The 50 best things that happened in India in 2016, from assertive brides to the world’s largest beach cleanup

What a year.
What a year.
Image: Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo/Adnan Abidi/Danish Siddiqui/Shannon Stapleton/Stefano Rellandini & ISRO
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

2016 has been rough.

With the clampdowns on everything from food to free speech, as well as the loss of some of our favourite pop culture icons, it’s no surprise everyone is counting down the days till the year is over.

But let’s look on the bright side: 2016 was also marked by some amazing achievements made by Indians in every field, from space missions and Olympic sports to women’s rights and environmental conservation.

Here’s Quartz’s pick of the top 50 things that made 2016 in India not so bad after all:

The Produnova girl.
The Produnova girl.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
Actress Priyanka Chopra arrives at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2016.
Actress Priyanka Chopra arrives at the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2016.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Image: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
Indian model and acid attack survivor Reshma Quereshi presents a creation from Indian designer Archana Kochhar's Spring/Summer 2017 collection during New York Fashion Week in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2OPUR
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. At the Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Indian athletes continued their winning streak, even as television channels back home decided not to broadcast their feats. Devendra Jhajharia, Mariyappan Thangavelu, and Deepa Malik overcame immense odds to take home medals for javelin, high jump, and shot-put, respectively.
  4. Eighteen-year-old Aditi Ashok became the youngest golfer to participate in the Olympics when she played at the Rio games in 2016. Ashok, who hails from Bengaluru, is currently ranked 112nd in the world, and became the first Indian woman to win a Ladies European Tour title in November.
  5. The Indian football club Bengaluru FC made history in October by reaching the finals of the AFC Cup. It was the first time an Indian team had made it that far in the prestigious tournament.
  6. 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.
  7. In November, the Indian women’s hockey team beat China in the last minutes of the finals match to win the Asian Champions trophy.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. This was also the year Indians in search of a new show to binge-watch became spoiled for choice. Netflix finally came to India in January, giving viewers a chance to (legally) watch everything from old favourites like Gilmore Girls and That ’70s Show to originals such as Master of None and Jessica Jones. And in December, Amazon followed suit, introducing its video streaming service priced at Rs499 for a year.
  13. Meanwhile, 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. As the world contended with a Zika outbreak, Bharat Biotech, an Indian company, became the first to file a patent for a vaccine against the virus, proving that local firms can also be path-breakers in scientific research.
  17. In a big step forward for new parents, India is seeking to expand the legal provision for paid maternity leave to six months. What’s more, some private companies have even extended the benefit to new dads. Deutsche Bank, for instance, now offers six months off for fathers who are the primary caregivers of their infants.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. The Indian government meanwhile has earmarked over $6 billion to create new forests, with a plan to increase India’s green cover to 33% of the total land mass, up from 21.34%.
  22. In January, Sikkim became India’s first organic state, producing crops such as maize, paddy and cardamom that are free from harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
  23. A citizens movement in Mumbai culminated in August with the world’s largest beach cleanup, ridding Versova beach of over four million pounds of trash.
  24. One of the hottest beverage trends in the West had Indian origins this year. Hipsters from Sydney to San Francisco discovered one of India’s favourite home remedies: turmeric milk, otherwise known as haldi doodh.
  25. 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.
  26. Google and India’s Ministry of Urban Development tried to make things a little easier for locals looking for a public toilet in 2016. Google Maps now provides the locations and opening hours of over four thousand communal and public restrooms as part of an effort to boost access to sanitation.
  27. 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.
  28. Despite India’s conservative attitude to romantic relationships, startups came up with ideas to make life easier for unmarried couples in 2016. New Delhi-based StayUncle tied up with hotels to help couples rent rooms for just a few hours without any judgment or moral policing. Later, Oyo Rooms followed suit, offering access to “couple-friendly” hotels.
  29. Incidentally, India is now one of Tinder’s top five growing markets in the world, drawing 14 million swipes a day as Indians step up their search for hook-ups, casual dates and even love online.
  30. 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.
  31. ISRO also tested a prototype of a reusable space shuttle in May, which reduces the cost of space missions by a tenth.
  32. 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.
  33. 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.
  34. 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.
  35. An Indian film about women wrestlers from Haryana, traditionally a patriarchal state, made a blockbuster opening this month with a collection of Rs100 crore over three days. Dangal—produced by actor Aamir Khan—is based on the story of Geeta and Babita Phogat, two wrestlers who went on to win international medals for the country. The movie shows how their father, Mahavir Phogat, pushed back against gender stereotypes that restricted the sport to men. 
  36. Arundhati Roy, who won the Booker prize for The God of Small Things in 1997, announced that she would publish a new novel after twenty years. Titled The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, the novel is expected to release in 2017.
  37. 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.
  38. It’s also been a great year for Indian music lovers with everything from the trippy electronic rock on The F16s much-awaited new album to the sun-kissed sounds of the pastel-suited duo, Parekh and Singh (Wes Anderson-approved!) And after all of Chris Martin’s expressions of love for India (including that godawful video), Coldplay finally took to the stage in Mumbai.
  39. 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.
  40. 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.
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. 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.
  44. 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.
  45. 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.
  46. This year, Indian women spoke up for their rights, pushing back against the stereotype of the docile, submissive wife. For instance, a Bengaluru woman turned down a marriage proposal because her fiancé didn’t like her dog and wanted her to get rid of it after the wedding.
  47. In another case, a woman in Kanpur refused to get married because her would-be groom’s house did not have a toilet. 
  48. 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.
  49. 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.
  50. And finally, 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.