At the lunch table today, we ended up talking about Sudha Murthy's struggle against male bias at TELCO (Tata Motors' old name). And then, the conversation turned to the first woman to study in our Institute: Prof. Kamala Sohonie, whose struggle to enter IISc is recounted in this report of a speech she made back in 1997 at a meeting of the Indian Women Scientists' Association [Thanks to Ram for the link]:
When Sohonie applied for postgraduate degree, after completing her graduation from Bombay University in 1933, Raman summarily dismissed her application despite her having topped the university merit list that year. And the reason: Sohonie happened to be a woman!
"I am not going to take any girls in my institute," Raman had told the girl. But Sohonie went all the way to Bangalore to confront the Nobel laureate and demand the reason for being refused admission despite her outstanding academic record.
"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," she told the audience. But, she challenged Raman that she would complete the course with distinction. After much hesitation she got admission, the first women to be admitted by Raman.
"Even then, Raman didn't admit me as a regular student. This was a great insult to me. The bias against women was so bad at that time. What can one expect if even a Nobel laureate behaves in such a way?" she asked.
I also heard a few other interesting details about her verbal duel with Raman before he agreed to admit her into the Institute; I'm sure it's all documented somewhere. Since I'm not able to find it online, those details will just have to wait until I find some definitive source. If you have any pointers (preferably online), do please let me know.
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While searching the web for more information on Prof. Kamala Sohonie, I came across this interesting essay [pdf: 3.2 Mb file] with the title: Dispersed Radiance: Women Scientists in Raman's Laboratory at the South Asian Women's Network. The essay, by Abha Sur, is about three scientists: Anna Mani, Sunanda Bai, and Lalita Chandrasekhar who joined Prof. Raman's lab. Of the three, Lalita Chandrasekhar "gave up her own aspirations for a research career to devote herself to her husband" (Prof. S. Chandrasekhar, who went on to win a Physics Nobel in 1982), Sunanda Bai completed her Ph.D. thesis, but committed suicide "just before her intended departure to Sweden for postdoctoral work", and Anna Mani went on to a successful career in the Indian Meteorological Department, retiring as its Deputy Director General in 1976.
Here's a poignant section in the essay:
... the scientific institutions perpetuated their own gender biases. Neither Anna Mani nor Sunanda Bai was ever granted a doctoral degree. Their completed Ph.D. dissertations remain in the library of Raman Research Institute, indistinguishable from other bound dissertations with not a trace to suggest that these were eventually denied degrees. Madras University, which at that time formally granted degrees for work done at the Indian Institute of Science, claimed that Mani did not have an M.Sc. degree, and therefore they could not possibly grant her a Ph.D. They chose to overlook the facts that Mani had graduated with honors in physics and chemistry, had won a scholarship for graduate studies at the Indian Institute of Science, and had published five single-authored papers ...
According to Anna Mani, [Sunanda] Bai's last wish has been to be granted the Ph.D. degree that she so rightfully deserved, posthumously. Officials at Madras did not fulfill her wish, ostensibly for bureaucratic reasons. Mani who had accepted graciously the reasons Madras University had given for denying her a Ph.D. degree, nonetheless felt tormented by the injustice of their decision vis-à-vis Sunanda Bai.