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Dec/19/2021 / by Seema Staff

This year, many South Asian women have made the news for the right reasons, and thus become inspirations for others to follow. Here are some of those we covered this year – ranging from the impressive to the awe-inspiring.

Nandana Sen

The daughter of two famous parents — Padma Shri award-winning literary legend Nabaneeta Dev Sen and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen — Nandana Sen has juggling as diverse roles as author, activist, and actress. Her biggest legacy is her role as a devoted daughter and a doting mother. This year, after Mother’s Day, she launched her latest book, “Acrobat,” the reincarnation in English of Bengali poetry written by her late mother. “Acrobat” is a poetry collection that invoke womanhood, intimacy, first love, childbirth and death. It has received rave reviews from the likes of Gloria Steinem, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Anita Desai, and Wendy Doniger. 

Maneet Chauhan


Chef Maneet Chauhan attributes her success to a simple philosophy: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Earlier this year, Chauhan won Food Network TV’s “Tournament of Champions II” after four rounds against 16 of the country’s best chefs. A regular judge on Food Network TV’s Chopped, Chauhan is no stranger to competitions, including “Iron Chef America,” “The Next Iron Chef,” “Chopped,” and “Tournament of Champions Season 1.” Chauhan became the first South Asian to win a major competition like TOC! In the final round, Chauhan beat last year’s champion Brooke Williamson, creating three dishes using langoustine, fresh wasabi, and liquid nitrogen.

Geena Gaur Sidhu


Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Geena Kaur Sidhu of the US Navy has broken glass ceilings many times time. Born Guldeep Kaur Sidhu, Sidhu is one of the few Sikh Indian American women, to serve in the military. Kaur’s day job sounds like something out of “Top Gun.” She works on aircraft carriers, loading gun systems and weaponry, including bomb racks, missile launchers, rocket launchers, and loading bombs and missiles on jets. This is a discipline traditionally dominated by men. Kaur is also a champion for women, youth, the Sikh American community, and the military. 

Shermin De Silva

Based in Sri Lanka, Shermin De Silva is president of Trunks & Leaves, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2010 to facilitate the peaceful coexistence of people and the vanishing Asian elephants. Habitat changes, human-elephant conflict, and accidents, are decimating Asian elephants, the scientist told SEEMA. She has learned that conservation must begin with empathy with other humans. “You have to truly understand why people behave as they do so that efforts to protect nature do not simultaneously impose social injustices on the people whose daily lives and very survival depend on their relationship to the landscape,” De Silva said.

Aysha Saeed

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Aysha Saeed drew on her culture’s practice of getting fashionably dressed for weddings and festivals to influence her clothing line. When she first came to the U.S., she struggled to fit in until she found confidence and succor in fashion.

She saved money from her allowance and her earnings from a part-time job to buy beautiful clothes. “I wanted to be the best-dressed person in my entire school,” Saeed says. Saeed went on to study famous design houses in Milan, then set up a clothing label and boutique in New York.

Anjali Sud

It is not often that an executive can make her mark by watching and evaluating videos. Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud did. This May, Sud marked the company’s trading debut on Nasdaq.


The daughter of Indian immigrants Sud grew up in Flint, Michigan, and became CEO of Vimeo in 2017. As the young CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, she transformed the company from a content creator like Netflix to a video software company. One example of the speed at which she acts: within 90 days of her taking over in 2017, Vimeo bought over Livestream. 

PV Sindhu

Badminton player Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, is the only female from India to win two Olympic medals: a silver in the Rio in 2016, and a bronze in Tokyo in 2020. In the 2019 World Championships in Basel, Switzerland, she beat Nozomi Okuhara, making her the first Indian to win a gold in the BWF World Championships. The Hyderabad native is also only the second woman badminton player in the world after Zhang Ning from China to win five or more medals in the world championships. Other than in 2015, Sindhu won a medal in every BWF World Championships since 2013.

Sandy Sidhu

Canadian actor Sandy Sidhu starred in the new NBC medical drama “Nurses”, which portrays the life of five nurses working in a busy hospital. In the show, Nazneen (played by Sidhu) immigrates from India to Canada to be a nurse, just like Sidhu’s real-life mom. Sidhu earned a degree in cell biology and genetics from the University of British Columbia, before she switched careers to become an actor. Her parents turned out to be her biggest supporters. And this year, Sidhu’s career has truly begun to soar. 

Radha Bharadwaj

Radha Bharadwaj,

In 2021, filmmaker Radha Bharadwaj released “Space MOMs,” a film that highlights the role of women in India’s space program, and emphasizes the role of the Indian family in boosting their children on their journey success. “Hundreds of millions of people have had the same upbringing that I had, the same upbringing that the Mars engineers had,” Bharadwaj told SEEMA. The film has won hearts of people around the globe and has earned praise from the first woman of color in space, Dr. Mae Jemison, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, former U.S. Ambassador Curtis Chin.

Sonya Thadhani Mughal

Earlier this year, Sonya Thadhani Mughal was named the first woman CEO of Bailard, a 52-year-old wealth and assets management firm in the Bay Area. Always fascinated with finance, Mughal moved to the US when her mother pushed her to apply to undergraduate colleges. Mughal majored in math, began working as a junior analyst, and worked her way up the proverbial ladder. “The most important thing is to join a company that’s going to actually invest in you, just as you’re going to invest in the company,” she advised women in an interview to SEEMA.

