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Dr. Kamala Sohonie, a strive victory over the stereotype of male dominance by Nobel Laureate!

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Introduction –

She was the fighter, who took on Dr. C.V Raman. The first Indian woman to receive a Ph.D. in
a scientific discipline, who discovered the cytochrome c. She who is responsible for making
Neera, a common man drink, She, the younger sister of veteran Marathi literature Durga
Bhagwat. She, the woman, played tennis wearing nine yarn saree with Dr. Raman. She
went to Cambridge University London for her research by wearing nine yarn saree. She
was the pride of India. She who is Dr. Kamala Sohoine.

Life journey of Dr. Kamal Sohoine

Kamala Narayan Bhagwat was born in the year 1911 in Indore, the city of Madhya Pradesh.

Kamala’s father Narayan Bhagwat and her uncles were a chemist and alumni of the then Tata institute of sciences. Durga Narayan Bhagwat was Kamala’s elder sister. Durga Bhagwat was a notable writer of her time. Kamala had a very influential family background. By taking the legacy ahead of this influential family background Kamala graduated from the University of Bombay in the year 1933 with a BSc degree in Chemistry as her principal subject and Physics as her subsidiary subject. Kamala was always very interested in chemistry. She had scored the highest marks in the university of Bombay. With high ambition, she applied to the Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru (erstwhile Tata institute of science).

Kamala’s application was rejected on grounds that she was a female. The person who rejected her application was nonother than NobelLaurate, Bharat Ratna Dr. C.V Raman.

Kamala Narayan Bhagwat married M.V Sohonie, an actuary, in 1947 and moved to Mumbai.

Fighting against patriarchy


Indian society is patriarchal in nature which means women are given secondary status
in the mainstream. Patriarchy is a system of society or government in which men hold
the power and women are largely excluded from it. For many years women were
denied education and other facilities. Women from all the caste started getting
education due to the efforts of Phule couples. Phule couples started the first girl’s school
in the year 1848 and pioneered women’s education in India. In the later years, there were many social reformers who fought for women’s right to education and empowerment. Reformers like Dhondo Keshav Karve, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar B.R Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, etc were at the forefront in advocating women’s right to education. In the year 1907, Dhondo Karve had set up the Mahila Vidhyalayain Pune in order to spread learning among the women’s community.

Despite all these efforts in the later 19th century and early 20th century, a female is denied admission in a reputed institute just because she was a woman. Kamala Bhagwat was denied admission to the Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru (IISC Bangalore) in July 1933 by Nobel Laureate Prof. Dr. C.V Raman.


Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman was awarded Nobel prize in Physics in the year
1930 “for extensive research work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the
“Raman” effect
.

Despite being a Nobel laureate and highly educated qualified Physicist, Dr. Raman was
narrow-minded and orthodox by thoughts. The wave of social reform had reached the
lowest strata of society but couldn’t reach the mind of Nobel laureates.


Dr. Raman gave the following justifications for denning admission to Kamala Bhagwat
were; that as Kamala is a female she would “disturb” and “pollute” the environment of
the institute. She would serve as a distraction to male students. Another reason given
was that women do not usually complete their education and leave it in the middle due
to marriage and other responsibilities. Till now Indian institute had not admitted any woman as a student, which was another reason for not admitting Kamala Bhagwat.
Kamala was firm on her goals and she didn’t blindly accept the denial. She fought
against this injustice and discrimination. Her struggle to get into IISC Bengaluru will
be analyzed in the following chapter.

Struggle for admission in IISC Bangalore and Satyagraha by Dr. Kamala Bhagwat.


“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. 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?” Dr.Kamala Sohonie

Kamala was highly inspired by Mahatma Gandhiji’s movements. She followed the
principles and path laid down by Gandhiji. Each and every Indian at that time was firmly
following the principles of non – violence, and satyagraha. Salt Satyagraha of 1930 laid
by Gandhiji had widespread support. When Kamala was denied admission to IISC she did a satyagraha against injustice and discrimination.

Kamala sat down on the entrance door of the cabin of Dr. C.V Raman. Kamala said, Until and unless Dr. Raman Admits me as a student in IISC, I would sit at the entrance of the cabin. The satyagraha worked, the Gandhian principles worked and Dr. Raman was ready to give Kamala admission in IISC but with certain conditions. The three conditions were as follows -That Kamala will not be allowed as a regular candidate and will be on probation for the first year also she will be known throughout the campus after she succeeds in her work, That Kamala has to work late at night as per the instruction of her guide, That Kamala will not spoil the environment of the lab (she should not be a distraction to the male researchers). Kamala became the first woman ever to be admitted to IISC Bengaluru and she paved a way for women’s education in a science discipline. After getting admission to IISC Kamala started working harder to gain more knowledge. Kamala was mentored by Prof. Sri Srinivasayya at IISC Bengaluru. Kamala successfully completed her MSc degree with distinction in the year 1936 from IISC Bengaluru.

