In her review of Lilavati's Daughters: The Women Scientists of India, Vijaysree Venkatraman highlights something that doesn't get much attention in discussions of faculty recruitment practices in our institutions.
More than one person from the post-independence era mentions years of separation from their spouses because of an inability to find appropriate work in the same city. This seems particularly true of couples in science. Unfortunately, the unwritten rule, which states that spouses should not be appointed in the same division, is faithfully followed in research institutes in our country, says Dr. D. Balasubramanian, President, Indian Academy of Sciences. The essay on the gifted chemist Darshan Ranganathan who was not offered a faculty position at IIT, Kanpur because her husband was a professor there, makes us livid at a callous system.
In his essay on the late Prof. Darshan Ranganathan (which appeared in Lilavati's Daughters), Prof. S. Ranganathan, her husband, first recounts her immense scientific achievements. Then he adds:
All these achievements assume special significance, particularly for young women aspiring scientists in India, when viewed from the fact that at every turn in her life she felt the impact of male chauvinism that so controls the scientific world. She fended them all with the invincible armour of obsession for scientific research. When she came to Kanpur, where I was a member of the faculty, the unwritten rules that exist even today, did not permit her to be offered a position. Therefore, throughout her long stay in Kanpur, she had to hop from fellowship to fellowship and for some periods none at all! We count on small mercies and both of us were truly grateful to IITK and the chemistry department for permitting her to do research.
I knew from the beginning that she was better than me and was proud to share my funds and students with her so that she could work on her own problems and publish on her own. That was all she wanted, brushed away all other irritations and slowly blossomed into an organic chemist who won international peer recognition, even before she accepted an independent position at RRL, Trivandrum in 1993 and subsequently moved to IICT, Hyderabad in 1998.
Prof. Darshan Ranganathan passed away on her sixtieth birthday in 2001. In his tributes that appeared in Current Science, Prof. D. Balasubramanian (President, the Indian Academy of Sciences) also dwells on this abomination in our system:
I will always harbour the sore point in me that Darshan was not given the credit and the position that she truly deserved early enough. Despite her track record of achievements and ongoing activities, she was never considered for a faculty position, while lesser colleagues rose to become Professors and Vice-Chancellors. There is no written rule that one should not appoint spouses in the same department or division; yet this is implicitly followed in several academic and research institutions in our country. The apprehensions cited are possible conflict of interest, interpersonal transactional difficulties and suchlike. When such practice gives no room for considering the merits of individual cases, it becomes counterproductive. (Of course, those who impose this practice can do nothing when two unmarried colleagues in the same department decide to tie the knot.) I am left with the wistful feeling that Darshan would have flowered more, much earlier, had she been offered a faculty position at IITK.
As is often the case, change is forced by a tough environment. In the recent PanIIT conference, a session was devoted to research in the IITs; in their opening remarks, Prof. Gautam Barua (Director, IIT-Guwahati) and Prof. Sanjay Dhande (Dirctor, IIT-K) acknowledge the kind of advantage enjoyed by the so called "Metro" IITs (you'll have to click on the button named 'abstract' next to Prof. Barua's name):
"Metro" IITs are able to attract more aspirants due to advantages of location, particularly due to greater opportunities for employment of spouses.
But it is still the case that this change is too slow, and the burden of the 'unwritten' rules falls almost exclusively on women scientists.