Rising Beyond the Ceiling

Inspiring Indian Muslim Women Contributing to Nation Building


There is a stereotype narrative surrounding Muslim women in India. However, the millions of Indian women who identify themselves as Muslim reach across a spectra of ethnicities and languages, states and union territories, do not look the same or sound the same, and contribute towards nation building in a wide variety of ways. This Rising Beyond The Ceiling initiative, born out of the need to change the stereotypical narrative, is a celebration of Indian Muslim women. The focus of this initiative is to shine a spotlight on Muslim women in India, their leadership and contributions in Independent India, as well as study their demographics and socioeconomic trends. While this cohort comprises of over hundred million women, there is limited information and data on their contributions to India's fabric, socioeconomic growth and development. This is the first compendium and initiative to focus on nation building contributions by Muslim women in India.
The women spotlighted here from across the states of India do many amazing things- they fly drones and planes, they serve in the police and army, they are skeet shooters and bike riders, they write books and poetry, create art, play hockey and tennis championships, administer and govern, advocate for social issues, serve as lawyers, scientists and doctors, are entrepreneurs, politicians, media and corporate professionals and are substantive contributors to the progress of the country. I continue to learn about and talk to Muslim women from different parts of the country. They have diversified my perspective and showed that Muslim women are not a monolith. Inspired by their stories we are shedding other people's narrow definitions of success and of us- Indian Muslim women. The stories are for all young women and girls in India to seek their inspiration, role models and mentors in their own districts and neighborhoods and to be inspirations themselves to future generations.
Dr. Farah K. Usmani, FounderRising Beyond The Ceiling
Rising Beyond The Ceiling (RBTC) is a celebration of achievement, endeavor and diversity of India Muslim women. The initiative, established in April 2020, aims to make inspiring stories of Muslim women more visible, provide positive role models for future generations, nurturing young women's confidence and ambition in all spheres. RBTC works across various platforms- the website, publications, multimedia as well as an outreach young women's mentorship programme. RBTC is putting together inspiring profiles from fourteen states in India that are home to nearly eighty percent of the country’s 100 million Muslim women population. Besides State and National levels, there is a RBTC 100 list under finalization of Global Inspirations which includes women who have done their initial studies in Indian institutions and are now making their mark in countries across the globe. A compendium of Inspirations from the Past compendium of those amazing Muslim women who are not with us now, but on whose shoulders we stand today. We are also excited about our amazing under 30 youth achievers 100 list.
The population of Muslim women in India is estimated to be 100 million today. This is a large cohort, larger than many countries in the world and many Indian states. However, there is limited research, data and analysis on this demographic. This initiative curates research, analytics and evidence on the socioeconomic and development trends among Indian Muslim women. A compendium of studies and publications on this subject is being put together to build a repertoire of evidence and information to inform policy and programming.
We continue to welcome your feedback and nominations of inspiring Muslim women in India at RisingBeyondTheCeiling@gmail.com

Inspirations from Politics

Globally women's representation in parliaments and ministerial positions is only 22 percent. India ranks among the lowest twenty countries at only 14% representation of women in parliament today. The women roles modes here have made their mark as elected representatives, from a spectrum of political parties- Congress, PDP, BJP, AIDMK, Janata Dal and AAP. They have served/are serving as State Governor, Chief Ministers of Assam and Kashmir, in ministerial positions in Government of India and State Governments such as Tamil Nadu, as Deputy Speaker of Rajya Sabha, Mayors and Corporators of metropolitan cities, including being the youngest Mayor of Mangalore.

Achieving Academic Excellence

The Sachar Committee report provides dis-aggregated information on the percentage of women in India, who have completed higher education. While the percentage of Muslim women with higher education (above Bachelors degree ) is only x%, there are many women who have achieved excellence and reached the highest echelons as professors, university vice chancellors, members of planning commission and national commission on women, historians, scientists and researchers. Their contributions have been in diverse fields ranging from social science, public health, environment as well as toxicology, nematology, women's issues, Sankskrit and Persian, where they have received national recognition, including with Padmashri awards in the last two categories.

Shattering Stereotypes in Uniform

Women's representation in formal work force continues to be very low in India compare to many other countries (add link). In areas such as police and forces, it is further limited. These women here have broken stereotypes through serving in the Indian police service, steering as airline and marine pilots, serving in protection forces such as of the Railway and others. They are working across the states from Bihar, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh to Northeast and West Bengal and have been recognized as India's first woman marine pilot, and receive the "Nari Shakti", highest national award for women.

Shining in Sports

The sports women have been shining in tennis, hockey, cricket, pistol shooting to kickboxing. They have represented India in the National Women's Hockey and Cricket Teams, won gold medals at the Commonwealth games, participated in the cricket World Cup, won six Grand Slam titles in Tennis, won the gold in world kickboxing championship in 2016 and have set national record in air pistol shooting, They are Padmashri recipient, their name has figured in Time's "50 Heroes of Asia", they have been recognized as world champion and served as UN Goodwill ambassador to End Violence Against Women. Click link for details Shining in Sports

Leadership in Administration

While still low, there is increasing representation of women in the Indian Civil Services. The women here are examples of perseverance and hard work to qualify in the rigorous selection process and get recruited to serve in a range of civil services from Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service to Indian Revenue service. They are serving the country as district magistrates, as India's ambassador and representing the country in diplomatic forums and contributing to policy making and have also received the Padma award for administrative excellence.

