[Year in Review 2019] From Priyanka Chopra and Mary Kom to Dutee Chand and Ritu Karidhal: the top 30 women newsmakers of 2019
As we look forward to a new year of celebrating women and their compelling stories, we also take stock of the year gone by and celebrate women who have made an impact in different fields.
Women in sports brought home accolades and medals showing us than an uneven playing field did not deter them from doing their best for their country.
Women in science made interesting discoveries while those in the armed forces showcased many firsts. Indian politics saw 78 women MPs this year, the largest ever, a sign that they are breaking the mould and not afraid of entering a murky world.
Many women made headlines this year and HerStory presents the 30 top women newsmakers of 2019:
L-R: Dutee Chand, Mary Kom, Ritu Karidhal, Muthayya Vanitha and Hima Das
Dutee Chand, Athlete
Dutee Chand made headlines both on and off the field, in the process becoming the first Indian athlete to reveal a same-sex relationship. She was also named in the TIME 100 NEXT, which spotlights 100 rising stars shaping the future in various fields.
Her on-track achievements include becoming the first Indian to win a gold in the women's 100m at the World University Games. She also won the 100m gold at the Asian Championships, breaking her personal best and national record. At the 59th National Open Athletics Championship, she won a double gold at the 100m and 200m dash events. This record-breaker is now focusing on qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Mary Kom, Boxer
In a career spanning almost two decades, there’s been no shortage of accolades for the feisty Mary Kom. The boxing legend continues to create history and is now looking to conquer new boundaries by changing to a new weight category.
She became the first boxer in the history of the AIBA World Championships to win eight medals at the world meet. At this year's championship, she won bronze in the 51kg category. She has six gold medals from her previous attempts. The 36-year-old also won gold medals at the India Open in Guwahati and the President’s Cup in Indonesia.
The World Olympians Association granted her the use of post-nominal letters OLY, which signifies a sports person's ongoing role in society as an Olympian, living and promoting Olympic values.
Ritu Karidhal, ISRO
As Project Director of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, Ritu Karidhal was feted for role in helming one of India’s most ambitious lunar projects.
Ritu joined ISRO in 2007 and was also the Deputy Operations Director to India’s Mars orbiter mission, Mangalyaan. An aerospace engineer, she was born and raised in Lucknow in a middle-class family. She has a BSc. in physics from the University of Lucknow and ME degree in aerospace engineering from the Indian Institute of Science.
In 2007, she also received the ISRO Young Scientist Award from APJ Abdul Kalam, then President of India.
Muthayya Vanitha, ISRO
Muthayya Vanitha is the Project Director of Chandrayaan-2. She is the first woman to hold this position. She has led projects on satellites at ISRO. She hails from Chennai and is an electronics system engineer from the College of Engineering, Guindy.
In 2006, she received the Best Woman Scientist Award. Previously she has also managed data operations for remote sensing satellites.
Hima Das, Athlete
This track superstar has been the most impressive performer of the year among Indian sportspersons. From her gold-winning spree in Europe to her charitable efforts, this 19-year-old has proved her mettle on and off the track. In July this year, Hima won five gold medals at various events in Poland and the Czech Republic.
She successfully returned to the 400m track at Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, after not being able to complete in the category at the Asian Athletics Championship. She also achieved her season's best timing of 52.09 seconds in the 400m to finish her European tournaments.
The ‘Dhing Express’ from Assam donated half her salary for flood relief in the state. She made it to the ‘Forbes India 30 Under 30’ list. She has also been appointed as the country’s first youth ambassador to Unicef India this year.
PV Sindhu, Badminton Player
P V Sindhu, the star of Indian badminton, celebrated another year of conquering new feats. She became the first Indian to win gold at the World Championships, another impressive record in her career. She was also named in the Forbes list of Highest Paid Female Athletes in the World. Sindhu is India’s highest paid female athlete and ranks 13th in the world for her earnings this year.
Sindhu is one of India’s strongest and bankable contenders for gold in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics after her silver in Rio. We are all expecting a smashing comeback.
Gagandeep Kang, Scientist
Gagandeep Kang made news this year as the first Indian woman to be elected to the Fellow of Royal Society. She is currently the executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad.
She has a bachelor’s in medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS) and a MD in microbiology. She also holds a PhD and has worked at Christian Medical College, Vellore, in Tamil Nadu.
Described as “vaccine godmother” by some media houses, she has worked extensively in the field of rotavirus epidemiology in India. With over 300 published scientific research papers, she is also the recipient of multiple awards such as Infosys Prize in Life Sciences in 2016 and Dr SC Parija Oration Award, Indian Academy of Tropical Parasitology, in 2015.
Chandrima Shaha, Scientist
In January 2020, biologist Chandrima Shaha will earn the distinction of becoming the first woman president of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in 85 years of its existence. This is a fillip for women in science, especially those who aspire to become leaders.
Chandrima specialises in cell biology and has received multiple awards for her work and contribution to the field. She has also authored multiple research papers.
Interestingly, she is also the first female cricket commentator of All India Radio and was also vice-captain of West Bengal’s first women’s cricket team.