In IISC Kamala researched specifically on proteins in milk, pulses, and legumes. she was the first person to work on pulse proteins. She was dedicated to her research and aims and hence she was successful. Dr. Raman was impressed by the performance of Kamala in the science discipline. Dr. Raman was forced to change his orthodox narrow-minded thinking regarding the women community. For further research and study, Kamala went to Cambridge University. The important point to note here is in a foreign land also she preserved the rich culture of India by wearing nine yarn saree every day. Kamal’s research, career, and Ph.D. thesis will be covered in the next chapter.

Nine yarn saree and 40 pages Ph.D. Thesis


Kamala went to Cambridge University for further research. She got the opportunity to
work in the prestigious laboratory of Dr. Derik Richter
.

She carried on her research under the guidance of Dr. Robin Hill, on plant tissue. While working on potatoes she found that every cell of a plant tissue contained the enzyme ‘cytochrome C’ which was involved in the oxidation of all plant cells. Kamala Bhagwat got a scholarship in the Sir William Dwan Institute of Biochemistry at Cambridge University with the
Nobel Laureate Prof. Fredrick Hopkins. Here Kamala Bhagwat worked in the areas of
biological oxidation and reduction. The second scholarship was an American traveling fellowship that enabled Kamala to meet eminent scientists in Europe. She sent a short thesis describing her finding of ‘cytochrome C’ in respiration of plant tissue, to Cambridge University for her Ph.D. degree.

Kamala’s entire Ph.D. – research and writing took only 14 months and consisted of just 40 typed pages.


A girl wearing a nine-yarn saree with two ponytails did her research at Cambridge
University and became the first Indian woman to receive a Ph.D. in a science discipline.
This was a journey from the denial of admission in IISC Bengaluru to a world record
of doing a Ph.D. in 14 months consisting of only 40 pages. This proves that the quantity of
research doesn’t matter what matters are the quality of research. Dr. Kamala was firm and
confident about her research, she presented her Ph.D. thesis confidently and fearlessly
in front of eminent scholars. Finally, with all struggle, Kamala Bhagwat became Dr.
Kamala Narayan Bhagwat. Dr. Kamala Bhagwat was the first Indian women to receive
Ph.D. in a scientific discipline.


Neera –


Dr. Kamala Bhagwat with the help of her students carried out in-depth research in
biochemical studies on three important categories of food items consumed by the rural
poor and thus established their nutritive values. These studies involved leguminous
proteins, trypsin inhibitors, and other compounds which reduce the digestibility of
Indian legumes, Neera, palm molasses, and dhanata paddy flour— formed during
milling and polishing rice.26 She started her pioneering work on Neera at the suggestion
of the first Indian President Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

Dr. Kamala Bhagwat returned to India in the year 1939. The main motive to return to India
was to participate in the national freedom struggle laid by Gandhi ji. She was appointed as
a Professor and Head of the Department (HOD) of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge
Medical College in New Delhi. In the later years, Dr. Kamala worked at the Nutrition
Research Laboratory, Coonoor as Assistant Director, focusing on the effects of vitamins.
Dr. Kamala was an active member of the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI). She
was elected President of the CGSI for the 1982–83 period and she also authored articles on
consumer safety for the organizational magazine called ‘Keemat’.

A Dream for feminist generation

Dr. Kamala Bhagwat returned to India in the year 1939. The main motive to return to India
was to participate in the national freedom struggle laid by Gandhi Ji. She was appointed as
a Professor and Head of the Department (HOD) of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge
Medical College in New Delhi. In the later years, Dr. Kamala worked at the Nutrition
Research Laboratory, Coonoor as Assistant Director, focusing on the effects of vitamins.
Dr. Kamala was an active member of the Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI). She
was elected President of the CGSI for the 1982–83 period and she also authored articles on
consumer safety for the organizational magazine called ‘Keemat’.

Conclusion

Dr. Kamala Sohonie is a pioneer of giving a niche to women in Science in India. While her elder sister Durga Narayan Bhagwat has made an indelible mark in Marathi literature. Dr.
Kamala will be remembered as a woman who took on Nobel Laurate Bharat Ratna Dr. C. V
Raman and proved her point. The life of Dr. Kamala represents the gravel of the women’s community to overcome struggles and prove their merit. She broke all the so-called barriers in those days and now women are thriving in the scientific community. With her passing in 1998, India has lost an inspiring scientist, but her work and attitude continue to motivate future generations of scientists.

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