20/12/2016 5:31 PM IST | Updated 21/12/2016 4:56 PM IST

Why 2016 Deserves To Be Called The Year of Indian Sportswomen

You go, girls!

REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo, REUTERS/Issei Kato, Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, PV Sindhu, Dipa Karmakar and Sakshi Malik were among the most Googled personalities of the year in India. At least two high-profile viral ad campaigns put the spotlight on sportswomen, who are not often enthusiastically pursued by big brands. While it may have to do with the fact that these brands wanted to ride the Olympics wave, it was heartening to see athletes and sportswomen basking in adulation for a change in India.

These stories are all the more remarkable because they happened inspite of the grim reality of the sexism faced by women athletes, as well as the lack of adequate sports infrastructure and training facilities.

1. Sakshi Malik

Born in a Haryana village with one of the worst child sex ratios in the country, Malik and her family challenged numerous social prejudices when she took up a traditionally male-dominated sport at the age of 11. Twelve years later, she had won a bronze in the 58 kg wrestling category at the Rio Olympics, the first female wrestler from India to get a medal at the event.

2. PV Sindhu

This year in Brazil, Sindhu transformed from a quiet performer to an ambitious shuttler, becoming the first Indian woman athlete to win a sliver at the Olympics. Then in November, the 21-year-old Hyderabadi clinched her maiden China Open Super Series title, proving that her Olympics medal wasn't just a flash in the pan.

3. Dipa Karmkar

India's first female gymnast to compete at the Rio Olympics, Karmakar may have missed out on a medal, but she won countless hearts with her daring vaults in the artistic gymnastics final. The 23-year-old started her training with makeshift equipment at an ill-equipped gym in her home state Tripura. She is now one of the only five gymnasts in the world to perform the difficult and dangerous Produnova vault successfully. "One wrong move and I could die," Karmakar said in a BBC interview. "To achieve something in life, you have to take risks."

4. Deepa Malik

Deepa Malik has been an inspiration long before she bagging a sliver at the shot put event of the Rio Paralympics, becoming the first Indian woman to win a medal at the competition. A mother of two, Malik is paralysed below the chest, but that hasn't stopped her from wearing many hats: biker, swimmer, car rallyist and entrepreneur. There's more. The 45-year old was also the oldest athlete to win a medal at the Paralympics too.

5. Dutee Chand

She did not win any medals at the Rio Olympics -- but sprinter Dutee Chand redefined sport with her battle against the practice of gender testing of athletes. Chand, who was banned from competing after failing a gender test for having high levels of testosterone, finally won the case to resume her career in a historic verdict in 2015. In 2016, the 20-year-old became the first Indian female athlete to compete for the 100 m dash at the Olympics in 36 years.

6. Smriti Mandhana

She is all of 20, but batswoman Smriti Mandhana was the only Indian cricketer to be included in the International Cricket Council's Women's Team of the Year 2016. The Mumbai cricketer, who started playing state-level cricket in Maharashtra at the age of 9 and made her international debut at 16, is a player to watch out for

7. Mithali Raj

She's often called the Sachin Tendulkar of women's cricket, but ace batswoman Mithali Raj is much more than that. Raj made her international debut at 17, and keeps getting better with age and experience. This year, the 34-year-old's consistent performance helped the team to a scintillating win at the T20 Asia Cup, held this year in Thailand. She also won the player of the match award in the final and the player of the series title for her performance. She has now set her sights on the 2017 Women's Cricket World Cup.

8. Aditi Ashok

Teenage golfer Aditi Ashok is already being called the brightest star in Indian golf in 2016. At 18, she was the youngest golf player and the only Indian competitor in the sport at the Rio Olympics. She followed it with a string of tournament wins, rising to a career-best world ranking of 132.

9. Tajamul Islam

Tajamul Islam is only eight years old, but she's already a champion kickboxer. Born in the Tarkpora village in Kashmir's Bandipora district, the feisty Islam took up kickboxing in 2014, a decision that was supported her mother as well as her father, despite their modest finances. In 2015, she won both the state-level and the national kickboxilng championship. This November, she won the gold medal in the sub-junior category of the World Kickboxing Championship, defeating competitors from 90 countries.

10. Indian women's hockey team

In 2016, Indian women's field hockey team rose from obscurity, qualifying for the Olympics after 36 years. Although the team did not win any games in Rio, they drew upon the confidence they gained at the competition to clinch their maiden Asian Champion Trophy in November.