the boat carrying him from Kollam to Alappuzha met with an accident midway. He is remembered for his works such as his iconic narrative poem Duravastha.
Nana Saheb, also known as Dhondupant, was a major figure of the 1857 Sepoy Munity, or the first war of Indian independence. The adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II, he was initially on friendly terms with the British but was later forced by circumstances to join the rebels against the British.
Indian polymath and environmentalist K. Shivaram Karanth, who enriched Kannada literature with his novels and plays, was named the "Rabindranath Tagore of Modern India" by Ramachandra Guha. He had quit college to join the Non-Cooperation Movement and later returned his Padma Bhushan to protest against the Emergency of the 1970s.
Sugathakumari was an Indian activist and poet who played a major role in Kerala's feminist and environmental movements in the late-1970s. She is credited with founding organizations like Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithi and Abhaya, which work towards protecting nature and safeguarding women and the mentally ill respectively. During her lifetime, she was honored with several prestigious awards like the Padma Shri.
Rahul Sankrityayan was an Indian freedom fighter and writer. A polyglot, Sankrityayan loved traveling and helped develop travelogue writing as a literary form in India. Dubbed the father of Indian travelogue, Rahul Sankrityayan wrote several travelogues having spent 45 years on travels away from home. In 1963, he was honored with India's third-highest civilian honor, the Padma Bhushan.
Ranjini is a Singaporean actress best known for her work in Indian films, especially the Tamil and Malayalam film industries. Ranjini, who has also appeared in Telugu films, was the leading actress in Kollywood from 1985 to 1992. Apart from appearing in films, Ranjini also judged a couple of beauty pageants in Kerala, India.
Social activist Aruna Roy is best known for establishing the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan. Initially a professor, she later served as an IAS officer, following which she concentrated on social work. She spearheaded the right to information movement, which led to the passage of the RTI Act in 2005.
Mohammad Ali Jauhar was an Indian Muslim activist, journalist, poet, and freedom fighter. After starting his career by writing articles for major Indian and British newspapers, Mohammad Ali went on to become one of the founders and an important member of the All-India Muslim League. His life and career inspired a 1984 documentary film titled Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar.
Best known as the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, or SEWA, Ela Bhatt is a champion for women empowerment. Her efforts have won her awards such as the Padma Shri, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, and the Padma Bhushan. A trained lawyer, she has also been a Rajya Sabha MP.
Chandi Prasad Bhatt is an Indian social activist and environmentalist best known for founding the Dasholi Gram Swarajya Sangh (DGSS) in 1964. DGSS gave rise to the famous Chipko Movement for which Bhatt was honored with the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1982. In 2005, he was awarded India's third-highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan.