Dr. Maria Lisette D’Souza
National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa.
Dr. Maria Lisette D’Souza
Science and technology have been an integral part of
Indian civilization and culture. Women
and men have been active in science from the inception of human civilization.
One of the defining marks of humanity is the ability to affect and
predict our environment. Science is
the creation of structure. For our
world and technology, the use of structure has been stepping stone to our
progress. Women and men have researched and solved each emerging need.
At a glance, women in general might look like one of the many housewives
– simple, docile, unassuming and humble.
But make no mistake, for behind this simple straight face is a razor
sharp brain, and an uncanny ability to execute, to convert thought into action
without much ado.
Since Independence, Indians have been promoting
science and technology as one of the most important elements of national
development. The Scientific Policy
of 1958 and the Technology Policy Statement of 1983 enunciated the principles on
which growth of science and technology in India has been based over the past
several decades and inspires us till date.
The major scientific revolutions of the last century have opened the
doors to many remarkable technologies in the fields of health, agriculture,
communication and energy, among many others.
Science and Technology are powerful instruments in the tasks of national
reconstruction, economic resurgence and maintenance of national security.
The very first technical name was male – Imhotep
– the architect of the first pyramid and the second was female – En
Hedu’Anna (c. 2354BCE). Certainly
women were questioners and thinkers long before that, but unfortunately it was
an untapped resource Most myths and
religions place the beginnings of agriculture, laws, civilization, mathematics,
calendars, time keeping and medicine into the hands of women.
Women contributed in all the spheres of technical advancement of
humanity. They held the same
burdens of scholarship as the men did, and accomplished just as much.
Women were and are resourceful, passionate and creative about their work
as any other male scientist.
In the 17th, 18th and 19th
centuries most women did not have access to institutions of higher learning and
laboratories, which prevented them from participation in the scientific
revolution. The singular exceptions
in the 19th century being Mary Somerville and Agnes Pockels.
The Academie des Sciences of Paris, The Royal Society of London did not
allow women into their meetings and were strictly male bastions.
The Academie des Sciences of Paris was founded in 1666 and elected its
first female member in 1962, The Royal Society of London was founded in 1662 and
elected its first female member in 1945. These
societies were important meeting places for the observation of new experimental
results and the discussions of new ideas.
The Third World Organisation for women in Science (TWOWS)
officially launched in 1993, is the first international forum to unite eminent
women scientists and scientific institutions in the South, with the objective of
strengthening their role in the development process and promoting their
representation in scientific and technological leaderships.
Although we are a traditional country where women are
respected as “ MatriShakti” over the years women have overcome the
traditional mind sets and have excelled in professions like teaching, medicine
and pure sciences. 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 graduated 88 % of the science degree holders are in pure
science , 8% in medicine and 3% in engineering and technology.
However, 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,
our own Kiran Mazumdar is an example for women entrepreneurs to follow and
emulate. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, biotech entrepreneur and CEO of Biocon India
group, is one of the many scientists India should be proud of.
She started Biocon in 1978 collaborating with an Irish firm, started two
joint ventures, Biochemizyme and Biocon-Quest India Ltd.
She has held positions in industry councils, including Vice-President,
Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Karnataka.
She was awarded Rotary Award for Best Model Employer, National Award for
Best Small Industry and most noteworthy is the Padmashri in 1989 from the
Government of India. She was
accorded a very prestigious assignment as a Chairperson of the Vision Group on
Biotechnology to draw up the State’s Biotech Policy.
In 1978, the world’s first test tube baby, Louise
Joy Brown was conceived. In India,
Dr Indira Hinduja produced first scientifically documented test tube baby.
In 1986, India’s first test tube baby Harsha was born.
Female ovum is fertilized with male sperm in a test tube, with suitable
environmental conditions, and observed under microscope for more than three
days. The fertilized egg is then put back into mother’s womb and
hence called test tube baby. Producing
test tube babies is not an easy task even in advanced countries, Dr Indira
Hinduja has rejected opportunities to settle abroad so that she can serve our
The world’s first programmer was Lady Augusta Ada
Lovelace of England in 1852. She is
credited with telling a machine what to do by using punch cards to programme
algebraic patterns. Indian women
have excelled in almost all fields which hitherto were fortified by men.
Women are storming Information and Technology field and in the late
nineties the number of women in computing and internet industries has registered
a sharp rise. The IT landscape is full of women who are busy writing
programmes, running network systems and delivering applications to clients on
time. Recently a Japanese magazine
concluded that Indian women are number one amongst women from various countries
in acquiring and applying IT knowledge.
Deb Agarwal, a top scientist at a national laboratory
and Radha Ramaswami Basu, a high-tech entrepreneur, are the two Indian women
among the top 25 women on Web award winners for this year.
Agarwal, a computer scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, serves the comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation as
an expert in the area of reliable multicast communication.
Basu is CEO, www.support.com.
She was general manager for international software at Hewlett Packard.
She is also the co-founder of Maitri, an empowering organization for
South Asian Women in the Bay Area.
In June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman
astronaut, made 48 orbits in Vostok 6. Sally
Ride and Kathryn Sullivan alongwith five men were aboard the space shuttle
Challenger in 1984 for the first time. It
was the first time a US woman Kathryn Sullivan walked in space.
Kalpana Chawla from Haryana was qualified from over 2962 applicants to
earn herself a place in space shuttle Columbia for a 16 day out of the world
experience. The NASA chief called
her a “Terrific Astronaut”.
Women have also accepted the challenges of the oceans
and have participated in expeditions dealing with ocean research.
Dr Aditi Pant is the first Indian woman to participate in the cruise to
the icy continent, Antarctica. The
expedition was for a period of 4 months and the participants had to explore this
continent under rough weather conditions.
Shahnaz Husain is the mother of all herbal cosmetics
in world. Her creams and lotions have found their way into salons in different
parts of the globe. She has 650
salons at 104 countries. It is all due to her sheer innovation, determination
and hard work.
Madhuri Mathur, an intelligent lady made the life of
ladies in kitchen easier by bringing out the idea of, a kitchen machine that
would blend, chop, mince and grind that culminated into sumeet mixer.
Although there is no disparity existing in the
emoluments of male and female scientists and technologists an imbalance does
exist in the decision making policies and in the exercise of authority which is
solely dominated by men. Women do
not get scientific recognition and are
rarely recommended and nominated for awards, expertships.
But the pattern occupying positions of authority has changed
progressively during the past years and the trend appears to be encouraging.
Many women with high qualifications and experience have reached the top. From these observations, it can be concluded that given the
requisite qualifications and opportunities the women in science and technology
in India can be achievers and thereby boost the growth of science and technology
of our country.