This list, by no means exhaustive, looks at the women who shattered stereotypes and questioned patriarchy – women who made us all look up to them.

The women of the year South Indias kickass ladies who made 2017 awesome
Features Women Saturday, December 23, 2017 - 16:21

With the year drawing to a close, we thought we should take a look at the women who inspire us – with the work they do, the words they write and the truth they speak to power.

This was the year of #MeToo, drawing attention to the violence that women face, day in and day out. This was also the year of #HimToo, which placed the blame where it belongs – with the perpetrator and not the victim.

Of course, it is an intimidating task to pick just a few women from the millions who simply kicked ass this year.

So here is a list, that is by no means exhaustive, of the women we looked up to and who made us want to strive harder to be better human beings in 2017.


A caste Hindu by birth, Kausalya had only been married to Shankar, a Dalit, for eight months when she lost him to a violent caste crime in Chennai, in March 2016.

This year, a Tamil Nadu court convicted her father, Chinnasamy, and six other accused in the murder that sent shock waves across the state. The six of them were also awarded the death penalty for Shankar’s murder. A feisty Kausalya, who is now an anti-caste crusader, said that she will continue to fight until there is a law against caste killings.

Divya Bharathi

It has been a tumultuous year for CPI(ML) activist and documentary filmmaker Divya Bharathi. Her film Kakkoos, a powerful documentation of the inhumane practices of manual scavenging, spelled trouble for her with screenings being scrapped in many places.

She also released a video in July of the alleged ill-treatment of Dalits at the hands of the Anna University Dean Chitra Selvi. She was arrested shortly after for an FIR which named her for participating in a student protest in 2009. But despite rape and death threats, Divya stood her ground, and even refused to switch off her phone. The Madras HC finally stayed the FIR in August.

She was also chosen to be a bridesmaid in Irom Sharmila’s wedding, which took place in Kodaikanal four months ago.

The Malayalam actor who survived abduction and sexual assault

The Malayalam actor abduction and sexual assault case has been in the limelight since February this year, even leading to the arrest and subsequent bail of actor Dileep. Throughout the media glare, and derogatory remarks she had to face from politicians, the survivor has remained strong.

She not only filed a police complaint but also wrote a powerfully worded letter to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. She questioned people, forcing their perception of how a sexual assault survivor ought to behave, and asked if should she should have committed suicide or gone to an asylum to convince others of her ordeal. Read the letter here.

Sabi Giri

Sabi Giri, a trans woman, who gave seven years of her life to the Indian Navy, was fired just because she chose to express her gender. The 25-year-old underwent months of harassment after she came back to the INS Eksila base after undergoing a gender-affirmation surgery. Not only was she outed by the doctors at the Navy, but was also kept in a psychiatric ward for six months. 

Throughout this ordeal, Sabi has maintained that her gender does not have anything to do with her merit, on the basis of which she was given her post. Her struggle has shed light on the arbitrary divisions based on gender in the armed forces too. While the Delhi High Court has now asked the Navy to reconsider firing her, Sabi is determined to fight her battle for justice till the very end.

Dr Shimna Azeez

A medical officer in Mallapuram, Kerala, Dr Shimna stood before hundreds of parents to educate them about the benefits of vaccinating their children with the Measles Rubella vaccine. Even as parents voiced their concerns, one challenged her to inject herself there and then – and Dr Shimna did.

This act broke the taboo around vaccinations and convinced many of them to get their kids vaccinated. She is also a part of the award-winning Infoclinic – a Facebook page which busts myths about the MR vaccination, propagated by the anti-science movement, and some naturopathy and homeopathy practitioners.   

GR Radhika

Screenshot source

The Additional Superintendent of Police, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, made her mark in history this year by becoming the first woman to climb Mt Elbrus, a dormant volcano and the highest mountain in Europe.

The former lecturer is also the first woman police officer from India to have scaled Mt Everest (May 2016), Mt Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, (August 2016), and Mt Kosciusko, Australia’s highest peak, (March 2017), among others. Radhika also intends to conquer four other highest peaks of the world and complete the Seven Summit Challenge.

Roopa Alagirisamy


The Puducherry native is one of only three women to have made it to the Naval Armament Inspectorate. Roopa’s job will require her to inspect and certify the quality of the weaponry, missiles and torpedoes used by the Indian naval vessels.

The 25-year-old’s journey to this position was fraught with challenges, which included five unsuccessful attempts. But she didn’t give up, trained at many different bases and finally made it in her sixth and final attempt.

Roopa is also one of the handful women officers chosen to march at the Republic Day parade next year.     

Swati Lakra

Swati Lakra/Facebook

In the three years since SHE teams were formed in Hyderabad, they have done some exemplary work to reduce crimes against women in Telangana. In the 3,516 cases harassment against women registered in the last three years, SHE teams have caught 1,400 persons red-handed.

This year, one particular case which came into limelight showed the ugly face of sexual harassment and how common it is.

Under the leadership of Swati Lakra, Additional Commissioner of Police (Crimes & SIT), Hyderabad police, a SHE team caught on camera 30 men touching women and girls inappropriately during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.

