The pandemic may have dampened many things, but it couldn’t destroy the spirit of women. The spirit with which they marched into 2021, made noise (and news) in India, fought for their dreams, hopes, and justice, to create historic moments.
From women taking a stand against sexual harassment or communalism, and fighting for gender-neutral practices, to women working hard for landmark wins in the field of sports, dance, art, and so much more, the year has seen (and celebrated) the victories of women in every feet.
While there’s no end to the string of wins that continue to inspire us, let’s take a moment to recount how important this year has been for the feminist movement in India so far.
15 historic wins for women in 2021
1. Priya Ramani gained victory in the #MeToo defamation case against MJ Akbar
In 2017, journalist Priya Ramani accused ex-minister MJ Akbar of predatory behavior. This case, like many other cases of assault, went on for years. But in February 2021, the ex-minister lost in the #MeToo defamation case against Priya.
“A woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse”, the judge ruled.
A celebrated editor and author-turned-politician, Mr Akbar was the most high-profile figure to be named in India’s #MeToo movement. He had also resigned as junior Foreign Minister in October 2018, after the allegations.
2. Nuns stage a walkout against a priest who delivered an anti-Muslim speech
In September this year, four nuns from St. Francis Mission Home in Kerela’s Kuravilangad accused a priest of delivering hate speeches during a prayer service. The priest suggested to the attendees of the service to boycott all business enterprises run by Muslims. The nuns, however, raised an objection and staged a walkout.
The same nuns had campaigned against priest Bishop Franco Mulakkal in a nun rape case in 2018.
3. Sruthy Sithara became the first Indian to win Miss Trans Global 2021
Miss Trans Global is an international online pageant for trans and gender-nonconforming people from all backgrounds. In December this year, the title was conferred to Kerala native Sruthy Sithara, who also became the first Indian to win this pageant.
“This title will help me in leading a life with self-esteem, pride, and dignity, not just for me, but for a crowd of people who hide their faces under the shades of the rainbow”,
Sruthi said in her audition tape for the pageant.
4. The Indian women’s hockey team qualified for the semifinals in the Olympics for the 1st time
A powerful team of 16 hockey players led by captain Rani Rampal – whose parents had once remarked “What you will do running around the field wearing a short skirt and bringing a bad name to the family!” – became the first women’s hockey team from India to qualify for semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics.
Even though the team lost to Great Britain, their outstanding performance created history.
5. Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win 2 Paralympic medals for India
And while we’re on the subject of victory in sports, let’s focus on the big win at the Paralympic games. At just 19, trailblazing shooter Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win two medals – a gold and a bronze in shooting – at the Paralympics held in Tokyo this year.
She claimed the third position in the 50m rifle round and won bronze. This was in addition to her winning gold at the 10m air rifle standing SH1 event. This was also the first-ever shooting medal that India had won in the games.
6. Bhawana Kanth became the 1st woman pilot of the Indian Air Force to take part in the R-Day parade
Flight lieutenant Bhawana Kanth became the first woman fighter pilot to take part in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) tableau at the Republic Day parade. This was a great move promoting inclusion and diversity in the workplace.
Kanth was also one of the first women fighter pilots in the IAF. She, along with Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh, was inducted into the IAF as a fighter pilot in 2016.
7. Kiran Deoli became the 1st Indian woman to break 12 World Records in Martial Arts
In March this year, Kiran Deoli Uniyal, a 47-year-old mother broke all stereotypes as she achieved 12 world records in Martial Arts in speed elbow strikes and kicks.
The first Indian female to do so, Kiran said in an interview that she desires to inspire and encourage Martial Arts for fitness and self-defense among girls and women in India. She also proved that there is no age limit for pursuing fitness.
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8. Harshwanti Bisht became the 1st woman president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation
Renowned mountaineer from Uttarakhand, Harshwanti Bisht was elected as the first woman president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) in November this year and was also honoured with the Arjuna award for her achievements in the field of mountaineering.
This is a significant moment in history, considering how women have time and again been told that physically demanding activities such as mountaineering are a man’s domain.
“Promoting mountaineering and other adventure sports, and bringing more women into the field will be among my priorities”
She quoted for an interview.