Maunika Gowardhan

Maunika Gowardhan has been in the food industry for almost two decades and cooked alongside Jamie Oliver and Heston Blumenthal. In her latest cookbook “Thali,” Gowardhan explores dishes served on platters across India, celebrating the diversity in India’s regional cuisine and a taste of home. Written for both newbie cooks and more seasoned home cooks, Gowardhan offers simple substitutes and easy steps. Speaking about the research she did for the book, Gowardhan explained, “I have a connection and affinity to households and local homes, vendors, streets and people who meet me on a regular basis.”

Vanita Gupta

Vanita Gupta is the associate attorney general, the Department of Justice’s third-highest ranking official. She oversees the Justice Department’s civil rights litigation, such as its antitrust, civil, and environmental divisions. Born to Indian immigrants in Philadelphia, Gupta earned a bachelor’s from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from New York University. Despite a privileged background, Gupta went to work for the NAACP to clear the names of 40 poor people, and sued ICE over detention facilities for children while at the ACLU. In 2014, President Obama appointed her assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.

Nivruti Rai

Nivruti Rai

The country head of Intel India and VP of Intel Foundry Services, Rai was among five women to be recognized at The Reykjavík Global Forum – Women Leaders, Leading Edge Initiative. Rai’s rise at Intel and the journey to the C-Suite level is an inspiration for women. Her journey conveys a message that a career should not be sacrificed at the altar of family responsibilities. She shattered the glass ceiling, balancing her role as a leader at work and a caregiver at home. Using her own experience she recommends women pursuing leadership roles to be confident in their skin.

Joya Nandy Kazi

The owner of Joya Kazi Unlimited, which is based in Los Angeles, Kazi is a dancer and a choreographer whose portfolio includes television, commercials, live shows and music videos. She has made a mark in Hollywood as the most sought-after choreographer for Indian traditional and Bollywood dance styles. Joya was recently honored at the U.S. Telly Awards for a commercial choreographed and featuring her in the lead. She also has the accomplishment of being the first South Asian woman on the judging panel for The World Chorography Awards – the Oscars of dance.

Roya Heydari and Ayeda Shadab 

Contrary to the image that the world has of Afghan women, these two fie brand Afghan women are modern, educated and with extremely successful careers. Heydari is a filmmaker and a photographer and Shadab a model and a designer. These two Afghan women gained thousands of followers on social media. The women were forced to flee their motherland when the Taliban overtook the country this August. Heydari and Shadab are not related but are united by fate and a grim future that they both now need to build from scratch – with hope.

Avantika Vandanapu

Avantika Vandanapu

The new South Asian star in Hollywood is 16-year-old Avantika Vandanapu, who was recently seen in the Disney film, “Spin,” which was released in August. Vandanapu’s journey thus far has crossed significant milestones that any teenager would be envious of. Prior to her Hollywood outing, she had already worked in an impressive list of Tamil and Telugu films in India. The most prominent among these were the Telugu film, “Brahmotsavam.” which had superstar Mahesh Babu in the lead. Vandanapu is working on a Hollywood film, “Senior Year,” with Rebel Wilson.

Nayla Al Khaja

Nayla, the first female film director from the United Arab Emirates, is based in Dubai. She has directed films, documentaries and numerous TV commercials for international brands such as Mercedes, Nike, Nestlé, and Nivea. Al Khaja is also a constant voice for the presence of women in the movie world. Two of her short films, “Animal” and “Shadow,” were lapped up by BBC. She is the executive producer for the under production film, “Alexandria Killings,” which is being directed by Oscar winner Terry Georg. Al Khaja is shattering the preconceived image of women in the Middle East.

Shree Saini

She wanted wear the crown of Miss World since she was 6 years old. That dream may as well come true if she wins the coveted crown in Puerto Rico this month. The Miss World America has loads to be thankful for because at the age of just 12, Saini suffered a heart blockage and had to undergo a surgery to install a pacemaker. If that was not a major impediment a deadly car accident a few years back left her with severe facial scars. Saini is an inspiring role model for young girls across the world.

Celine Gounder

Celine Gounder has been a recognizable face in medical and journalistic circles for a few years now, but rose to prominence after being named to President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board in late 2020. She has become one of the leading voices around the nation’s return to normalcy during the pandemic, continuing to inform the discourse surrounding the emergence of new variants and emerging safety norms. 

Talesha Maya

Continuing on the conversation she stirred with the release of her first collection of poems, “Fragments,” Talesha Maya expanded the understanding of the lives of brown women around the world with her second release in 2021, “Brown Girl Problems and Other Poems.” In a year where social consciousness was put at the forefront, by addressing issues like misogyny, racism, and privilege, Maya spotlighted what it was like to be a brown-skinned girl in a fair-skinned world.

Kaviya Ravi

As one of the breakout contestants on the third season of NBC’s “Making It,” Kaviya Ravi exemplified what it took for women to follow their passions and explore their creative liberties. By bringing her Indian culture and love for bold colors and patterns, Ravi took a homegrown love for brightness and brought it to an international platform, setting the stage for more Indian representation on mainstream western reality competitions.

Sweta Vikram

With the release of her latest book in 2021, “A Piece of Peace,” Sweta Vikram continued bringing her approach toward female empowerment to a greater platform. Through her perspectives on Ayurveda, wellness, and healing, told using the narrative of her own health struggles, Vikram became a prominent champion of mental health and meditating your way through the storm of the past couple of years.


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