When you say that women are not physically as strong as men, think again. Because what Charulata Somal has just done will blow your mind. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Somal is the first IAS officer to have gone on an expedition to Antarctica, not once but twice the same year!
It all started in March 2016 when Somal got an opportunity to be a part of the International Antarctic Expedition led by Robert Swan for ‘A Leadership on the Edge Program to the Last Wilderness on Earth’. Swan is the first person in history to have walked unsupported to both the South Pole and the North Pole back in the 1980s.
With 140 participants across the globe and themes focusing on sustainability, energy and climate change, the 15-day expedition in August was an inspiring experience for Somal.
Somal’s second chance to go to Antarctica came in November when Swan invited her to be part of an 80 Degrees South Expedition. She returned in December.
Somal is a 2012-batch officer from the Karnataka cadre. Brought up in Mumbai, she did her graduation in Economics Honours from St. Stephen’s College of Delhi University.
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Talking to SheThePeople.TV about her expeditions, Somal said, “Being in Antarctica, we got our own personal glimpses into how our actions in the rest of the world can have damaging impact on the last pristine preserve on earth. One was also able to observe and appreciate the wildlife and coastal ecosystem around the Antarctic Peninsula.”
“Women are as competent as men to undertake intellectually or physically tough expeditions. Women — irrespective of whether they are single, married, with or without kids — are breaking barriers in all fields”
After this initial experience of going on a 15-day expedition to Antarctica, the , Somal was called again by Robert to be a part of the 80 Degrees South Expedition.
About the latest expedition that concluded in December 2016, Somal — the Chief Executive Officer of the Zilla Panchayat of Kodagu in Karnataka — told us that this unique expedition focused on renewable energy. “We were a small team of 14 members working side by side with NASA and others successfully testing renewable energy technologies.”
She described her experience and the rigorous things she had to do during this journey as she says, “Apart from learning to ski and pulling weighty sledges, we picked up skills like setting on polar tents and lighting stoves in the inhospitable climes of Antarctica. Even the smallest chore was not easy to perform there, as we had to work with thick gloves, and the most basic necessities one takes for granted back home.”
In her view, the one most memorable experience for Somal was to lead the group. “The lead person sets the pace for the rest as we all walk in a line one after another. For the next 1-2 hours, it was only me, the sun and the continent in front of me on pristine untouched snow and ice, with nothing cluttering my view. I felt I had the whole world to myself at that moment,” reminisces Somal.
Now, Somal wants to create an impact in local and rural environmental issues. She said, “I prefer to understand the local environmental issues a community faces that threatens their immediate future. Our efforts and improvements at a local scale could include better water management practices and efficient resource use.”
Talking about the idea of being the first Indian Administrative Officer to go on such a challenging journey, Somal says modestly, “I’m not into being first for anything. I don’t like that idea because it corrupts our motive or intention but if it inspires others, it’s well and good.”
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“I hope I can inspire more young people, especially girls, to work hard and challenge their own limitations to become their own dream like I did mine.”
She feels grateful for her family that supported her and had faith in her. “When at the Expedition, I missed my family the most since I wanted to share my thoughts and emotions on seeing the beauty of the stark white expanse I saw before my own eyes. No amount of photographs or videos can capture completely what we see with our own eyes and heart,” recalled the IAS.
“We must not let our own minds limit our opportunities or become biased against ourselves because of our gender”
On whether women are equally capable as men to undertake such expeditions, Somal said, “Women are as competent as men to undertake intellectually or physically tough expeditions. Women — irrespective of whether they are single, married, with or without kids — are breaking barriers in all fields.”
She added, “We must not let our own minds limit our opportunities or become biased against ourselves because of our gender. As long as we are determined to make things possible for ourselves, no matter the opposition, we will shine through.”
When Somal is not on one of these dangerous expeditions, she likes to go trekking. She has recently acquired a new love for wildlife. She likes going to the forest and learning more about plants, birds and animals.
Woman of courage, charisma and strength, that is what best describes Somal. Her name will certainly go down the history, but more than that, she has opened the doors for others as well to think beyond their limitations as she says “to become your own dream”.