India in 2016: PEOPLE AND IMAGES

A quick recap of the year, which had a bright side despite a lot of problems

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PEOPLE

  • In recognition of her work for the poor in India, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint in September. Born to ethnic Albanian parents in 1910, Mother Teresa went on to establish the Missionaries of Charity sisterhood in India in 1950, caring for the destitute in Kolkata’s slums, and garnering both praise and criticism for her methods.
  • Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, ruled Twitter in 2016. Swaraj paid close attention to every request sent to her on the microblogging site and even rescued several Indians stuck abroad.
  • Nineteen-year-old Reshma Qureshi proved that acid attack survivors can be powerful advocates for social change. Qureshi walked the runway at New York Fashion Week this year, making a strong statement about beauty and style, as well as promoting the #EndAcidSale movement.
  • Narendra Modi continued to travel across the world with a push to strengthen India’s foreign policy. In all, the prime minister travelled to at least 17 countries in 2016.
  • India’s Supreme Court finally ruled that temples can’t ban women or restrict their entry. The landmark decision was targeted at the Sabarimala Ayyappa Hindu temple in Kerala which doesn’t allow women aged between 10 and 50 to enter because of the stigma associated with menstruation.

ECONOMY 

  • In September, India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, introduced the Reliance Jio service with the world’s cheapest data rates and free voice calls, changing the game in the country’s telecom market.
  • India overtook the US in terms of internet users. At 227 million people, India’s internet user base is now the second largest in the world after China.
  • India’s economy performed pretty well in 2016, too. With a GDP growth forecast of over 7%, India is expected to maintain its position as Asia’s fastest-growing major economy.
  • Urban Indian shoppers were rewarded in 2016 with the entry of even more foreign brands, from Spain’s fashionable Massimo Dutti to Japan’s minimalist Muji.
  • India’s perennially loss-making airline, the government-controlled Air India, managed to make operational profits after nine years. In 2016, the airline made Rs105 crore in operating profits for the first time since 2007. India’s other domestic airlines, too, have posted profits after more than five years of losses.
  • India’s lawmakers approved the country’s biggest tax reform since Independence, the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The GST will replace at least 17 state and federal taxes and bring them under one unified tax structure.
  • India ambitiously pushed forward in its dream of going cashless, despite the flawed execution of its demonetisation drive. Prime minister Modi wants 1.3 billion Indians to go cash-free and use digital payment services instead. If successful, that could increase transparency in the Indian economy and keep people from evading taxes.

ENVIRONMENT 

  • The Indian government decided to stop building coal plants, at least until 2027, and to encourage the development of renewable energy sources instead, a strong move in the battle against climate change.
  • In September, the Adani Group unveiled the world’s largest solar power plant, located in Tamil Nadu. The project took eight months to complete and can produce 648 mw of power.
  • In a bid to boost green cover and combat climate change, India embarked on a drive to plant millions of trees in just one day. On July 11, a group of volunteers in Uttar Pradesh planted 49.3 million tree saplings.

SCIENCE & TECH 

  • India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), had a great year, with some 34 satellite launches. In September, ISRO launched 20 satellites into orbit on a single rocket, the highest number it has ever sent at a single time.
  • ISRO also tested a prototype of a reusable space shuttle in May, which reduces the cost of space missions by a tenth.
  • On Dec. 26, India’s nuclear prowess was displayed when it conducted the fourth test launch of the Agni-V missile, a nuclear-capable, intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • Tesla’s Elon Musk said he wants to open a Gigafactory in India to produce the lithium ion batteries required for electric cars. If it works out, it could mean a big boost to India’s manufacturing sector.
  • India’s net neutrality activists won their fight against differential pricing for internet-based apps and services in 2016. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in February barred telecom providers from charging different prices for different services, effectively blocking Facebook’s Free Basics plan.
  • The number of Indian unicorns—startups valued at $1 billion or more—went up to eight in 2016 with the addition of Shopclues, an e-commerce platform, and Hike, a messaging app.
  • American company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) said it is in talks with the Indian government to bring its ultra-fast rail system to the country.
  • This was also the year Indian production companies invested in original video content online. From Better Life Foundation to Ladies Room to Tripling, Indian web series took over YouTube, giving viewers a chance to discover homegrown talent.

SPORTS 

  • 23-year-old Dipa Karmakar converted a whole nation into fans of gymnastics with her daring moves at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August. Though the Tripura native—and the first Indian woman gymnast to qualify for the games—didn’t win a medal, she established herself as a name to remember by being one of the few gymnasts in the world to execute the Produnova vault, otherwise known as the “vault of death.”
  • Two other Indian women also grabbed the spotlight at this year’s Olympics. 21-year old badminton star PV Sindhu from Hyderabad became the first Indian woman to win a silver medal at the games, as well as the youngest Indian to ever win a medal. And 23-year old Sakshi Malik from Haryana proved that wrestling is a sport for women, too. With her bronze medal, Malik became the first woman wrestler from India to win at the Olympics.
  • Ravichandran Ashwin, the world’s number one bowler, helped India secure its fifth consecutive Test series win earlier this month. There’s real science behind his technique and that has made him one of the most effective bowlers in the game.
  • In November, the Indian women’s hockey team beat China in the last minutes of the finals match to win the Asian Champions trophy.
  • India continued its craze for quirky Guinness World Records in 2016. In September, a team of 20 people from an Andhra Pradesh sweetshop cooked up the world’s largest laddu, weighing in at 29,465 kgs.

ENTERTAINMENT 

  • Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra established herself as a force to reckon with in Hollywood, too, appearing on the cover of W magazine and presenting an award at the Emmys. And all her hard work has paid off (literally): Chopra ranked 8th on Forbes’s 2016 list of the world’s top 10 highest-paid TV actresses, earning an estimated $11 million in the 12 months ended in June.
  • Actress Deepika Padukone also did her bit to smash Indian stereotypes by playing a leather-clad badass with a realistic Indian accent in the Hollywood action movie xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

DEFENCE 

  • Asia’s third-largest economy surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia when it came to defence spending in 2016, making India one of the top five defence spenders in the world.
  • Even in the Indian Ocean, India is flexing its muscles. From 2011 to 2016, the country’s naval voyages across the Indian Ocean have increased by 300%. This was partly an attempt to strengthen its presence in a region where China is increasingly asserting its influence.