The year 2021 has been a difficult year for with the disastrous second wave of COVID-19 hitting India in March, leaving us gasping for breath and holding on to the lives of our dear ones. While this made the year more difficult to grapple with that ever, there were several moments of hope that we also were witness to.
As the historic farmers’ protests continued, for instance, India also saw the ones who have been historically wronged, hold their democratic ideals close to their heart and fight against fascist and structurally oppressive elements. Events like the repealing of the farm laws thus marked the victory of unity in a democratic country. What also gave us tremendous hope were the feminist moments of resilience that we had the privilege to be witness to: from the nuns in Kerala taking a stand against sexual harassment and communalism to Priya Ramani’s victory in the MJ Akbar defamation case, this year was significant in more ways that one for the socio-political spirit of India and for the feminist movement, in particular.
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1. Nuns stage walk-out against the priest delivering an anti-Muslim speech
Four nuns walked out of the prayer service in Kuravilangad in Kottayam in protest of the hate speech against Muslims delivered by a Christian priest. This incident happened at the same time as the highly controversial “love jihad” and “narcotic jihad” statements were made by another priest Mar Joseph Kallarangatt.
The nuns’ opposition was extremely significant as these kinds of speeches by influential figures like priests have the potential to lead to communal conflict. In a media interview, nuns mentioned that the priest asked people not to support any business run by Muslims. The nuns, however, suggested that these kinds of comments sow the seeds for communalism and showed their objection by staging a walkout.
The four nuns, namely Anupama Kelamangalathuveliyil, Alphy Pallasseril, Ancitta Urumbil and Josephine Viloonickal, are the same nuns who have earlier protested against the rape case accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal. They had led a historic protest in 2018 in support of the survivor nun in the rape case and as a result, Franco was arrested after three days of interrogation.
2. Priya Ramani’s landmark victory as the first big win for the #MeToo movement in India
Delhi High court announced its verdict on the defamation case by MJ Akbar on Priya Ramani and found Ramani not guilty in February this year. Ramani had accused former union minister and journalist MJ Akbar of sexual harassment during the start of the #MeToo movement in India in 2018. Along with Ramani, several other women also tweeted about their sexual abuse stories with MJ Akbar. Following the allegations, Akbar had resigned from his post and filed a defamation case against Ramani.
In its judgement, the court had added that “A woman cannot be punished for raising voice against sexual abuse”. The court took into consideration systematic abuse at the workplace because of the lack of a proper grievance redressal system for a sexual harassment complaint. Furthermore, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Kumar Pandey added that women who have suffered sexual abuse may not speak about it for years, believing that they are at fault for ages.
This here, undoubtedly, is an important moment in the feminist movement and is the first victory of the #MeToo movement in India.
3. Women officers fighting for their rights in the military
More than 72 women officers approached the court against the Army’s decision of finding them ineligible for Permanent Commission (PC). According to the women officers, they were disqualified from PC despite crossing the 60% assessment mark as prescribed in a judgement by the court last year.
As per the August 2020 judgement by the court, all “Women Short Service Commissions Officers” who cross the 60% threshold in their assessment subject and fulfil the medical criteria are qualified for the PC. Following the petition of the women officers, the court ordered the army to reconsider its decision and grant PC to eligible women officers in accordance with the new evaluation criteria.
Post the warning from the court, Army granted PC to 11 women officers who had appealed to the top court and also to other women officers who meet the criteria even though they did not approach the court.
4. Madras High Court order for major LGBTQIA+ reforms to address sexuality-based discrimination by state authorities
Madras High Court ordered state and federal officials to draft plans for major reforms to respect the LGBTQIA+ rights. This ruling was the result of the case filed by a lesbian couple in the Madras High court against harassment by the police.
Police had found the couple in the missing person report filed by their parents. During the interrogation, police subjected the couple to harassment in the form of intrusive interrogation. Judge Anand Venkatesh of the Madras High Court ruled in favour of the couple. Furthermore, he pushed to create awareness about LGBTQIA+ rights among state officials and called for the elimination of “illegal discrimination” against members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
This decision was highly applauded and is considered as among the first crucial orders that focuses on the challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ community.
5. Anju Bobby George honoured with World Athletics’ Woman Of Year award
Noted Indian athlete Anju Bobby George was awarded the Woman of Year award by World Athletics (WA) for grooming talent in the country and encouraging girls to take up sports and advocating gender equality.
This legendary athlete is the only Indian to have won a medal in the World Championships with a long jump bronze in the 2003 edition. This former international long-jump star is still actively involved in sports. Anju, 44, opened an academy for training young girls in 2016. This academy has already produced several world-class U20 medallists.
As the Senior Vice President of the Indian Athletics Federation, Bobby George has constantly advocated for gender equality. Additionally, she also mentors schoolgirls for future leadership positions within the sport.
From hockey and cricket, women sports in India is finally getting the recognition it deserved for years. It is extremely important to encourage more women to participate in sports and sportswomen as Anju Bobby George serves as an inspiration to the future generation.
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6. Indian Women Hockey team’s stellar performance at Tokyo Olympics
The women’s hockey team of India led by Rani Rampal became the first women’s hockey team to qualify for the semi-finals at the Olympics. Even though the team lost to Great Britain (3-4) in the semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics, the outstanding performance of the team was applauded by everyone.
Captain Rani Rampal’s parents infamously had remarked once “What you will do running around the field wearing a short skirt and bringing a bad name to the family”. Nikki Prakhar belongs to the tribal belt in Jharkhand and used to labour in paddy fields and played hockey with borrowed, broken sticks on gravel playgrounds. Each player in this powerful team of 16 have risen above several barriers to emerge victorious and powerful.
7. Harshwanti Bisht appointed as the first female president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation
Renowned mountaineer from Uttarakhand Harshwanti Bisht was elected the president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF). She became the first woman president of the IMF, which was founded in the year 1958.
She got elected to the post on November 20, after winning 60 out of 107 votes. Harshwanti Bisht, 62, was also honoured with the Arjuna award for her achievements in the field of mountaineering. Hailing from Sukai village in Pauri district in Uttarakhand, Ms Bisht said that, “promoting mountaineering and other adventure sports, and bringing more women into the field will be among her priorities”. 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. This recognition, although a tad too late, asserts otherwise.
8. Avani Lekhara’s historic win at her debut in the Paralympic Games
All of 19, shooter Avani Lekhara became the first Indian woman to win two medals – a gold and a bronze – at the Paralympics held at 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. With that, it also became the first time ever that India won gold at shooting in the Games.
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive or representative list. Suggestions to add to the list are welcome in the comments section.