By Aashika Ravi
Has anyone else ever suffered that embarrassing moment of not knowing a famous Indian woman scientist or mathematician until a Google Doodle opens the door to her life’s works and achievements?
Name all the Indian women scientists that you know, 1 2 3 Go.
The Indian Institute of Science (IISc)’s Archives and Publications Cell started an initiative called Connect to give us a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the institution. To help those of us who are ignorant to the erasure of women in science, they have published a wonderful set of stories about the women at IISc- their struggles, their successes and their everyday lives.
This candid series is even more relevant in light of the recent petition signed by over 150 scientists, demanding serious changes in the field. Among other things, the petition notes how science is organised in a way that makes its “authority structure especially perilous to women.”
From not even being allocated a separate hostel in 1909, the article Women and the Institute too, takes us through the sexist culture and the toxic masculinity that women scientists were subjected to.
It is peppered with anecdotes about the most revered of male scientists (we’re looking at you, CV Raman), and how they were actually ultra-conservative and dismissive of their female colleagues.
Kamala Sohonie, a pioneering biochemist is reported to have said about the Nobel Laureate, “Though Raman was a great scientist, he was very narrow-minded. I can never forget the way he treated me just because I was a woman. This was a great insult to me. The bias against women was so bad at that time. What can one expect if even a Nobel laureate behaves in such a manner?”
The article also goes on to trace the history of women faculty and how some departments, like those of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, hired their first female faculty member in the last decade!
We are taken on a journey through the lens of women in a field that was and still is dominated by thathas with no regard for women and their abilities. And if that’s not immersive enough, they have also released a set of accounts from six women who studied at the institute, that you can find here.
It features accounts from Rajeswari Chatterjee, Karnataka’s first woman engineer, Chanchal Uberoi, an expert in Applied Mathematics, Computational Physics, Geophysics and Renuka Ravindran, the first woman to be the Dean of the Indian Institute of Science among others.
Amongst these accounts is a lovely interview with Violet Bajaj, a 101-year-old biochemist with more chutzpah than all the menfolk at IISc combined, which you can find here.