Aarohi Pandit, Pilot
Aarohi Pandit created news this year by becoming the first woman pilot to cross both the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean in a Light Sports Aircraft (LSA). With this, she also became the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo.
The 23-year-old from Mumbai has been flying around the globe as part of the WE! Women Empower Expedition.
Gita Gopinath, Economist
Indo-American economist Gita Gopinath is the first woman to be appointed the Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund. She is the second Indian to take up the position after former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan.
Gita is the John Zwaanstra Professor of International Studies and Economics at Harvard University. Previously, she was co-editor of American Review and has also served on the Federal Reserve Advisory council. Her research centres on international finance and macroeconomics.
L-R: Shafali Verma, Remya Haridas, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
Shafali Verma, Cricketer
Shafali Verma has emerged as the new wonder kid of Indian women’s cricket. The 15-year-old is known for her power-hitting prowess and was picked in the Indian squad as a replacement for outgoing captain Mithali Raj.
With big boots to fill, this Rohtak-born batting sensation took on international pacers with ease. She became the youngest Indian cricketer to score a half century in an international match when she smashed 73 off 49 balls in the first T20 International against West Indies. She broke a 30-year-old record previously set by her idol Sachin Tendulkar. She also became the second youngest cricketer to ever do so.
Her inclusion in the team came on the back of her run-amassing domestic season. In her third season with Haryana, she accumulated 1,923 runs, including six hundreds and three half-centuries. Mithali Raj and England batswoman Danielle Wyatt have praised the cricketer, with the latter calling her "a superstar in the making".
Remya Haridas, politician
Remya Haridas is the only woman MP from Kerala in the 17th Lok Sabha. She won the Lok Sabha elections from Alathur, and is the daughter of a daily wager. She is only the second Dalit woman MP from Kerala, 48 years after Bhargavi Thankappan of the CPI won an election in 1971.
Deepika Padukone, Actor, Investor, and Mental Health Advocate
Actor Deepika Padukone continues to advocate for mental health awareness through her Live Love Laugh Foundation. She also became an investor this year by investing in yogurt brand Epigamia and electric vehicle mobility startup Blu Smart.
Priyanka Chopra, Actor, Investor
Former Miss World, actor, and producer Priyanka Chopra made multiple investments this year. She invested in the dating and social networking app, Bumble, which was founded in 2011 by Whitney Wolfe Herd. She also invested in Holberton School, a US-based project alternative to college for software engineers.
As a Unicef Ambassador, Priyanka travelled to Jordan to meet child refugees and has been vocal about their rehabilitation. She was also featured in the world’s most admired women list released by YouGov this year.
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Businesswoman
Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw continues to inspire women in India and abroad. This year, Biocon celebrates 40 years and Kiran believes this has been possible only due to innovation and perseverance. She is a recipient of Padma Shri, Padma Vibhushan, and multiple other awards.
This year, she was also conferred with an Honorary Doctorate from Deakin University, Australia, for her pioneering entrepreneurial role in the field of biotechnology and for her sustained significant contribution to industry-academia collaboration between Australia and India.
Ridhima Pandey, Environmental Activist
Hailed as the Greta Thunberg of India, 11-year-old Ridhima Pandey is one of the 16 children who sued five nations believed to cause the most pollution (Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey). The movement led by Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg made the world sit up and take note of the alarming climate change issue.
In 2017, Ridhima had sued the Indian government for failing to implement environmental laws. Her fight for the future of children makes her one of the most important voices we need to pay attention to in the coming years.
Bhavna Tokekar, Weightlifter
At the age of 47, mother of two teenagers Bhavana Tokekar proved “age is just a number” by winning four gold medals at the Open Asian Powerlifting Championships organised by the World Powerlifting Congress (WPC) in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
She participated in the 'Under 67.5 Masters 2' category (45-50 age group). Bhavana started her fitness journey in 2011, to combat the side effects of a medicine she was prescribed. She first took to cycling, and eventually shifted to a gym in 2012. Married to a pilot in the Indian Air Force, Bhavana was motivated by IAF bodybuilders to try weightlifting.
She is also a long-distance runner (8-10km) and has taken part in a few marathon events. The gold medallist regularly posts videos of weight-training on Instagram.
Chandrani Murmu, MP
At the age of 25, Chandrani Murmu made history by becoming the youngest-ever Lok Sabha MP. An engineering graduate from Odisha, she joined politics encouraged by her uncle, Harmohan, a social worker to fight the Lok Sabha election.
She won from Keonjhar and is working on empowerment of women and youth, improving access to education, and generating employment opportunities.
Shaheen Bhatt, Author
Sister of actor Alia Bhatt and daughter of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and actor Soni Razdan, Shaheen Bhatt released her book I’ve Never Been (Un)Happier – where she describes in detail her struggle with depression. The book is an emotional account of living with depression in privileged circumstances.
The book has opened up conversations on mental health and reiterates the need for constant and consistent awareness.
