Kamala Sohonie

Sci-Illustrate Stories
10 min readMar 24, 2020

The Indian scientist who refused to let her gender hold her back, delving into researching vitamins and nutritional values of foods consumed by the poorest Indian diets.

Kamala Sohonie, Sci-Illustrate Stories

Featuring artwork by Harsho Mohan & words by Dr. Roopali Chaudhary, Sci-Illustrate Stories. Set in motion by Dr. Radhika Patnala.

When the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) was established in 1911, there were plans for residences for staff, servants, police, and students. There were, however, no plans for female students. It would be almost a decade before IISc enrols its first female student, “Miss M. M. Mehta”, followed by “Miss R. K. Christie” in 1922. It would be another decade before the third woman, first under the Indian Director of IISc, C. V. Raman, was allowed in, a “Miss K Bhagvat”, later known as Dr. Kamala Sohonie.

Early Life

Kamala was born in Indore, Madhya Pradesh to a family of distinguished chemists. Her father and uncle were both alumni of IISc (known as the Tata Institute of Sciences at the time) in Bangalore. Kamala was a curious child, growing up admiring her father and uncle. It only felt natural to her to pursue chemistry in higher education. She studied at the prestigious St. Xavier’s College and topped her chemistry and physics examinations from the Bombay University earning her BSc in 1933.

For her, the automatic next step was to follow her father and uncle’s footsteps. She applied to the IISc for a research fellowship; sure that she had the qualifications. However, she was met with a stout rejection, her first blow. She couldn’t believe it, especially since it was on the basis that Prof. C. V. Raman, the Director of IISc, did not consider women competent enough to pursue research.

The fight for equity

Kamala was not a woman to sit on the sidelines. She demanded he provide written reasons for his decision to deny her admission, and sat in front of his office in protest. With multiple requests from her family members…

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