Hurrying through the 2010s, many Indian women came to the fore, acing in various fields including science and technology, sports, championing mental health, fighting for their identity, while putting India on the world map. With every recognition earned, they are unlocking the path for younger girls to come.
Here are a few women who unleashed their women power and rightfully took over the news:
Women who led Mangalyaan launch
At the helm of the success of India's Mangalyaan launch, a mission to have satellite orbiting around Mars, were three women. Leading a pack of scientists at the ISRO were deputy operations directors Ritu Karidhal and Nandini Harinath, and Geostat Programme Director Anuradha TK. In fact, a picture of these ladies in sari celebrating post the launch had gone viral on social media sites along with the news on Mangalyaan in 2014.
Ritu Karidhal also led the Moon mission of India, Chandrayaan recently. Ritu and ISRO electronics system engineer Muthayya Vanitha have earned international praise as the ‘Rocket Women of India.’
Odisha-born Dutee Chand's sporting career came into the spotlight this past decade. However, it was not an all smooth journey for the 23-year-old national record holder of 100 metre dash.
Just two years after entering into international competitions, the Athletic Federation of India declared her as ineligible due to hyperandrogenism, a condition of excess androgen hormone in women. Not one to give in, Dutee fought and won the legal case and came back stronger.
Later in 2019, the sprinter became the first Indian athlete to openly come out as gay. Although her sexuality caused fights with her family, Dutee focused on her career, and recently became the first Indian to win gold at Summer University in Games, held in Italy.
Deepika got the mental health awareness bell ringing in India and how. At the peak of her career, the actor was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. Instead of hiding it, considering the stigma around mental illnesses in India, Deepika spoke about it publicly. What is more, she sent across the important message that depression and mental well-being has little to do with an individual's success.
The actor, now 33, has since started an NGO, The Live Love Laugh Foundation, in Bengaluru to spread awareness on mental health. Recently, Deepika was honoured with the 26th Crystal Award for raising awareness on mental health, which she dedicated to more than 300 million people across the world battling mental illnesses.
Any measure of momentum that the decade-old #MeToo movement has gained in India can be credited to actor Tanushree Dutta. Last year, she ignited the movement when calling out veteran actor Nana Patekar for sexually harassing her on the sets of film Horn ‘Ok’ Pleassss in 2008.
While many ducked under the fear of losing out on a glamourous life in the film industry, Tanushree has stood strong and inspired others to call out big names like Sajid Nadiadwala and Aditya Pancholi, and internet sensations like Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhatt. The movement also provoked debates around strengthening the POSH (Prevention Of Sexual Harassment) Act in the country.
The last time India rejoiced over bringing home a Miss World title was in 2000 (won by Priyanka Chopra). That is until Delhi girl Manushi Chhillar wore the glittering crown in 2017, among 108 contestants.
Her winning answer was that a mother’s profession deserves the highest respect. “I don’t think it’s just about cash but the love and respect she gives to someone,” she said, adding that her mother is her biggest inspiration.
More recently, she has been named as India's Hottest vegetarians of 2019 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The Haryanvi-origin girl, now 22, is finishing her MBBS at the moment.
Entering politics after making it to hearts of millions of Indians through her television acting career, Smriti Irani was in the news often in the past 10 years. In 2014, when she was became the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, there was wide criticism due to her lack of educational qualifications. Irani responded that she has a degree from the Yale university, for which she was trolled again, and had to clarify that it was a certificate for a six-day course.
Following student-protests across universities, she was moved from HRD ministry to Textiles in 2016, and to Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in 2017. In 2019, when NDA came back to power for its second consecutive term, Irani defeated Congress leader Rahul Gandhi from Amethi. She is now a Union Cabinet Minister in charge of Textiles as well as Women and Child Development departments.
Nirmala Sitharaman becoming the second woman to be Union Finance Minister in 2019 was hailed as yet another landmark moment for women leadership in the country.
Defying the tradition of the Finance Minister carying a leather briefcase to present the Union Budget, Nirmala carried a red folio designed with the emblem of India, making headlines even before the Budget’s contents were announced.
In her previous term as union minister in the NDA government from 2014 to 2019, she was the Minister for Commerce and Industry, as well as the Defence Minister.
Although her term has seen the economy and employment rates taking a plunge, Nirmala was ranked 34 in the Forbes’ list of the 100 most powerful women around the world this year. Her comments on onion prices and automobile industry have made her the target of countless Twitter memes; but she continues to be an indisputable leader.
Since winning the Miss World title in 2000, the desi girl has done India proud. After achieving great success in Bollywood with her indisputable acting skills, Priyanka looked towards the West in the last decade.
A true pioneer, she became the first South Asian to headline an American network drama series with Quantico. She also became the first South Asian actress to win a People's Choice Award. A global phenomenon, her every act and vacation made it to the news, not to mention her marriage to singer Nick Jonas last year.
The actor-philanthropist, now 37, has also used her influence to convey messages of larger humanitarian concern. Completing 13 years of work with UNICEF, she was awarded the Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award at the Snowflake Ball recently.
Nitasha Biswas scripted history as India's first transgender beauty queen in 2017. Hailing from Kolkata, she was pursuing Master degree in Business Management in Delhi at the time. She later represented India at the Miss International Trans Queen pageant in 2018.
Taking the stage as a winner, she had said, “I always wanted to empower our system and our community because that is what is needed.”
As LGBTQ+ people in India continue to face social stigma, despite the decriminalisation of homosexuality, every small win makes an impact for the community at large.
The 28-year-old beauty queen is vocal of the hardships that trans people go through, including molestation, resorting to sex work and lack of family support.