Dr Jane Prasad feels that her early years of schooling at Vidyodaya, a popular ICSE school in Chennai patterned after Shantiniketan, and later, Women’s Christian College, also in Chennai, gave her the much needed strong robust foundation to be a well-rounded professional. It is this foundation that helps her power through her job as a registrar at IIT-Madras. Oh, and she is the only woman to hold that post among the first generation IITs today.
Dr Prasad completed her PhD in Biochemistry from Madras University and went on to enter the Civil Services with the Indian Post & Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service (P&TAFS) in the 1998 batch. She has been posted in Guwahati in Assam and later in Chennai in her civil services role. She moved to IIT Madras as Registrar in 2018 and has completed over two years of her five-year term.
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She tells SheThePeople that generally people come up through ranks to become a registrar at an IIT. Not many women manage to do so though. “At the starting itself, you have more men than women working. So they are already at a disadvantage,” says she.
Not just on the management level though, the classrooms in IITs are also dominated largely by men. To rectify this imbalance, it was announced in March this year that a fifth of seats at IITs will be reserved for women students. Dr Prasad feels that we cannot change the system in one shot, and with this move, the change will come in an incremental way.
“Women are at a little bit of disadvantage when they start off. The society as a whole, the kind of ease at which you do things, I think it is a little difficult for women at the age of 18 or 19 when you are just starting off. Not many families would send their girl child to study outside. So fixing a percentage right now in a way would at least make sure that 20 percent of those seats are filled up by girls.” Dr Prasad further adds that IITs have a supernumerary quota, which means that IITs will accommodate women who qualify, even if the said 20 percent seats are filled.
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While her work is mostly administrative Dr Prasad regularly interacts with students at the institute. She has observed that women students do feel a little under confident, being outnumbered by men. If there is an issue for instance, “a girl won’t be that vocal, whereas a boy will be aggressive and talk about it.” However, she does add the women students that come from city background aren’t reticent or take the backseat. On the other hand, girls from rural background find it very difficult to adjust as well. “It is a big change for them, coming here being all alone, taking care of themselves and then mingling with others; it takes some time for them to form a group of their own, with some common interests. Once they find that then they are okay.”
50-year-old Dr Prasad loves reading books and cycles around IIT Madras campus. She also likes to go for walks with her daughter and husband inside campus, spotting the rare birds.
Balancing work and personal life is very difficult, a struggle that is echoed by many women across fields. In a society that conditions women to never prioritise career at the cost of caring for their families, it isn’t easy for women to excel at both the fronts.
Says Dr Prasad. “If everything goes well, your family side is okay, then you can manage. But then if anything goes wrong, say someone at home is unwell, then it is difficult to focus on work. As a woman, I feel it takes a toll. Whereas a man in that position he will have someone to handle things for him. So he will be able to work consistently, but a woman will have to take that pressure, as well as work pressure and still give your output.”
This stereotyping of women as homemakers first, career-oriented later, has another downside to it. They have to endure additional scrutiny at work and work harder to prove their mettle. Dr Prasad opines that women are constantly under watch at work. “You have everybody looking at you, where you trip. You are always judged against a man. Yet somehow we manage both sides.”
Jane was posted in the Social Welfare Department of Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu during her early career with the State Government. She says this experience grounded her to the grassroots, working with marginalised communities in the Social Welfare Department. It is not easy for girls from such backgrounds to not only get into premier institutes like IIT, but to complete their education and then go on to have flourishing careers.
Speaking on some of the challenges these young women faces, Dr Jane Prasad says, “Firstly it is the language, since it is English that is mostly used here. When they come from a rural background, they lose out on communication skills. This affects their confidence levels as well. The standard at IITs is quite high, when it comes to learning and performance. All these things are challenging for someone who has studied at a small town. We do help out such students, as well have wellness centres, we provide counselling and debriefing is done as well. We also teach them English in first year.”
Image Credit: Dr Jane Prasad