Making an Impact through Media

You would have seen, read and heard these television and investigative journalists, political analysts, columnists, editors, anchors, producers and chat show hosts, special correspondents, news readers and video bloggers. They have challenged issues, authored books, founded digital papers, been profiled globally by the New Yorker/Time, received awards and recognition including of most resilient journalist, outstanding women journalists, global shining light among others.

Creative Contributors to the Arts

These talented women have made their impact in various forms of creative arts - as actors, producers, choreographers, India's first women Sufi singer, and painter and dancer who has been recognized nationally and internationally. They have won global women in cinema awards, Padmashri, served as goodwill ambassadors for social causes including with the United Nations, represented India and won international pageants as well as critics awards. The actors have risen to introduce a new genres with their contributions to parallel cinema and have been recognized for playing unconventional roles and as artists broken away from the mainstream representational form choosing the trajectory of conceptual art, explored interpretations and innovations in dance and music forms.

Change Makers in Social Sector

These women have been working for the development of different communities and populations across the country. They have established and lead foundations, collectives and educational institutions. Their areas of impact include education of backward populations, women's education, revival of handicrafts and empowerment of artisans, people with special needs and human rights issues. They have made a difference in the lives of many Indians and have been recognized for their contribution to the country, including through national Padmashri award as well as globally through the Rafto Prize for Human Rights and BBC 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world in 2019.

Professionals Building the Nation

This inspiring group of women are contributing through policy, practice and institutional building. Their areas of expertise range from medicine and law to science and education. They are heading public sector institutions as Dean of a medical sciences, Supreme Court judge and lawyer, serving the nation with their expertise in Education policy and Unani medicine, providing innovations as aviation robotics professional and scientist at ISRO- Indian Science Research Organization.

Strides in the Corporate World

Globally women's representation in corporate sector, in particular in managerial positions and corner suites is very limited. However, these amazing women are serving as Executive Director, General and Senior Managers, Executive Vice Chairperson, Director of corporate communications, at various companies including Cipla, Tatasons, Nokia, Workhart, Prestige Group, among others bringing innovation and change.

Taking Forward Entrepreneurship

These innovative entrepreneurs are founders and CEOs of the organizations they have built through their grit and perseverance. Their passion areas range from taking herbal beauty products globally to innovations and training in fashion and design; from establishing schools to promoting educations reforms; pioneering Biotech, developing IT apps as well as grass root sanitary products. They have impacted hundreds and thousands with their creative programmes and pioneering products and have received accolades from the communities and government, including the "Nari Shakti" and CEO5000.

Impassioned Authors and Poets

They are literary historians, fiction writers, critics, political analysts, authors, poets and film lyricists. They are also feminists and activists. They write, publish and recite in Urdu, Hindi and English and are widely known and appreciated by their readership, listeners and followers. They are multi-faceted, running initiatives devoted to the popularization of Hindi-Urdu literature and culture, writing blogs and journals, activists and have also founded women and welfare resource centres.

RBTC Team

Founder & Chief Global Strategist : Dr. Farah K. Usmani
Research Team: Alishah Ali (Delhi), Rushda Patel (Maharashtra), Sadhiya Shiraj (Kerala), Shifa Qureishi (Madhya Pradesh) Huma Hashmy (Media Category), Nida Khan (States), Paran Amitava (Global), Sadaf Hussain (Uttar Pradesh)
State & Theme Collaborators:
  • Sabiha Ahmad, Lucknow, RBTC U.P.
  • Miriam Fozia Rahman , Delhi, RBTC Delhi
  • Shaheen Usmani, New York, RBTC Kerala
  • Yasmeen Haider, Chennai, RBTCTamil Nadu
  • Sahana Ahmed, RBTC, West Bengal
  • Mehnaaz Nadiadwala, RBTC Maharashtra
  • Faiqa Saulat Khan, Bhopal, RBTC M.P
  • Zoya Fatehally, Bangalore, RBTC Karnataka
  • Samreen Ahmed, Aligarh RBTC Youth Leaders


Children's Book Team
  • Illustrator: Aashti Miller, Mumbai
  • Writer/Author: Sabah Usmani, New York
  • Editorial Adviser: Daphne Yin, Washington

FARAH K. USMANI is the Founder of Rising Beyond The Ceiling, a global initiative to shine a spotlight on the achievements of Muslim women of India and contribute towards changing their stereotypical narrative. Dr. Usmani is an international health and development expert based in New York. She has experience of 25 years working with the United Nations International Civil Service in several countries across all regions of the world and has provided policy, planning, programming, and technical leadership with a focus on women and girls. Farah has also worked with the public sector and non-governmental donor programs in India and is the Executive Director and Vice President of SAFAR Foundation, India.
Dr. Usmani has received several awards and recognitions as well as merit fellowships from the World Bank and British Council. She is the recipient of the 2021 Mahatma Award for Social Impact for contribution to women, girls, and minorities. Farah has broken several gender stereotypes in her professional and personal life. She is the first women to top the all-India medical entrance examination of Aligarh Muslim University, where she completed her medical studies. She is the first woman from her home state of Uttar Pradesh, and the first Muslim woman from India, to work with the United Nations International Civil Service at Director level in New York.
Dr. Usmani has an M.D. in Obstetrics and Gynecology from Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College, Aligarh Muslim University, India and a Master’s in Health Policy Planning and Financing given jointly by the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London.

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For more information on the Rising Beyond the Ceiling Initiative mail to RisingBeyondTheCeiling@gmail.com