Awe-inspiring feats by Indian women made their way into history books in the year 2016 as the range of their achievements varied from grit-testing defence to wit-challenging politics to ever-charming sports.
Indian Air Force welcomed to its fold the first ever women fighter pilots when Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh set a new bar for the next generation by being commissioned in the elite defence force. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar termed their commissioning in the month of June as a “milestone” since it is the first time that the women have been given a combat role in Air Force.
Senior IPS officer Archana Ramasundram was not far behind as she became the first female head of a Paramilitary force after being appointed Director General of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) in February. The 58-year-old resident of Uttar Pradesh, Ramasundram is the Tamil Nadu cadre IPS officer.
There are five paramilitary forces in our country including SSB – Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) – and none has ever had a woman chief. This is the first time in the history of these forces that a lady is heading paramilitary forces.
The women created landmarks on the sticky wicket of politics as well. Former Cabinet minister Najma Heptullah was appointed as the 18th governor of Manipur and is the first woman governor of the state while PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, after her father’s death, became the first woman Chief Minister of the state in April at the age of 56.
Upma Chowdhary, a 1983-batch IAS officer of Himachal cadre, became the first woman to be appointed Director of Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA) at Mussoorie.
In actors list also it was all ladies domination, with Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone burst onto the international scene this year. Priyanka Chopra became the first India actor to have a lead role in an international television show. She also became the first Indian to get an opportunity to present an Oscar at the 88th Academy Awards this year. She also became the first woman in India and also the first South Asian actress to received the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Actress In A New TV Series for her role in Quantico.
In the global edition of Forbes magazine, Deepika Padukone ranked as the 10 highest-paid actresses in the world.
In sports, the year was solely dominated by ladies. Shuttler P V Sindhu became the country’s first-ever woman silver medal winner in the Rio Olympic Games in August this year. She also became the fourth Indian to win a silver at the Olympics after shooters Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (2004, Athens) and Vijay Kumar (2012, London) and wrestler Sushil Kumar (2012, London). She is one of the two Indian badminton players to ever win an Olympic medal – other being Saina Nehwal.
Sakshi Malik too became part of the first woman list by becoming the first woman wrestler from India to bag an Olympic medal and only fourth female athlete from the country to climb to the podium at the biggest sporting event in the world with a bronze medal finish at the Rio Games. The 23-year-old from Haryana, a silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and bronze winner at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, earned a dramatic come-from-behind win over Kyrgyzstan’s Aisuluu Tynybekova to script history.
Tripura girl, Dipa Karmarkar, also created history by becoming the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for Olympics. She also became first Indian gymnast to enter vault finals in the Olympics. Young Indian golfer Aditi Ashok grabbed a piece of history for herself by becoming the first female Indian golfer to win a Ladies European Tour event.
The list does not stop here. Deepa Malik and Sania Mirza also made the world notice their achievements. Deepa became the first Indian woman athlete to win a medal at the Rio Paralympics. She won a silver medal in shot-put event.
Sania retained her World number one rank in doubles in the WTA rankings in a grueling 2016 season in which she won eight titles, including prestigious Australian Open with Swiss partner Martina Hingis. In 2017 she has her eyes set on completing a Career Slam in both mixed doubles and women’s doubles.
At the 129th session of International Olympic Committee (IOC) in August, Nita Ambani was elected an individual member of the IOC, first woman from India to get the position.
Apart from all these records breakers, many others were also in light including Irom Chanu Sharmila.
The newly constructed Lucknow Metro selected ladies to be the pilots. Pratibha and Prachi Sharma, two of the Lucknow Metro station controllers-cum-train operators (SCs/TOs), have also been awarded the prestigious Rani Laxmi Bai Bravery Award, 2016 by the Uttar Pradesh Government.
Fighting for sixteen long years after starting her path-setting hunger strike demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, she decided to end her fast in August and contest Assembly elections as an Independent candidate.
With the Bombay HC allowing women’s entry to Haji Ali Dargah, activist Trupti Desai also gathered the headlines after all her struggle to allow the entry of women in the religious places. With the support of the HC, she won a part of her battle.
In Forbes’s 2016 edition of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list four Indian women make their place with State Bank of India Chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya at 25th rank; Chanda Kochhar, ICICI Bank’s MD and CEO at 40th rank.
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw Chairman and MD of Biocon and Shobhana Bhartia Chairperson and Editorial Director, HT Media Ltd were respectively on 77, 93 ranks.
Apart from them, Indian-American PepsiCo CEO and Chairperson, Indra Nooyi made it to the second rank.
However, on one hand, where the talents were coming up, the country also saw two major deaths – of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and of noted writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi.
The year was all dedicated to Indian women in terms of display of women power. For most parts, it was overshadowed by women achievers. All these women, with their hard works, have set a high benchmark and inspired thousands to live their dreams.