A Talk on Women Scientists in India
I recently got an opportunity to attend a talk on Indian women Scientists: Triumphs and Tribulations at IIC. The talk was held in the memory of Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay, the renowned freedom fighter. I came to know that this was the third lecture in the series of other lectures held before in the memory of famous Indian women. Dr. Abha Sur who is a chemical physicist by profession, read out extracts from her book, Dispersed Radiance. Her book holds the lives and experiences of three renowned women scientists of India Anna Mani, Sunanda Bai and Lalita Chandrashekhar. The author who expressed herself to have " very little gender consciousness before" thought of writing the book regarding the cultural issues faced by eminent women scientists involved in the practice of science. She comments that the Culture of Science "makes us immune to gender" and that this tradition has become ahistorical in nature, denying modifications. She reiterates that women scientists play a conflicting role by doing male dominated work.
The author recalls the time of Anna Mani, ( the 1940's) where entry of women in science was unobtrusive and higher education for women was not an issue for the middle and upper middle class households. Educated women were considered to become more informed and enlightened mothers and wife. The author was closely associated with Anna Mani while writing this book, and gathered her experiences and others (women) in the lab of C.V Raman. Anna Mani recalls, as the author quotes a deep seated anger due to Raman's attitude of making women feel inept inside the laboratory. Women were a sign of incompetence and faced more than the share of ridicule in his lab. The book also holds the mysterious and controversial suicide of Sunanda Bai who along with Anna Mani was denied a Doctoral degree despite the immense hard work from the Raman Institute.
Moreover, there was the story of Lalita Chandrashekhar, wife to the Nobel Laureate S. Chandrashekhar who gave up her scientific career in order to devote herself to her husband completely as a wife.
The lecture was followed by an interesting discussion based on some vital questions. Of how patriarchy has transformed itself through the ages through the structure of institutions which in itself promotes gender discrimination. Moreover, how does science itself gets affected due to the gendered perception and how science continues to legitimize these social inequality through the culture of the lab.
One of the comments made by the speaker was that 'science also has a democratic potential', I unfortunately couldn't understand this comment. May be someone can enlighten me on this?