WOMEN, EDUCATION & EMPOWERMENT
First of all, I would like to congratulate the SNDT Women’s University for its glorious journey of 100 years. SNDT Women’s University was the first women’s University in India. It was founded by the legendary Bharat Ratna Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve, who had recognised the key role of a woman in the society as well as in nation building and also the importance of enlightening and empowering a woman. In fact he had made a profound statement “Sanskrita Stree Parashakti”, meaning that an enlightened woman is a source of infinite strength.
But both enlightenment and empowerment cannot be achieved without education. That is where he had the visionary thought of founding the SNDT Women’s University. Today, all of us in India feel proud that SNDT Women’s University stands tall as a world class university. It is uniquely focused on the development and application of knowledge. It strives hard to create an inclusive society. It protects dignity, equality, social justice and human rights. It is an exemplar in every sense..
I was the President of 86th Indian Science Congress, which was held on 3rd January 2000 in Pune. Looking ahead at the millennium, I had proposed ‘A New Panchasheel for the New Millennium’ It was:
• Child centered education
• Woman centered family
• Human centered development
• Knowledge centered society
• Innovation centered India
And while talking about women, I had said: “UN had adopted 1994 as the year of the family with an emphasis that the family is the smallest democracy at the heart of the society. But on the other hand, Human Development Report of 1993 had said ‘No country treats its women as well as the men’. Can the India of the next millennium afford to stand on only one of its legs? A woman has to be allowed the full expression of her potential and she has to be empowered to become a dynamic partner in the building of the new India of our dreams’.
Incidentally, I was happy to note that this Science Congress Presidential address of mine has been included as a part of the reference material in the B.Ed. course of SNDT Women’s University.
Importance of an empowerment of a woman is clear. Let us now talk about the importance of education of a woman now.
Last year, I attended a discussion on what is possibly the most powerful equation ever developed by scientists. Someone said that it was the equation describing Newton’s second law, giving the relationship between force (F), mass (m) and acceleration (a), namely, F = ma. Someone else said that it is Einstein’s equation linking Energy (E) to mass (m) and the velocity of light (c), namely, E = mc2. The others came out with some other suggestions.
Then they asked me about what I thought. I said none of the above. Not Newton. Not Einstein. I said that the most powerful equation is E = F. Here E is Education and F is Future! This means education is equal to the future. This equation is universal and eternal. If there is no education, there is no future. No future for the individual, no future for the nation.
Talking about women and education, I must tell you that I am standing before you today because of the fact that an uneducated woman understand the meaning of the equation E=F, education is future. That was my mother. Let me tell you the story.
I was born in a very poor family in a village called Mashel in Goa. My father died when I was six years of age. I was the only child of my mother. My mother came in search of a job in Mumbai. We had very hard times. Two meals a day was challenge. But my mother made sure that I not only got educated but highly educated. In fact there is an interesting story about what triggered my mother to urge me to seek higher education. It is worth narrating.
During my childhood, my mother used to be always in search of a job. Once she had gone to Congress House near Prarthana Samaj in Mumbai. She stood in the queue of women, who were seeking jobs. When her turn came she did not get that job because the minimum educational qualification was third standard pass. While returning, she said to herself that I have been rejected today because I did not have education. There is nothing I can do about it now. But I will make sure that my young son studies and gets the highest degree that there would be. She did not know what that degree would be.
It was a scholarship of sixty rupees per month given by Sir Dorab Tata Trust for six year that made my studies possible. When I finished my B. Chem. Engg in University Department of Chemical Technology, i.e. UDCT (now Institute of Chemical Technology) in Matunga in the year 1966, my mother had already found out that there is still a higher degree namely, Ph.D. She did not allow me to take up a job (although our financial condition was such that we needed it badly!) and asked me to do a Ph.D. When I finished the Ph.D. in 1969, again she had found out that there was still some higher education, namely post-doctoral research. She insisted that I do post-doctoral research. Shortly before she passed away in November 1976, I had got my 25th Honorary Doctorate. When I told her about this, she said ‘I am now happy. Now I can go’. And after 3-4 months, she left for her heavenly abode.
The reason I mention all this is that in our vast country, there are over 700 million Indians, who are below the poverty line. If each of the mother understood the significance of the equation E=F, education is future, like my mother had done, then India will be a different country.
SNDT Women’s University has had a great past, an exciting present, but I am sure it will have a glorious future. What could we do to build that glorious future? Let me set a five point agenda for your consideration.
First, our University must raise the bar. Our University is known both for its education and research. We must now move on to education, research and innovation. Education disseminates knowledge. Research creates new knowledge. Innovation converts knowledge into wealth and social good. I was particularly happy, therefore, to see the emphasis on building incubation centres, doing entrepreneurship development. This is the right way to go.
Second, in terms of a balance, we must not only build the ability of the students, but also the attitude. A positive attitude, where a student is always a part of a solution, not a part of a problem. We must not only crave for excellence but also for relevance. We must build both our ambience and our ambition. President Obama had said that education and innovation are the currencies of the 21st century. I would say that education in innovation and innovation in education are the currencies. We mut build on both.