Roopa Moudgil

Former DIG (Prisons) Roopa Moudgil made headlines in July when she revealed in a report that influential prisoners, including VK Sasikala, were getting special privileges in Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, Bengaluru.

Despite being transferred out of her position to the Road and Safety department following her report, she stood firmly by her findings. Roopa also received the President’s medal for her revelations in September.

In October, she told TNM that she felt vindicated, as the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission, on investigating her allegations, found that prisoners were assaulted for revealing preferential treatment being given to VIP inmates in the prison.

Grace Banu

Grace Banu and Tharika S Banu

In 2015, Grace became the first transgender person to get an engineering seat in Tamil Nadu. And this year, Tharika S Banu, another trans woman adopted by Grace three years ago, got a medical seat after a legal battle. Grace struggled to help Tharika realise her dreams, including meeting the Collector and holding protests.

She has also been vocally opposing the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016, which, according to the transgender community across the country, is more detrimental than useful for the community in its current form. Read Grace’s powerful letter to the President about the same here.


Malayalam actor Parvathy has had an eventful end to 2017. After she called out the misogyny in the Mammootty-starrer Kasaba, trolls (including people from the Malayalam film industry) had a field day abusing the actor on social media.

But Parvathy has held her head high and stood her ground. She even went on to engage with some people, and in seven tweets, summed up why glorifying misogyny in cinema is wrong.

This has been a terrific year for Parvathy professionally as well. She became the first Malayalam actor to win the silver peacock award at the International Film festival for Take Off. She also acted in her first Bollywood film alongside Irrfan Khan in Qarib Qarib Singlle.


The Lady Superstar delivered a power packed performance in Gopi Nainar’s directorial Aramm this year, where she plays the role of a District Collector. The socially relevant film, the director says, would not have seen the light of day had Nayanthara also said no, like many other big names who refused the film.

Along with Tamannaah, she also called out director Suraj for his crass and misogynist comments about women actors in an interview. Suraj said he insists that his heroines’ costumes end above their knees because, apparently, audiences only pay for that. Nayanthara hit back saying that not only do audiences respect women, but no one really should think that heroines can be taken for granted.


Ever since 25-year-old Hadiya converted to Islam last year, multiple attempts have been made to stifle her voice, including deeming her mentally unstable to discredit her word.

But Hadiya has been relentless and firm about her stand – which she finally expressed in the Supreme Court this year. “I want my freedom,” she said, and told judges that she had spent the last 11 months in “unlawful custody” – her parents had kept her under house arrest.  

The question of her annulled marriage to Shafin Jahan still hangs in the balance. But Hadiya has now returned to Sivaraj Homoeopathic Medical College in Salem where she is completing her education.   

The Women in Cinema Collective

The Malayalam actor abduction and sexual assault case shook the Malayalam film industry. Women actors came together to speak up against the victim blamers and provide support to the survivors.

Comprised of kickass women like Rima Kallingal, Manju Warrier, Parvathy, Bhavana, Anjali Menon, Geethu Mohandas, Vidhu Vincent and others, the WCC, now a registered society, has been taking the bull by the horns, speaking up against misogyny in films. They even started a campaign, ‘Avalkoppam’, meaning ‘with her’, which was joined by women journalists as well.

Kerala Karate sisters

When a man molested her in public, 19-year-old Nikitha Suresh, from Kerala, and her younger sister, Neha, were quick on their feet to take down the harasser. The duo, both trained in karate, did not let the man escape.

Even when the harasser turned out to be a policeman in plainclothes, the sisters were not scared. In fact, they decided that they would bring the molester policeman before the law for what he had done. Read their story here

Akkai Padmashali

Courtesy Josh Talks/Facebook

Recently, a video of transgender rights activist Akkai Padmashali posing a question to former US President Barack Obama at a Town Hall in Delhi went viral. She spoke emphatically about her past as a beggar and sex worker, expressed her admiration for Obama and asked him, “I am a criminal before Section 377... How do I raise my voice against this?”

Akkai also shattered stereotypes earlier this year by marrying her long-time partner, an LGBTQI activist named Vasu. In an interview to TNM, the couple shared heartwarming things about each other and their eight-year-long relationship.

PV Sindhu

PTI photo

The 22-year-old Hyderabadi won two Superseries titles this year – India Open and Korea Open – maintaining her superb run from 2016 when she brought home an Olympic silver. She also won the Syed Modi International Championship held in Lucknow at the start of the year and will finish the year as World no. 6.

Sindhu already has some significant achievements under her belt, even though there were some near misses this year. She finished second best in the World Championships, Hong Kong Open Superseries and the year-ending Dubai World Superseries Finals. In all these summit clashes, Sindhu gave a tough fight and stretched the match to three games on two occasions, before losing eventually.

Varalaxmi Sarathkumar

Varu Sarathkumar/Facebook

The Tamil actor made headlines for speaking about a topic which remains taboo for women actors across the world. In a powerfully worded tweet, Varalaxmi blew the lid off the casting couch. In an interview to TNM, she spoke about shame associated with the issue and how it is brushed under the carpet.

She has insisted on doing films in which she has a substantial role to play, and even walked out of one, refusing to put up with the makers’ crass behaviour and male chauvinism. Varalaxmi said she is also going to set up a women actors’ union in Kollywood.

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