Science & Technology
Did the108th Indian Science Congress uphold its theme of women empowerment?
Vedas also found a mention during the conference; general president of the Indian Science Congress Association, said women were empowered during the Vedic period, which is untrue
By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 12 January 2023
The 108th Indian Science Congress (ISC) started January 3, 2023, amid much fanfare, with roughly 5,000 registrations. Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj (RTM) Nagpur University hosted the annual science meeting, which resumed after a two-year break. But the event left much to be desired. There are concerns over the congress’ commitment to its theme ‘Science and Technology in Sustainable Development with Women Empowerment’.
The Prime Minister, who was initially expected to be present at the venue, presided over the meeting virtually. In the spirit of the theme, the Prime Minister noted that the increasing participation of women proves that women and science are progressing in the nation. Union Minister Jitendra Singh told journalists that women have moved from participatory to leadership roles in the country.
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But the ground reality is concerning. Only 13.5 per cent of scientists and science faculty in Indian higher education and research institutions are women, found a report by BiasWatch, an organisation combatting gender-biased panels in Indian conferences, meetings and talks.
As for participation roles, only 6 per cent of the 1,100 universities have women as vice-chancellors. “Women in leadership roles have been doing exceedingly well. But somehow, that trust is not there,” Pankaj Mittal, secretary general at the Association of Indian Universities, told Down To Earth.
The Women’s Science Congress, an integral part of the ISC, also failed to bring up important issues around women’s empowerment. Tannistha Samanta, associate professor, Sociology and assistant dean, Faculty Search and Development at FLAME University, told DTE:
We are not engaging in questions of unequal division of labour, social policies affecting women’s professional labour and institutional protocols enabling women scientists. Unless we bring these questions under scrutiny, women scientists, educators and professionals will continue to lose.
Also, the women’s science congress failed to generate enough interest among participants. On January 5, the first day of the event, more than three-quarters of the seats were left empty.
On day two, the event ran an hour behind schedule. As a result, the organisers reduced the speakers’ presentation time from 15 to three minutes. One of the speakers, CA Vasuki, secretary and director of Kongunadu Arts and Science College, expressed her displeasure with this decision. “I did not have to travel from Tamil Nadu for a three-minute presentation,” she rued.
Also read: Data & technology can take India to new heights: Modi speaks at 108th Indian Science Congress
The vedas also found a mention during the conference. Vijay Laxmi Saxena, general president of the Indian Science Congress Association, said women were empowered during the Vedic period. But this line of argument may be flawed. Prayers during the era focused on preventing the birth of a girl child, according to a 2014 study. “Vedic texts show society’s pronounced preference for a male child,” the paper read.
A highlight of the Congress was press interactions with secretaries of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the current and former Director General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Principle Scientific Adviser to the Government of India and the ISRO Chairperson, to name a few. But participation from top Indian institutions such as IITs, IISERs and IISc was low.
Technology does not discriminate?
During the inauguration, Devendra Fadnavis, the deputy chief minister of Maharashtra, who was present at the inauguration event, noted that technology does not discriminate.
But an Oxfam report showed this argument incorrect. Socioeconomic divisions in the physical world have also taken over the digital world, noted the report released in December 2022.
“India’s growing inequality is accentuated due to the digital divide. The growing inequality based on caste, religion, gender, class and geographic location also gets replicated in the digital space,” Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, said in a statement.
People without devices and the internet get further marginalised due to difficulties accessing education, health and public services, Behar added.
S Chandrasekhar, secretary of DST, acknowledged that technologies have previously created environmental problems. “The technologies we have developed over the years were essential. But in that process, we have ignored environmental factors,” he said. He also encouraged researchers to pursue research problems relevant to 2030.
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