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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

IISc Has A Long History Of Gender Bias And Sexism Patronized By Its Well Learned Members

  • IWB Post
  •  June 30, 2018

“The right to equality irrespective of gender”- one of the many fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution that has been constantly abused and ignored. The best example here would be the time when the renowned Nobel laureate C V Raman denied a student admission in Indian Institute of Science because she was a woman. Surprised that how could a man like him harbor such narrow-mindedness?

Years ago when IISc opened its doors for students, the ‘student hostel’ on its premises was only meant for men. Miss Kamala Bhagvat was merely the third woman to join the institute in 1933 since it was established, but it wasn’t easy for her to gain admission in one of the most prestigious institutes of India.

After she graduated with a first-class degree from Bombay University, she sought admission to IISc as a research student in biochemistry, but CV Raman, the Institute Director at the time, denied her entry. The reason? The fact that she was a woman. Although she eventually gained entry after she and her family persisted, she had to agree to humiliating restrictions by Raman.


CV Raman

“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?” she said years later at a function organized by the Indian Women Scientists’ Association.

Though Raman was known for championing for women’s education in public, such instances show us that like many others, Raman too was biased against women. In the late 1930s and the 1940s, after a few more women joined IISc, the accommodation and women’s toilets were built in the campus.

The first woman to join IISc as a faculty member was Dorothy Norris, appointed Reader in Applied Chemistry in 1917, and made Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in the next year. She would go on to become the Founder-Director of the Indian Lac Research Institute. The first Indian woman member of the faculty was Rajeswari Chatterjee, Lecturer in the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering in 1953. She was also the first woman to head a department of Electrical Communication Engineering from 1979 to 1981. But even as faculty, the inclusion of women remained less.

Like, the departments of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, though set up in the 1940s, hired their first female faculty in the last decade only. Even today, the Department of Mathematics has only one female member of the faculty, and the Materials Engineering Department has never had women faculty members.

The number of women in decision-making bodies such as IISc’s Court and Council is still low, there have been few women deans, and never has a woman been appointed as its director. There have been only four women in the 42 faculty members hired in 2017-2018.

And, the ones who managed to be a part of IISc found that it was equally hard to stay there. DK Padma, the Department of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry from 1967 to 1994, remembers how MRA Rao, the head of the department, asked to meet her along with her husband. She was allowed to join on the condition that she would not have a child during the time she is at the institute, “as in giving me admission he was curtailing a boy’s career”.

Revathi Narayan, who studied at the Molecular Biophysics Unit from 1974-’79, was asked, “So, you are married, will you leave halfway to start a family?” she shared, “No doubt the learned Professor had decided that principles of ‘equal opportunity’ were best left in legal tomes like the Constitution of India and were not seriously meant to be put into practice!

H/T: Scroll  

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