Page 39 - ScienceIndia Magazine March 2021
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        role models for young, aspiring women scientists. Edited by Rohini Godbole and Ram Ramaswamy, the collection of biog- raphies and autobiographies revealed the unique struggle of each of the protago- nists to pursue scientific research.
The anthology carries short biogra- phies of pioneering woman scientists of India, such as the botanist E K Janaki Ammal, chemists Asima Chatterjee and Darshan Ranganathan, India’s first female physician Anandibai Joshi, an- thropologist Irawati Karve, biochemist Kamala Sohonie (also the first Indian woman to receive a PhD in a scientific discipline), biomedical researcher Kamal Ranadive, physicist B Vijayalakshmi and meteorologist Anna Mani. There are also autobiographical essays by a number of currently working women scientists of the country.
called the daughters of Lilavati. They are both inheritors, preservers and propaga- tors of a rich legacy.
The accounts — 98 in all — don’t bristle in anger at the circumstances of woman scientists, in life or career. Some credit their success to encouraging fa- thers, like in Lilavati’s case, and a sup- portive family. They discuss their lives with grace, dignity and poise, informing readers about the power of dreaming big, and what it takes to translate ideas into reality. There’s matter-of-fact mention of mild disappointments too.
“While I cruised along professionally in my early thirties, I did feel a transi- tion in the attitude of peers when I was approaching forty. There were subtle (and not so subtle) shift in treating me as a young colleague they enjoyed hang- ing out with to a serious competitor in
globe too. While professional jealousy is not new, the negative stereotyping of women in terms of mental capability is far more entrenched. It is societal, mak- ing the struggle for women more intense. However, for those determined enough to overlook these, the bigger challenge is the dual task of juggling family and career efficiently. Marriage brings many responsibilities, bringing up children be- ing the most important. This effectively means a break in career in its most for- mative stage. Some drop out while others shift to less challenging roles, away from their core competence. Many a budding talent and promising careers get lost in the process.
“Over the years, I have seen women whose drive to become scientists did not get fulfilled, primarily due to fam- ily responsibility, lack of childcare and absence of strong support systems at home,” writes Shikha Varma, experi- mental condensed matter physicist, in her short autobiographical sketch ‘Being a Scientist and a Mother’.
In her piece ‘Negotiating Choices’, Charusita Chakravarty, Shanti Swa- roop Bhatnagar awardee, says, “The complexities of negotiating gender and professional roles tend to become acute for most women in their late twenties and thirties. This is partly because these are the years when decisions regarding marriage and children are made, but also because these are the years one has to establish academic independence and viability...”
Yes, negotiating choices is a big challenge. But unfortunately, women, howsoever driven they might be, find the options before them too limited. Organ- isations serious about unlocking their talent must address this problem with a sense of urgency. And the government must extend a helping hand in creating support systems. There has been appre- ciable initiative from both in recent years. It has to be a continuous process. Also, we need more inspiring books like Lila- vati’s Daughters.
Myths, flawed notions and preju- diced agendas can wait.
* The writer is senior journalist, essayist and commentator.
 Ancient texts don’t throw enough light on the life of Lilavati, daughter of Bhaskaracharya II, the royal astrono- mer and mathematical genius of the 12th century, except for the sorry cir- cumstances of her marriage. But the fact that the great man himself addresses complex queries of algebra and geom- etry, and computation in general, to her in the eponymous treatise on mathemat- ics, is indicator of her being a person of extraordinary intellectual capacity. It also reveals that contrary to the percep- tion in certain quarters, families encour- aged women to study subjects requiring deep analytical thinking. It is only apt that great women in the field of science, mathematics and allied subjects would be
workplace. I often heard my productiv- ity dismissed as “she just writes many papers” and my several single authored papers seen as evidence of some kind of “inability to collaborate”. In all, hon- estly, I am not entirely sure it has to do with being a woman but this is perhaps how a “glass ceiling” manifests itself in the academia,” writes Sudeshna Sinha, renowned non-linear physicist and win- ner of BM Birla prize for Physics, in her account ‘Empathy, Not Sympathy’. She adds: “In a sense, the idea of a woman as competent, organised and hard-working is acceptable, but brilliance and ingenuity are not natural to her image.”
Her thoughts could be echoing that of many, not only in India but across the

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