Scarcity of women scientists at the chest of research institutes.
By T. Rajagopalan
Numerous scientists in India were aghast when Manjula, sired joy a school principal in Nellore (Andhra Pradesh), who died her schooling in this town and had her higher education in electronics and communication engineering at Osmania University, Hyderabad (Telangana) had biossomed into a woman defence scientists. She was posted as the director, Electronics and Communication System (ECS) at Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Prior to this she was director of DefenceAvlonics Research Establishment (DARE). J. Manjula’s posting as DG had brought much cheer, especially among fellow women scientists. The “missile woman of India” as she was called with affection was first congratulated by Tessy Thomas, director of System Laboratory, DRDO in Hyderabad. “It was her dedicated work that led to where she is now,” said Thomas.
It’s well known that science continues to be dominated by men while women scientists constitute a minority in scientific institutions. The three Council for Scientific Research Labs – The National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) – have in aggregate 351 scientists on their payrolls, of which 62, or about 17.7 per cent, are women. In its existence of half a century, NGRI had never had a woman director, nor the CCBM in its three decades. The IICT had one woman director, Dr Lakshmikantam, in 2013, in 70 years.
Women scientists perceive this as a bland gender-discrimination. It is difficult for them to express their views on this vital issue openly nd freely apprenending a backlash from their male colleagues who occupy the top positions. According to a woman scientist men are under the impression that women will not be able to serve the institution effectively because they are endowed with the responsibility of home and family which they are called upon to necessarily look after. While gender discrimination starts right from the stage of recruitment, it becomes all pervasive when a woman joins them. Because of the prevalence of gender politics in the system one cannot find women at the top slots.
In the IICT, out of 25 chief scientists only two are women. In the NGRI it is one out of a dozen and the CCMB has only one woman chief scientist out of 12 on the board.
A woman scientist aired her views: “Having women on all committees and selection panels in research institutions should be made mandatory. In their decades of existence no substantial change has been seen in scientific institutions. If this is not done, no significant change can be expected.”
It’s not merely research institutions where gender discrimination and disparity exist. It commences with the universities. Osmania University, Hyderabad, which celebrated its centennary in 2016, has never had a woman as its vice-chancellor, not to speak of any woman scientist or technologist occupying that high university pedestal.
The same is the case with regard to the various Central universities in Hyderabad. The Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) that was set up in 1986 never had a woman vice-chancellor but the Central University doesn’t have a science department.
There is skewing of the gender gap when coming to the teaching faculty also. At the University of Hyderabad, only 27 per cent of the teaching staff are women. Prof PriyaHasan, astrophysicist in the Physics department of MANUU, says there is discrimination between the genders in this university also. “The discrimination is wide when it comes to the Physics and Mathematics departments. This needs to be corrected if more women are to be seen in academia and research in scientific institutes.”
The female child prodigy hailing from Lucknow, SushmaVerma, only 13 years of age, an outstanding student, wanted to study MSc in microbiology in Lucknow University after passing out of her BSc in this discipline with flying colours from the university. A US-based executive working with Microsoft Corporation and Kolhapur-based charitable organisation SKA Foundation and SulabhInternational, offered her financial assistance because of the fact she could not pursue her ambition to become a PG in Microbiology. The founder of Sulabh Sanitation Movement, BindeswariPathakhonoured this child genius in science. SushmaVerma and gifted her cash of `5 lakh. Assistance had also come to this young scientist from Sunny Fernandez from Kuwait, PradeepAggarwal from Goldrush, Lucknow. And many more also. Such great scientists in the making hailing from poor communities need to be offered fiscal aid to augment the scientist population among the womenfolk.
DeepikaKurup, hailing from Kerala, is the top young scientist in the US. Her scientific project impressed many including Barrack Obama when he was President of the USA. He addressed her as “America’s top young scientist” and offered her $25,000. Deepika had developed a sustainable and cost-effective water purification system to win the 2012 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She is the eldest daughter of Dr PradeepKurup who teaches in a university at Nashua in New Hampshire (USA).
“I feel awed,” said Deepika,” I put a lot of effort into this project and I am happy that it got a recognition like this.”
DeepikaKurup had worked with leading scientists to take up a theoritical concept and convert it into a prototype that would solve the problem of immense magnitude in everyday life.