The name Kalavati shot thru prominence in 2009, when one of the politicians mentioned about the poor widow from Vidarbha in parliament. Much politicized and eventually forgotten and left to her plight, the story of Kalavati has gone from bad to worse, inspite of being highlighted in the highest echelons of power in India. Half of her family has committed suicide and she was left to fend for herself with her life depending on the rain gods in one of the countries most draught prone areas i.e, Vidarbha.
Several kilometers north, in an other famously agrarian state famous for its paddy and wheat fields, probably a decade apart, another girl was born in Karnal, Punjab. Having completed her BE in Aeronautical Engineering, the first girl to do that course in the University and amongst only 4 girls to do any engineering course in the University. Her name was was Kalpana Chawla. Kalpana moved to the United States in 1982 where she obtained a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984. Determined to become an astronaut even in the face of the Challenger disaster, Chawla went on to earn a second Masters in 1986 and a PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
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Eventually in 2003, in the ill-fated Columbus crash, Kalpana along with 7 of her co-astronuts died when the shuttle disintegrated on its way back to earth. Kalpana posthumously received several recognitions from India as well as US and has been inspiring millions of children and girls across the globe to persevere and follow their dreams.
The contrast between the two stories is startling, and with all due respect to the circumstances and unfortunate scenario for Kalavati. The journey India has to make , has to be from Kalavati to Kalpana Chawla.
We must give girls the opportunity to attend schools, universities and colleges. While, basic education is being addressed by various Govt schemes and also awareness programs. The data at the higher education level shows an even more dismal picture. Complete lack of opportunities and lack of forward thinking has resulted in fewer and fewer girls pursuing higher education & professional jobs. There has to be a conscious effort to move beyond basic education to higher education and skill education awareness for girls. The no of girls According to an article in Times of India 2013, the statistics in IIT are startling, out of 14 hostels in IIT, only 1 is for girls. The ratio in IIT Chennai is 10 :1 for boys and girls. For certain fields like Mechanical Engineering its deplorable, IIT Delhi has 1 girl in a class of 110.
A lot of it is attributed to perception problem and more of it is from the parents/guardian side. Somehow the idea of girls doing engineering or anything related to mechanics is a non starter. Even as simple as, for boys the gifts to buy is Mechanix or Cars etc, but for girls its dolls, drawing craft etc. This myth has to be busted and there is enough empirical evidence to do so. Girls have proven to be equal if not better at most technical and computer skills then boys. Some of the biggest tech companies in the world have CEOs or important positions for women.
Early exposure to S.T.E.M education is a must. A news report says that in 2020, 1 out of 5 jobs will be STEM related. Schools have to start introducing girls to S.T.E.M education by default, whether they pick it up or get inspired or don’t is a secondary issue. The opportunity to get exposed to it should be there, they should be free to learn and understand the fields of Mechanics, Robotics, Building Themes etc.
The fields and doors have opened, technology has changed, the physical aspect of these fields has been replaced with logic, and technical knowhow. It is time we must too. We as a country must make this journey of making our girls independent and free to think and follow their dreams. We must break any traditions which shackle them, whether it is the basic education which we don’t emphasize on , or not permitting to study or work after marriage etc.
The path to this change is ignite (Igniting Girls Natural Interest in Technology & Engineering) & if we are able to make a significant push and change, we will traverse the journey faster and the life of Kalpana Chawla is one which would inspire a whole generation of students to tread this journey.