As India cheered and clapped at the incredible success of India’s Mars mission, certain images from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) centre made me ponder upon something other than the red planet. Dressed up in formal and traditional silk sarees, some ladies were congratulating each other with great gusto. Who were they? Were they among the elite team of scientists and engineers who were behind the extraordinary success of Mangalyaan? Yes, and it would be no exaggeration to state that today they are rated among the world’s best!
To be an achiever, you don’t have to look different. In fact, greatness lies in the simplicity of demeanor… Social media started flashing comments and cheers at the presence of so many women at the centre. A little research told me that women comprise 20 per cent of ISRO’s entire workforce, and ten per cent of the total staff is female engineers.
Why are we surprised? Maybe because we all tend to compartmentalise gender roles, no matter how ‘modern and advanced’ we are. Actually, we have forgotten our own history. Right from ancient times, women in our country have always been ‘with it’. Women of the Vedic period (circa 1500-1200 BCE) were epitomes of intellectual and spiritual attainments. The Vedas have volumes to say about these women, who both complemented and supplemented their male partners. Four significant names from the Vedic period that come to mind are Ghosha, Lopamudra, Sulabha Maitreyi, and Gargi.
Women have made important contributions in all walks of life and made inroads into new fields like engineering and information technology. Of the women science graduates, around 88 per cent of the science degree holders are in pure science, 8 per cent in medicine and 3 per cent in engineering and technology.
There has been a recent spurt of women joining the engineering and information technology fields. The field of biotechnology has revolutionized the industrial growth of the world. In India, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is an example for women entrepreneurs to follow and emulate. Kiran, a biotech entrepreneur and CEO of Biocon India group, is one of the many scientists India should be proud of. She received many awards, the most noteworthy being the Padma Shri in 1989 from the Government of India. She was accorded a very prestigious assignment as Chairperson of the Vision Group on Biotechnology to draw up the State’s Biotech Policy. She is on the Financial Times’ top 50 women in business list. As of 2014, she is listed as the 92nd most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.
Dr Indira Hinduja produced India’s first scientifically documented test tube baby in India in 1986. She pioneered the Gamete Intra Fallopian Transfer (GIFT) technique resulting in the birth of India's first GIFT baby on January 4, 1988. She has rejected many opportunities to settle abroad so that she can serve her nation. She was also the recipient of the Padma Shri award in 2011. Do you remember Asima Chatterjee (1917-2006) who was the first woman DSc (1944, Calcutta), FASc, FNA, Khaira Professor of Chemistry, Calcutta University. She was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, and was the first lady president of the Indian Science Congress. The list is endless, but the message is the same. It is all about hard work and diligence. It is easy to fall prey to the stereotypes. If there is a will to excel, there are no shackles in the world that can hold us back. If you dare to break free, maintaining your dignity at the same time, the society will certainly regard and reward you.
Ladies, don’t be afraid to dream big. Never give up. If situations seem too tough to handle, read up on those women who fought the world to achieve their dreams and succeeded. ‘Shakti’ does not mean physical strength. A woman’s power lies in the strength of her soul, her convictions and her will. You are tough where it counts. As they say: When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Abha Khanna Gupta (The writer is a senior Journalist and