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Notable Indian women in STEM

For a while, I have been thinking of writing the post as a tribute to some of the women I am deeply inspired by. Today, International Women's Day felt like the perfect time to compile this post. The courage and intellect of some of these women continue to pave the way for future generations to come.

Dr. Asima Chatterjee (1917-2006)- Born before the Indian Independence, Asima Chatterjee was an organic chemist at a time when it wasn't common for women to leave their traditional duties as homemakers and pursue their career interests. She contributed tremendously to the study of alkaloids in anti-cancer treatment, anti-malarial drugs, and anti-epileptic drugs. "Ayush-56" was the anti-epileptic drug that she worked on which is used to date. She was also the first woman to be elected as the General President of the Indian Science Congress.

Dr. Kadambini Ganguly (1861-1923)- Again born in the Pre-Independence era, Dr. Ganguly faced unending troubles to get her Medical degree. She was the first woman to pass the University of Calcutta Entrance Examinations. She was the first female practitioner of Western Medicine in India and was eventually trained in Scotland after she graduated from Calcutta Medical College. She was also the first woman speaker in the Indian National Congress.

Dr. Mary Poonen Lukose (1886-1976)- Born to an Anglican Christian Syrian Family in Kerala, Mary went on to become the first female surgeon general in India along with being a gynecologist/obstetrician. She was infamous for operating under hurricane lamps and became the first to perform a Caesarian section in Travancore before 1920. She was also the recipient of the Padma Shri Award in 1975.

Dr. Irawati Karve (1905-1970)- Irawati was born in Burma and later moved to Pune. She was a sociologist, anthropologist, writer, and educationist. As the first female anthropologist. of our country, she founded the Anthropology Department of Poona University (now the University of Pune). She was known for her work in mapping kinship and caste and the contemporary status of women. She completed her doctoral studies in Germany.

Kamala Sohonie (1911-1998)- An Indian biochemist. and the first Indian woman to receive a PhD in a scientific discipline. Her research work deep-dived into the nutritional elements of certain crops and foods consumed by the poorest sections of society. Hailing from a family of chemists in Indore, Kamala's plea to do her research at the Indian Institute of Science was turned down by the late C.V. Raman because he believed that women weren't competent enough for research. After her vehement protest in front of his office, she was allowed but under certain conditions. She then moved on to work in Cambridge under Dr. Derek Richter. Her significant contribution towards Neera- a sap extract from palm trees, helped in providing nutritional supplements to children and women from marginalized tribal communities and allowed her to receive the Rashtrapati Award.

Kamal Ranadive (1917-2001)- An Indian biomedical researcher who worked tirelessly in the field of cancer research. She was the founder of the Indian Women Scientists' Association (IWSA). After having spent the majority of her childhood and adolescent years in Pune under the strong mentorship of her father who was a biologist himself, Kamal was egged on to study further and obtain her post-doctoral research fellowship at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore. She worked on finding links between viruses and their susceptibility to cancers and established India's first tissue culture research laboratory at the Indian Cancer Research Center in Mumbai. She also received the Padma Bhushan for her contributions to the field of medical research.

Madhumala Chattopadhyay (1961-)- Moving on to more contemporary contributions by women, Madhumala Chattopadhyay conducted extensive research in Andaman and Nicobar Islands on various tribes. She was one of the first women who made any sort of contact with the Sentinalese tribe. Un-jarred by the consequences of working with "hostile" tribes, Madhumala fearless worked for years in the forests of Andamans and went on to quote, "Never ever in my six years of doing research alone with the tribes of Andamans did any man ever misbehave with me. The tribes might be primitive in their technological achievements, but socially they are far ahead of us." She also worked at length with Aong (Jarawa) and Onge tribe and was able to comprehend their language and established familiar bonds with the people living there. Last known, she was working at the Ministry of social justice and Empowerment and resides in New Delhi.

Prachi Hatkar- A graduate of the Wildlife Institute of India, Prachi went on to do her specialization in oceanography and fishery science. She has worked on Dugong conservation (a species that is highly endangered) and is doing her research on seagrass-associated macrobenthic fauna. As a young woman working in marine biology, Prachi is nothing but an inspiration for those who are interested in studying the ocean and the beings that inhabit it. you can follow her on Instagram - @oceanqueen_4

Nayantara Jain- Also known as "Tara" by those who work with her, she wears many hats! a marine biologist, scuba diving instructor, yoga instructor and Director of ReefWatch Marine Conservation India- Nayantara is an enigma and someone whom I am thoroughly inspired by. She switched to marine biology after she had completed her graduation and realized that her one true love was the oceans. Currently, she shuttles between Bangalore and Andaman and works in marine conservation. Follow her on Instagram- @tara.oceanista

While I might be biased toward those working in the field of anthropology (studying that subject myself) and marine biology (since I have a deep passion for the marine world), the contributions of several other women cannot be forgotten in the fields of research work. However I want to show my gratitude towards those women who aren't associated with STEM but continue to prove their strength beyond measure wherever they are and in whichever work they find themselves in because it might be 2024, but the act of surviving as a woman is an act of preposterous valor in itself.

A very Happy Women's Day to all you beautiful women out there. Continue to shatter boundaries and create your version of your best life!


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