Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gargi’s Descendants

Gargi’s Descendants

Anandibai Joshi (1865-1887)          New generation scientist

Now our nation have a lady president, a lady as president of ruling party and leader of ruling coalition and a lady opposition leader. Once we had a lady Prime Minister too, who had been sometimes referred to as the only man in her cabinet. Still, the bill for representation of women in parliament and state assemblies has fallen on stumbling blocks one after another. Things are the same or even worse in science. Women are grossly underrepresented in science and technology after all the women’s emancipation and gender sensitization. We don’t find many of them in higher levels of scientific establishments. Up to undergraduate and postgraduate level, the ratio of women is considerable and they may outnumber men in some states and regions. But the gender gap increases with increasing level of Education. Potential female researchers still hesitate at the thresholds of laboratories. Drop off factor large in going from Ph.D. to postdoctoral positions and even larger in faculty positions. Most of them drop off. In our country young ladies cannot wait much for matrimony and motherhood usually follows it. So the lady scientists have to take all the brunt of family, work and research. Even a quality child care center is a dream for most of them. And she may be in Delhi and her spouse in Hyderabad. We can identify a number of reasons for the situation. Social conditioning and prejudices play their role. It seems that, as often termed, a ‘glass ceiling’ become the stumbling block mostly. The term may be a ‘cliche’ by now. But it’s a fact there is no better term for the situation. They seems to be pushed aside even before a fair debate.  In mythology ‘Yanjavalkya’ the man of saintly wisdom, wanted to take away the prize before debate. In king Janaka’s court the great debate on wisdom was being held.  It was the greatest test of knowledge, logic and intellect and wit and theorizing skills of the time. Yanjavalkya had ordered his disciples to take away the herd of cattle offered as the grand prize for the debate. He was that confident of winning the debate. ‘Debate I will win later.’ He proclaimed. No one in the court dared to question Yanjavalkya. But the lonely voice of decent came from the down to earth lady Gargi. ‘You
have not won the debate – I am here, I will ask a few questions,’ she told him.  Eventually Yanjavalkya lost the argument. He alleged Gargi of blasphemy and told that her head will role. And her reply was that ‘now, the sword is not an argument.’ He had to concede finally. He offered not only the cattle back, but other wealth as well. Gargi,s reply was ‘You can keep them. I am not interested in cows and gold. I was interested to see how much understanding you had’

Somehow our system doesn't allow women to enter into the real debate. But here a group of young ladies are telling the scientific community that ‘you are yet to win the debate – We are here to ask a few
questions. We are not much interested in positions and fame, but to see how much understanding you had.’ They promise to be a group with solid determination to circumvent all the hurdles and inhibitions.
They include a few scientists, teachers, unemployed doctoral, post doctoral scholars and students have come under the banner of  OSDD women’s scientist forum. Their role in the open science movement and the OSDD project is really immense. They have really opened the debate. Let them prove themselves to be Gargi’s real descendants. Anandibai Joshi, who, in 1886, was the first Indian woman to obtain a medical degree in the U.S and won applauds from the British Queen, has said. “Before my marriage, I could barely read Marathi.” If she could do that much, these young and enthusiastic ladies can do much greater.

Dr. Prasad M Alex
Associate Professor in  Chemistry