Nivruti Rai, Intel
Nivruti Rai, Business Leader, Woman in Tech
Nivruti Rai combines tech and leadership seamlessly and has been at the helm of Intel as Country Head Intel India and VP, Data Center Group at Intel Corporation. With Intel’s design and engineering centre being launched in Hyderabad recently, Nivruti has been expanding Intel’s footprint in India.
An ardent supporter of innovation and new technology, Nivruti also champions women's issues and is a role model and mentor for many women.
Earlier this year, she was featured on the cover of Forbes India and hailed as one of the most powerful women in business in 2019.
Anjali Singh, Wing Commander
Forty-one-year-old Wing Commander Anjali Singh became the first woman to be appointed as a military diplomat in Indian missions abroad. Wing Commander Anjali Sharma hails from Bihar and in 2001 became a commissioned officer in the Air Force and in 17 years of service has trained on MiG29 fighter aircrafts.
The IAF officer was appointed as Deputy Air Attache at the Indian embassy in Moscow. Anjali’s role is to assist in cooperation, training, and procurement in the field of defence between Russia and India.
Elavenil Valarivan, Rifle Shooter
The breakout star of Indian shooting, Elavenil Valarivan has made a strong start in her debut season at the senior level. Transitioning from the junior level, the 20-year-old won two gold medals at the ISSF World Cup, one at the Rio de Janeiro meet and one at the China meet. Her maiden senior ISSF World Cup gold in the 10m Air Rifle in Rio de Janeiro made her the third Indian shooter to win in the category.
This protégée of Olympic medallist Gagan Narang is surely giving other Indian team veterans tough competition. Even though India has secured its quota for shooting for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Elavenil hopes to get a wildcard entry to the Tokyo Olympics.
L-R: Wing Commander Anjali Singh, Elavenil Valarivan, Payal Jangid, Swara Bhasker and Minty Agarwal
Payal Jangid, Youth Activist
Seventeen-year-old Payal Jangid became the first Indian to win the Goalkeepers Global Changemarkers Award by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The awards ceremony was held in New York.
Payal hails from Rajasthan and has been working towards abolition of child marriage in her village, Hinsla. Thanks to her efforts, her village is a child-friendly village (Bal Mitra Gram).
Swara Bhasker, Actor
Actor Swara Bhasker continues to make news for taking up issues that matter, and also battling the troll army that constantly attacks her on social media.
Whether it’s the JNU fee hike, women’s issues, or her on-screen appearances, Swara Bhasker comes across as outspoken, both online and offline.
Minty Agarwal , IAF
IAF Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal is a Fight Controller with the Indian Air Force. She is the first woman to receive the Yudh Seva Medal. Awarded the medal by President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, she was part of the team that guided Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman during the Balakot airstrike in 2019 by IAF.
Deepa Malik, Para-athlete
Paralympic silver medallist Deepa Malik was in 2019 conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the highest sporting honour in the country. The 47-year-old paraplegic (paralysed from the chest down) became the first Indian woman para-athlete and the oldest to receive the honour.
She holds a Paralympic silver Para Asian Games medal among a total of 23 international medals and 57 national medals (51 of them are gold).
Apart from para-sports, she is also involved in adventure sports. She created four Limca World Adventure records when she swam against the current in river Yamuna. She has also taken part in the Himalayan race and the Desert Storm, two of the most treacherous routes where she biked 1,700 km in sub-zero temperatures in a span of eight days at an altitude of 18,000 feet.
The Kung Fu Nuns
The Kung Fu nuns of the Drukpa lineage train other women in self-defence. They use their spirituality to champion for gender equality, physical fitness, environmentally-friendly living, and respect for all living beings.
Many of these nuns are from the Himalayas, Ladakh, and train at the Druk Amitabha Mountain Nunnery in Nepal. Their common aim is to help others, and make a difference in the world around them. Apart from training girls in self-defence, they participate in a number of social and humanitarian activities.
This year, the Kung Fu nuns were presented with Asia Society’s Gamechanger Award on October 24 for the transformative impact they are making in Asia through their diverse efforts.
In 2016, Samyuktha Vijayan underwent gender affirmative surgery in Seattle and was welcomed with open arms at her then workplace, Amazon. She quit her job to move to India to help and support the LGBTQIA+ community with her boutique startup, TouteStudio.
This year, she joined food delivery aggregator Swiggy as its first transgender employee, taking up the position of Principal Programme Manager. She is instrumental for optimising and improving the spaces of transportation and delivery at Swiggy.
Shilpa Shetty, Actor, Entrepreneur, Investor
Shilpa Shetty, who has previously invested in Mamaearth, a mother and child care products startup, launched her own app this year. A labour of love, the app is called the Shilpa Shetty app and provides diet plans, yoga routines, post-pregnancy weight loss options, and other similar health workouts.
Naaz Joshi, Transgender Model
Naaz Joshi was crowned Miss World Diversity for the third consecutive year. The pageant was held in August in Mauritius with 14 countries participating in the event.
Abandoned by her family as a child, she has overcome many hardships in her journey. She has undergone surgeries for gender change, embraced motherhood, and continues to model for brands. After many challenges, she recently found a job and is working as an intern in a reputed five-star hotel.
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)
(Image credits: Sasha R)