FII is now on Telegram
6 mins read

This National Science day has left me conflicted. So far, I have seen TIFR and two undergraduate colleges acknowledging this year’s theme. Out of the two colleges, one has arranged a public lecture and the other one has planned their ‘women-centric’ science day celebrations according to the theme. TIFR has arranged an exhibition regarding the same. Not many institutions have mentioned the theme on their event posters. My own University had not mentioned the theme on any of their posters. When pointed out, they decided to compensate it by showing a power point presentation (!)

The biggest conflict of being an Indian woman as well as a science student is that we live in a world where we celebrate National Science day with the theme “women in science” to commemorate a person who denied admission to women students because they’d be incompetent and would distract male students. As a Physics student, I have immense respect for CV Raman’s contribution to physics. But I did read somewhere, that ‘excusing someone bigotry as a “product of their time” erases everyone who fought against the same bigotry while also living in that same timeframe.‘ In this case, the same could be understood within the context of misogyny.

I repeat, CV Raman was a great Physicist. But, one’s career and one’s human values are two completely independent aspects. So dear science enthusiasts, don’t get infuriated with me when I point out that here’s what Dr. Kamla Sohonie said at a function organised by the Indian Women Scientists’ Association:

“Though Raman was a great scientist, he was very narrow-minded. I can never forget the way he treated me just because I was a woman. This was a great insult to me. The bias against women was so bad at that time (it’s still the same, ma’am). What can one expect if even a Nobel laureate behaves in such a manner?”

Alright, let’s just keep CV Raman aside for a while. I know even in science, people are annoyingly rigid. Let’s talk about the purpose of science day-specific to the theme. Not saying that we haven’t had any discussion on the topic, we are holding conferences as well as Women Science Congress recently; but all this is mostly happening through the male gaze.

Suchandana Deka, a student of microbiology who recently attended a conference on women in STEM, told us that one of the male speakers said something along the lines that, “…women should not waste time in whining about the issues (of bias), instead, they should focus on seeking solutions to increase women in STEM.” Then another woman speaker in the counter said that, “This is not ‘wasting our time to whine’, we seldom get the opportunity to discuss these things these issues even after reaching such a platform where we can do something about it. And this safe space, this time that we took for ourselves and others, shouldn’t be labelled as ‘whining’..”

It’s the men and deeply ingrained patriarchy who make it difficult for women to sustain in the field. And with whatever little men do for women, they love to believe that they’re doing a great favour to the humanity. They love to give unsolicited explanation to women about the simplest of the simple calculations, just to look down upon women. Also, whatever discourse we have in the academia regarding equality/equal opportunities/representation, it’s heavily by and for the top privileged. Anyone else, who manages to make it up to this pool, has to go through endless enormous struggle we can’t even imagine. This applies to gender as well as caste and class representation along with the intersections, which would never be taken up even within such themes for National Science Day.

whatever discourse we have in the academia regarding equality/equal opportunities/representation, it’s heavily by and for the top privileged. Anyone else, who manages to make it up to this pool, has to go through endless enormous struggle we can’t even imagine. This applies to gender as well as caste and class representation along with the intersections.

So when someone from the underprivileged majority struggles and makes it up to some level, we use them as stand alone examples and assure ourselves that the ultimate form of equality is achieved! Look at how ‘liberals’ applaud Kanhaiya Kumar, son of a poor farmer, while ignoring the millions of sons and daughters of poor farmers, many of whose fathers died of suicide, many of who had to drop out of schools because of debt or to earn the bread or have a huge burden of coping up with lack of opportunities and support system, and the few of them who managed to complete education are now struggling for a job because income through farming is highly uncertain. The condition of women from the same background is much worse.

Kanhaiya is not a science student, but the context is same. Kanhaiya is not the normal/obvious outcome of the system. He’s an anomaly. The rest majority of the people from the same background are the ones still struggling and left highly unacknowledged in any of the policies and discussions.

If we really want to implement the theme ‘women in science’ from National Science Day, then we should really think about how accessible science and scientific education really is. We should have a look at the number of our all-girls schools that teach Home Science more enthusiastically that say other more mainstream science and technical subjects. Many girls’ schools don’t care about assigning a proper teacher for mathematics/science. And they justify this lack of resource building by saying things like, “So many schools have almost zero access to good resources to learn science especially in rural/most of the government schools and schools meant for lower castes (yes they exist in closet, off-paper; many schools dominated by the upper castes in rural societies often ask dalit parents to enroll their kids in the schools ‘meant’ for them).

Even in the urban areas, the students from less privileged caste or class background don’t know/are late to know about various disciplines and opportunities in science and where to seek them; and it’s not even their fault, because our societies are so closely barricaded within the caste and class ghettos that they have a very little access to this information.

Even in the urban areas, the students from less privileged caste or class background don’t know/are late to know about various disciplines and opportunities in science and where to seek them; and it’s not even their fault, because our societies are so closely barricaded within the caste and class ghettos that they have a very little access to this information.

Teachers’ general disregard for the educational interests of girls, even in the ‘good’ schools never fails to amaze. My own Algebra teacher-a woman-once said (while scolding the whole class for not doing the homework), “It’s okay for girls not to focus on all this; but boys, you have to be serious about studies, you have to feed a family…” The same attitude is seen in the lecturers and professors at undergraduate and further levels. One of our master’s degree professors was showing a demonstration of the Michelson’s interferometer. Students were divided in groups, he said to an all-girls group, “These mirrors are for adjusting the beam, and not for checking the make-up, remember that!” He didn’t crack this ‘joke’ while attending other groups that had boys too, and obviously not in front of the all-boy’s groups.

Also read: Indian Scientists Protest Against The Pseudo-Science Propagated by Indian Science Congress

Also, how many of us know that ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) exists among girls too?

Not many, because the society, along with teachers ignore the Symptoms of ADHD in girls because that’s how girls are, talkative, gossipy, dreamy, dumb, emotional, self-conscious and what not.. Discourse in science fails girls in so many ways.

The treatment of girls in schools where girls are seen as a public property for everyone to abuse is even more shocking. There have been so many incidents of teachers abusing these girls that I shudder to imagine the actual number of unreported cases. Recently I read that a school-headmistress forced a dalit girl to clean the toilet; these news are very common where dalit students are made to clean or sit outside while others are studying. Here too, the number of unreported cases is huge. Forget about science awareness, here people are struggling for the most basic of the basic things in their lives.

Even after all this, if a student manages to seek entrance to good colleges and institutions, their struggle never ends. There they are berated for not knowing things that were ‘out of their league’ of their negligible privilege. They are berated for occupying seat through reservations and questioned on merit as in the case of Dr. Payal Tadvi and Fathima Lateef which were the extreme outbursts of casteism and Islamophobia in our elite institutions.

And hey, what about the LGBTQA representation!

Also read: To Choose Or Not To Choose Science: Gendering Of Higher Education

While we applaud the scientific achievements of the existing women in science, we should also pay attention to the structural as well as individual instances of discrimination and harassment against women and other marginalised communities, rather than just celebrating the National Science Day in the most tokenistic ways in the name and simply the name of women.


Featured Image Source: The Cornell Daily Sun

Support us