9. Bhuri Bai became the 1st daily wager to win a Padma Shri for her artwork
A part of the Bhil tribal community of Madhya Pradesh, Bhuri Bai made headlines this year in November, after she was awarded the Padma Shri for her Pithora artworks. The artist, who was once a daily wage construction worker, became the first female artist from her community to paint on paper and won the fourth highest civilian award for her exceptional work. Her paintings were even exhibited in the UK and USA.
“I am very honoured and proud to receive the award and I want to dedicate this to all the girls in rural areas who dare to dream and not let the circumstances define their life,”
Bhuri Bai said in an interview recently.
10. Indian director Payal Kapadia won the Best Documentary award at Cannes
Indian Director Payal Kapadia, an alumna of the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), won the Oeil d’or (Golden Eye) award for her documentary titled A Night of Knowing Nothing at the 74th Cannes Film Festival.
A Night of Knowing Nothing follows a university student in India, who writes letters to her estranged lover while he is away. Through these letters, we get a glimpse into the drastic changes taking place around her. The documentary merges reality with fiction, dreams, memories, fantasies, and anxieties, and unfolds an amorphous narrative.
11. India saw a higher female population for the first time in history
As per the fifth National Family and Health Survey (NFHS) carried out by the government between 2019 and 2021, it was found that India has 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. This means that India has more women than men for the first time in its recorded history.
This is a significant societal shift for a country where women in the 1950s had an average of six children, millions of girls were killed before or after being born due to the societal stigma against giving birth to a daughter. This shift indicates that strides are being made in tackling sex-selective abortions.
12. Manjamma Jogathi became the first transgender person to receive a Padma Shri
Manjamma Jogathi, a native of Karnataka and a folk dancer of Jogathi Nrithyaa, a local dance form, received the Padma Shri award this year in November. She created history by being the first-ever transgender person to be given this honour for her contributions in this dance form.
She started with begging at the age of 15, took up odd jobs, and reached where she is today with grit and determination.
Manjamma performs all over the country now and is also the first transgender president of the Karnataka Jaanapada Academy, a state-government body for performing arts.
13. India appointed 3 women Chief Justices in Supreme Court this year
As nine new judges took the oath as Supreme Court judges in September, Hima Kohli, Bela Trivedi, and B.V Nagarathna were sworn in to join Justice Indira Banerjee, an existing woman judge of the Supreme court. This event created history as this is the highest number of sitting women judges that the top court has ever had.
In a 34-member court, this event marked the highest ever record of 4 women justices. Also, this was the first time that nine judges took the oath of office in one go.
14. A Government school in Kerala adopted gender-neutral uniforms for its students
A government lower primary school in Valayanchirangara in the Ernakulam district showed the way by switching to gender-neutral uniforms for both boys and girls this year. All students now wear shirts and three-fourths, allowing the girls free movement without hesitation.
The decision was seen as the result of a quiet revolution led by a few villagers, teachers, and the students’ parents. They call it the ‘three-fourth revolution’. The school also prepared gender-sensitive texts and vocabulary for the students.
15. Axis Bank started a ‘Come As You Are’ initiative to create a neutral charter of LGBTQ-friendly policies
#ComeAsYouAre features a charter of policies and practices for the employees and customers of Axis Bank, who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. The initiative was started in September this year and is a part of the bank’s #DilSeOpen philosophy.
The inclusive initiatives for the employees include listing partners for Mediclaim benefits irrespective of gender, sex, or marital status, allowing employees to dress in accordance with their gender or gender expression, building restrooms in accordance with the employee’s gender expression, or gender identity, and a redressal policy.
The bank had also shared in a company statement that customers will be able to open a joint savings bank account or a term deposit with their same-sex partner, plus also make them a nominee.
2021 has clearly been a year of victories for women and the LGBTQ+ community. But it doesn’t stop here. We’re hoping the coming year will also celebrate them, and their achievements in every field. Maybe we’ll have an endless list to write next year then, which we’re more than okay with!
Who inspires and motivates you the most from this list? Tell us in the comments. Also, feel free to remind us of a historic moment that took place this year, in case we’ve forgotten to add any!
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.
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