Third, learning, doing and being is the essence of education. The ‘being’ part of it is very essential. Creators and preservers of a good society emerge, only when value based education provides them the initial grounding. SNDT Women’s University’s forte is value based education. We must build on this strongly.
Knowledge bereft of values can be dangerous. Look at the way organized crime, financial frauds and terrorist violence are being perpetrated by some of the best minds endowed with the best of educational and technical attainments. Look at the way even the members of the learned professions indulge in scandalous unethical conduct to make money in total disregard of their professional obligations and social responsibilities.
Tolerance as a value must be imbibed in the personality of every individual whether he or she belongs to a majority or minority group. Fundamentalism is inimical to scholarship and progress. Education must enable individuals to be tolerant of differences and lead people to renounce violence and resolve disputes through socially acceptable ways.
We must understand that Talent, Technology and Trust is the tripod on which the institutions, societies and nations will build their competitive advantage.
Therefore, the fourth point is about building talent. Our girls are superbly talented. Our girls excel in exams. Yesterday, the results of UPSC exams were declared. I was delighted to read that 4 out of the 5 toppers were girls! I have attended more than hundred convocations so far. And I find that the number of medals and prizes won by the girl students far exceeds that of the medals and prizes won by the male students. More than a decade ago, I was the Chancellor of Assam University in Silcher. I remember there were 19 medals that were given for outstanding performers in my first year as a Chancellor. Can you believe it – each one of these 19 medals was won by a girl student! We must do everything possible that this talent does not go waste and the society and the nation benefits from it fully.
The fifth and final point concerns Technology. Rapid advances in technology are changing both our life and work. Digital way of life is here to stay. Digital learning is not just catching up, it is romping. The old style chalk and talk classrooms will become extinct. The classrooms will have to be reinvented to the changing times. It is the innovative combination of digital and physical learning that will create the future winners.
Our University must quickly tune in to the dramatic changes that are happening around us due to advances in Information & Communication Technology. Digitization, virtualization, mobilization and personalization are the four new megatrends. All these will lead to game changing cocreative, self-organizing, self-correcting, borderless, globally distributed, asynchronous, dynamic and open systems. Data, voice and video will be delivered with 3G and imminent arrival of 4G in India. The processes of self-learning, interactive learning and lifelong learning will undergo a sea change with all these paradigm shifts.
If we pursue this five point agenda, I am sure we will create an exceptional 21st Century SNDT Women’s University, that India will be proud of.
Lastly, as a scientist, my Centennial Foundation Lecture will not be complete, if I do not speak about women in science. The good news is that today 35.3% of the university science students are women. But the bad news is that a very meagre fraction of them are able to pursue a career in science. Their levels of recognition are also very low.
S.S. Bhatnagar prizes are the most prestigious prizes in Indian science today. They are given to scientists below the age of 45 years. I am told that over 500 S.S. Bhatnagar Prizes have been given till today – but there less than 20 Bhatnagar Awardees, who are women scientists. I was the President of Indian National Science Academy (INSA). Election to the Fellowship of INSA is one of the highest honors in science that one can get. Less than 5% of the Fellows of the INSA were women. But is India an exception? No. The same is true of Royal Society or U.S. National Academy of Science – and all other prestigious academies. The biases and the prejudices against women in all the countries are well known. Can you believe it that Madame Mary Curie, who received two Nobel Prizes, was not admitted to the French Science Academy?.
Being aware of this challenge about women in science, Indian National Science Academy created a working group to look at women in science. I am proud to say that SNDT Women’s University’s Research Centre for Women’s Studies helped to put together a report titled “Science Careers for Indian Women” in the year 2004. Subsequently, Department of Science & Technology launched special programmes for women scientists, who could continue their science career even after a break. Very special fellowships were given to such women scientists. And I am happy to say that 15% of the women scientists, who had held these fellowships, have got gainful employment in education and research even after a break. But my fundamental question is, why should there be a break at all for these women scientists? That is a deeper question, and it craves for deep introspection and radical social transformation.
Talking about women and education, it is not education alone that matters. We must give women an opportunity to rise to their true potential — and even exceed it!. And I believe, therefore, that our major aim has to be to support the structure, both societal and institutional, to help them negotiate a family and career balance. As I said, India has to walk on both of its legs and, therefore, any possibility of insufficient or inefficient participation by women in nation building must be eliminated through a collective and determined national effort.
On this historic day, we begin this journey of our great University’s centenary celebration. Let us take inspiration from our founder Bharat Ratna Maharshi Dhondo Keshav Karve. His life and work is an inspiration for us. What tribute can we pay to him as we take these early steps of our next century? Well, our President was giving the convocation address in Pune on 26 June. He said that in every convocation address, he laments the fact that none of the Indian Universities figures in the top 200 in the world. So here is a way to pay him the tribute. Let us put in all our might, all our energies seizing a position for our University in the top hundred in the world. That is the only tribute that we can pay to our legendary founder.