A Women in brightly coloured Indian silk gold bit bordered sarees, with a pottus on her forehead and gajras whooped up in her hair. Often, we have seen similar pictures on Facebook & Instagram but they were mostly at festival occasion either Pongal in South India or Navratri in North India or some wedding celebration. But, recently a similar picture reflecting our great Indian culture was seen and that was of the Indian Space Research Organisation. This picture not only makes everyone proud but also defines the important role of half population in the field of technology. This is not mere an achievement but a transformation for a nation where women were on the front pages of newspaper in a story of gang-rape & domestic violence. Need not to say, a female astronaut is a dream project a girl would wish for in this era. And as these days women are moving ahead neck-to-neck with men in almost every field one can imagine, the question arises ‘Why there are very few women in Space Research Program’? Even we look out the recent record breaking launching of 104 satellites by ISRO, there were just 8 women in the mainstream of the project. However, if their contribution & efforts will be counted, then the picture will become clear to understand why we need more women to be involved in space research program? Out of these 8 women, most of them were part of Mars orbital Mission (or Mangalyan) project, previously by ISRO.
Coming to the aspect of involvement of women in space technology. As per statistics of Quartz, only 20% of ISRO’s total workforce is women and just 10% of the total staff are women engineer. Only 10 of 443 Indian scientists who received the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in last 50 years were women. Statistics/data availed from major R&D institutions showed that gender disparity in the male-female staff selection process was continuing, and females were marginalized in recruitments. The government’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has 950 women among its scientific workforce of 7,000. Let us look the picture from another angle. In the year 2011, at the launch of GSAT-12 (A communication satellite successfully launched by ISRO), the three top positions of Project Director, Mission Director and Operation Director were all served by women. This brings us to a conclusion that it’s not about the ability, it’s all about the opportunities. If the proper opportunities is availed to women, they will too be equally tasting the success and making the achievement. Let us take a glimpse of major achievements of our women in the field of technology. Even the composition of half population in this field of science & technology is less but their contribution can’t be ignored. India’s most successful project Mangalyan is said to be the gift of ISRO’s Rocket women.
1. Kalpana Chawla: She was the first Indian-American astronaut and first Indian woman in space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. The NASA chief called her a “Terrific astronaut”. On February 1, 2003, the U.S. space shuttle Columbia with a seven-member crew that included Chawla, 41, disintegrated in flames over central Texas shortly before it was scheduled to land at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
2. Mrs. Ritu Karidhal- Like every kid, She used to wonder why the moon becomes bigger and smaller. She also wondered what lays in the dark side of the moon. And decades later, she became the Deputy Operations Director of the Mars Orbiter Mission. After reading each and everything related to space science as a kid, she now heads one of the most well-known missions of ISRO.
3. Moumita Dutta- She is the project manager for payloads for the Mars Mission. She completed her M. Tech in Applied Physics from the University of Kolkata. Today, she leads a team to make indigenous progress in optical sciences as a part of ‘Make in India’ initiative.
4. Nandini Harinath – She became inspired to study science after she saw the Star Trek series. Coming from a family of teachers and engineers, she was naturally drawn to science and technology. Today as a Deputy Director, she feels proud to see the Mars Orbiter Mission on the new 2000 rupee notes. She works extremely hard, and despite having children, she did not go home for days just before the launch. Commitment is the word which best defines her.
5. Anuradha TK – As a Geosat Programme Director, she is the senior-most woman officer at ISRO. She first thought about becoming a space scientist when she was just 9 years old. That was when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon, and Mrs. Anuradha was hooked. As the senior-most officer, she is the inspiration for every woman scientist working in ISRO. As a student, she loved the logical subjects as compared to the subjects in which she had to memorize everything.
6. N Valarmathi – She led the launch of India’s first indigenously developed the radar imaging satellite, the RISAT-1. She was the second woman after T K Anuradha to head a satellite mission at ISRO. At 52, she has made her state Tamil Nadu proud. She is the first woman to head a mission that involves a remote sensing satellite.
7. Minal Sampath- She is the one who worked 18 hours a day for the Mars Orbital Mission. She led a team of 500 scientists as a systems engineer at ISRO. For two years, she said goodbye to Sundays and even national holidays. The sacrifice proved worthy when she was overjoyed with the success of the Mars Mission. What’s next? She aims to become the first woman director to head a national space agency. A hardworking woman like that, fingers crossed!
8. Kriti Faujdar – She is a computer scientist who works at the Master Control Facility, keeping satellites in their proper orbits. She is a part of the team that monitors the satellites and the other missions continuously. She is the person that makes the corrections if something goes wrong. Her work shifts are erratic too. On some days she has a day shift and on some, it is from dusk to dawn. She is unfazed by this because she loves her job. She wants to pursue MTech in the future to be a better scientist for ISRO in the future.
9. Tessy Thomas – She is the missile woman of India who headed the Agni IV and Agni V mission. Tessy Thomas technically works for the DRDO and not ISRO, but she deserves to be on this list. We could not leave her out.it is her hard work and dedication that has brought India close to becoming a member of the exclusive club of countries with ICBMs (Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles). Because of her achievements, she is fondly called ‘Agniputri’ by the media.
There are many other women whose achievement in this field is significant and one article would not be enough to describe their role. Today, there are more than 16,000 women working for ISRO and the number is growing every day. It is easy to imagine ISRO completely comprised of men because all 7 heads have been men. But the fact is that thousands of women work hard for our premier space agency.
The truth of our nation is that there is still few sectors in our society which even in the 21st century still care only about the length of women’s dress. There are still few females who prefer to advise half population of the society regarding what to wear and where to go? They are one who is trying to deviate the society from actual circumstances. The young girls of the country has to decide who will be their role model. We should defeat such mentality. There are several factors responsible for less number of women in this field. If we focus specifically on this issue, then only we would be able to change the actual picture. To understand the reasons and circumstances of the issue, we must go beyond the pretexts to an examination of the occupational conditions for women throughout their life. And I chose to discuss it with 10 successful women that have all made it to the top of their professions in technical related fields. Such a view of women’s lives are of course limited by the size of the study, but these successful women each put forth sound, actionable advice for women of all ages. Critical advice during a time where technology has begun and increasingly will permeate every facet of every profession on earth. A career without a technology background is a fatal one.
What is more important for national media to show us? An actress making her 100 million blockbuster movie or women working 18 hours every day on the operational desk of ISRO without any weekend and holiday just to make one more successful launch. But the sad part of our society is neither media focus on the later one nor the viewer. We Indians are used to just one thing. Writing our anger on social media and blaming government & system for everything. Why only government? In fact, if we look from the government perspective the budget allocation for women program has been gradually increased every year. There are a number of schemes which is making the way easier for women in the country to enter in the technology world.
I think we also need to look at what attributes our culture promotes as being valuable and desirable in regards to gender – what each of us does that reinforces those attitudes. It’s won’t be every day that women will become the face of a space mission. It’s true. But the achievements of female scientists are rarely celebrated by our Indian society. That’s another reason for the low statistics. Women in any field of science don’t usually make headlines in India. Bollywood movies don’t portray women as scientists, and neither does popular television. Women wearing bright saris and flowers in their hair are only ever shown as housewives or mothers or, at the most, in one of those professions considered acceptable for women, like teaching. Space might or might not be the final frontier for women but the fact is women have actually been quietly exploring it. They may not always make the news because they are behind the scenes unlike Indian-American Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. But we all must accept that women are part of the DNA of space’s program.