Vigyan Vidushi - Indian Women Scientists

Vigyan Vidushi - Indian Women Scientists (Brochure) - Vigyan Vidushi - Indian Women Scientists (Brochure)

Resource Book on Profiles of Indian Women Scientists

While the world is witnessing ‘winds of change’ for women scientists, India is also not lagging behind. In 2015, the United Nations resolved to celebrate 11 February every year as ‘International Day for Women and Girls in Science, which further invigorated the global mission for justice and equality. In 2020, India celebrated National Science Day with ‘Women in Science’ as the focal theme. An equally enthralling announcement came when 11 chairs were established in the names of women scientists from India at institutions across the country. Such reverence is most deserved and was long due.

India is celebrating ‘Swatantrata (Azadi) Ka Amrut Mahotsav (SKAM) as a Jan-Utsav in the spirit of Jan-Bhagidari dedicated to its citizens who have contributed to India becoming an empowered nation. Jan- Bhagidari means equal contribution of the people— women, men and others in nation-building. STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) are the prime engines that have steered national growth and created the self-reliant India of 2021. The drivers of the STEMM engine are both women and men. However, we lag behind or rather remain oblivious to applauding the role of women researchers. Women have mostly been perceived as followers, colleagues and not as pathfinders and leaders. This notion is not true but an outcome of socio-cultural conditioning with its roots deeply embedded in ever-pervasive patriarchy. As a part of the SKAM activities, we perceive this resource book as an instrument to project the accurate picture at the horizon and present a compilation of biographies showcasing stellar accomplishments of Indian women STEMM researchers from 1947-2021. These women have demonstrated Jan-bhagidaari in the true sense for building and strengthening the scientific enterprise’ of 21st century India.

If one tries to map successful women researchers to pre and early post-independence era, the outcome would be a patchy, sparingly populated timeline. However, the patches bask in their own glory; each one representing a woman who dared to dream of not only getting educated but also showcasing professionalism and leadership in science. For e.g.. E.K Janaki Ammal reorganized the Botanical Survey of India, Rajeshwari Chatterjee became the first women faculty at IISc and Asima Chatterji, the first woman to be awarded D.Sc. degree of any Indian University.

In contrast, the timeline for the first two decades of this millennium appears more populated with many young women scientists leading institutions and winning the major science awards in India.  Aditi Sen De, a quantum computation physicist and Jyotirmayee Dash, an organic chemist who works on developing anti-cancer therapeutics were awarded the SSB prize in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The book aims to showcase the professional journeys of these women with a compelling narrative of how the workspaces for women got constructed and how they had evolved over the last 75 years.

Our young girls need to know about the pre-independence status of women's education to be able to connect the past, appreciate our present and create the best of the future. An exciting example is Bethune college in Kolkata that came up in the late 19th century and has produced the youngest Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar prize winner (2019)— the mathematician Neena Gupta who solved the ‘Zariski Cancellation Problem’. The book will weave together several intertwining threads such as modernization of education, the revival of women's education and the rise of colonial science during the late 19th century. For example – the mention of Anandibai Joshi, the first female to receive training in western medicine abroad is incomplete without acknowledging the herculean efforts of Jyotiba Phule, who stirred a  movement for women’s education in mid 19th century. Similarly, though the Calcutta medical college was established in 1835, it took almost 50 years for Kadambini Ganguly to make history by being the first female graduate in medicine in 1883. The narrative will allow our readers to take a leap to the landscape of medical research in 21st century India, to tell the pride instilling tales of clinician-scientists such as Soumya Swaminathan who stepped up to the position of Deputy Director-General at World Health Organisation in 2017 and Gagandeep Kang who became the first women to be elected to the Royal Society in 2019.

It is critical to provide our millennial girls a glimpse of the professional lives of women scientists born out of Indian soil. Such stories will resonate more closely with the challenges, fear and doubts that spur out of the socio-cultural conditioning in young girls interested in pursuing science. The narrative will paint varied shades in the personalities of contemporary women researchers —the virtues they believe in, the traits they have inculcated, their low points, risks are undertaken and the ingenious solutions and strategies they have adopted to overcome barriers for furthering their interest in science. We have taken special note of maintaining the diversity of role models by selecting women scientists from various disciplines e.g., Space sciences (Tessy Thomas and Ritu Karidhal Srivastava), Mathematics (Sujatha Ramdorai), Computer Science (Sanghmitra Bandopadhyaya), Neuroscience (Vatsala Thirumalai), Geologist ( Sudipta Sengupta), and Science Administration (Manju Sharma and  Renu Swaroop. Such diversity will inspire young girls to break boundaries of disciplines which is a significant feature and problem of gendered science.

The book is aimed at sending a message to the policymakers, S&T leaders and other decision-making bodies to keep up the recent traction that they have built up to promote ‘Women in Science’. We hope that the tell-tale ignites the ‘Will and Resolve’ in the society to appreciate the contribution of women as who they are and not in the light of the commonly used phrase ‘ A woman is as worthy as men’. This ‘attitude shift’ sounds a bit utopian, but even a modest achievement in this direction will be our true celebration of SKAM for women in science.