Page 17 - ScienceIndia Magazine March 2021
P. 17

         “There is no chance for the welfare of
the world unless the condition of
women is improved. It is not possible
for a bird to fly on only one wing.”
— Swami Vivekananda
   n Prof Ranjana Aggarwal
Mother Nature created men and women as equal, gifting them with different abilities to fulfil complementary roles to procre- ate and nurture life. If we look back to ancient India, we will see a society that respected and revered women equally even in their mental capabilities. Hindu scriptures, hymns, religious books, and various literary work reflect that during the Vedic era, wom- en enjoyed exalted position, personal freedom and had the right to education. Several female saints (Rishikas) of that period like Maitreyi, Ghosa, Gargi, Poulomi, Lopamudra were highly skilled and learned as they composed complex Vedic stanzas for hymns.
Lilavati (1150 AD), the daughter of the great mathematician Bhaskaracharya II, was said to be a gifted mathematician and astrologer. Khana (8th-12th century), a noted poetess and astrologer of legendry abilities from southern Bengal, was the daughter-in-law of famous Indian astronomer, mathemati- cian and astrologer Varahamihira. It is believed that Khana exceeded him in the accuracy of her predictions and she be- came a potential threat to Varahamihira’s scientific career. It is interesting that as far as gender discrimination goes, ancient Indian society seemed to be much more egalitarian and bal- anced than other ancient societies of the world, at least in the field of education.
Unfortunately, in the post-Vedic age, the social status of women declined in all spectra due to several factors. There was a significant oppression of women in terms of social, political, economic, and cultural life, particularly of Hindu women, after the military and cultural invasions from the North- West. They looked at women as subject of sexual enjoyment and exploitation and as spoils of war to be taken as prize. In
this period, several gender inequalities had surfaced in the Indian society. Practices like Purdah Pratha, Sati Pratha, child marriage, female infanticide, etc. were the biggest social evils of this period. In the mid-19th century, these practices were banned by the then British Government, directly under the control of Queen of Britain. Though the British Government passed several laws and bills to eliminate these social evils from the Indian society, the main character behind all these social reforms were great Indian revolutionaries and reform- ers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, Swami Dayananda, Swami Vivekananda, Bhagini Nivedita, Savitribai Phule, B R Ambedkar, and several others.
During India’s struggle for independence, Indian women started to take active part in freedom movement and made their impact. Education opened doors for women to dare and dream, and weave a fabric of life in which their role was as significant as of men. The journey of women in India towards the end of the first half of 20th century and leading into the 21st century has been remarkable.
It is noteworthy that though a significant number of wom- en had entered the portals of formal education at all levels, in higher education, science subjects are still typically dominated by male students. Under-representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is a global issue. According to UNESCO data (2014-2016), the female students’ enrolment in STEM-related fields, especially Infor- mation Communication & Technology (ICT), natural science, mathematics, statistics and engineering is only around 30 per cent globally and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. In December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11 as The In- ternational Day of Women and Girls in Science recognising the critical role women and girls may play in achieving the internationally agreed sustainable development goals. While this is heartening to note that India ranks number one in the world in producing female graduates in STEM, it ranks 19th in converting their degrees into career. Though the girls out- performed boys in academics, when it comes to those who take up research in later life, the number of women becomes mi- nuscule. The number of women as faculty in higher education institutions and R&D organisations is not commensurate with the number of PhD holders. The National Task Force report for Women in Science highlights that women comprise only
        Image Courtesy: CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR), New Delhi

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