Year in Review 2019: 10 most influential women in India

As we wrap up the second decade of the 21st century, it seems appropriate to look back at some of the most influential women of the recent past. Women who've made their mark and continue to inspire others.

Mithali Raj
The captain of the Indian women’s cricket team is also the highest run-scorer in women’s international cricket and the only female cricketer to score more than 6,000 runs in WODIs. The 37-year-old also led India to the 2017 World Cup Final and is considered one of the greatest in the game.
Photograph: Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Susmita Mohanty
Founder of Earthorbit, India’s first private space start-up, Susmita Mohanty has graduated from several prestigious educational institutions, such as India’s National Institute of Design and France’s International Space University (ISU) among others. She’s on Financial Times’s list of 25 Indians to Watch and is working on using space tech to monitor climate change. Mohanty is also on BBC’s list of 100 most inspiring women of 2019.

Natasha Noel
Also on the same BBC list is Natasha Noel, one of India’s most prominent yoginis on Instagram. Noel, who lost her mother as a child and is a sexual abuse survivor, turned to yoga some years ago and took her passion to Instagram. Noel has battled depression and mental health issues and uses the platform to talk about them to a larger audience.

Hima Das
Born in Dhing, Assam, Hima Das shot into the spotlight when she won a gold medal in a track event at IAAF World Under-20 Athletics Championships in 2018. This made her the first Indian to win a gold medal in a track event at a World Championship. Since then, Das has won several medals and is also an Arjuna Award recipient.
Photograph: Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Deepika Kumari
Born and raised in Ranchi, Deepika Kumari’s rise in archery has been an inspiration. She ranks world number nine, has won several golds, and finished eighth in the 2012 Olympics. Kumari is also an Arujna Award recipient and managed to do all of this long before she turned 25.
Photograph: Wikipedia / Creative Commons 

Mary Kom
Mary Kom’s story is the stuff movies are made of. The boxer who started from a nondescript village in Manipur is today an Indian icon. Kom’s dominance in boxing is even more inspiring in that she’s continued to be at the top of this physically demanding sport alongside being a mother of four. She’s the only amateur boxer in the history of the International Boxing Association Championships to win eight medals.
Photograph: Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw
As India’s only self-made woman billionaire, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is an icon for young women in India. Yet this journey may have never happened. Mazumdar was about to quit her job in the mid-1970s and look for jobs overseas when an opportunity to launch a start-up presented itself. That start-up, Biocon, is today one of one of Asia’s largest biopharmaceutical companies and has made its founder and MD a billionaire. She has been awarded the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan for her entrepreneurial spirit, and has often featured in Times’ 100 most influential people in the world.

Ishita Malaviya
When she discovered surfing more than ten years ago, Ishita Malaviya took to it like, well, fish to water. Since then Malaviya has been working towards promoting the sport in India and is at the heart of the thriving surfing scene, making it to the Forbes Asia 30 Under 30 2019 list. As the first Indian professional female surfer, she’s also part of every important dialogue around surfing in India.

Krithi Karanth
Human-wildlife conflict is one of the trickier parts of wildlife conservation. To save wildlife while simultaneously ensuring the human population isn’t affected by it can be a tight rope to walk. Doing this job is Krithi Karanth who works with communities living on the edge of national parks and reserves. “A lot of people are simply unaware of the devastating impacts that a single crop loss or livestock predation incident can have on a family. If a herd of elephants come by, they can wipe out an entire season’s crops, which means the family has no means to survive for the rest of the year. In the same way, livestock are often seen as banks for poor people. The loss of a cow or a goat can have drastic impacts on a families’ financial stability and ability to recover from shocks,” she told Yahoo earlier this year when she received the 2019 Rolex Award for Enterprise. Read her full interview here.

Pooja Dhingra
When she started out, Pooja Dhingra had to educate her Mumbai clients about macarons. Since then, her French-inspired patisserie, Le 15 has grown leaps and bounds. Today, Dhingra is at the top of her business and a favourite among Bollywood and India Inc alike, earning her a place in the Forbes 30 Under 30 India and Asia achievers lists. And to think it all started with a single macaron!