Ever since India launched its second moon mission named Chandrayaan 2 on July 22, a section of media is abuzz with two project heads as calling it as a show of India’s Nari Shakti. This media frenzy mostly run by feminists and some political parties like Congress to continue their gender-based appeasement policies, is the most shameful campaign that needs to be addressed without delay.
Even though all Indians including us the MRAs are proud of this achievement for our moon mission, calling Chandrayaan a win for India’s women is a big understatement and the highest level of disrespect shown to the entire scientist community of the project. I am sure the two women in question don’t bother about this feminist propaganda but still, we need to remember the following points before we boast about women’s contribution to this mission.
70% of The Chandrayaan 2 Team Disrespected
Statements like – ‘Chandrayaan 2 is a win for women power’, ‘Chandrayan 2 shows what Indian women can achieve’ or ‘women made Chandrayaan 2 possible’ are equally shameful and disgusting comments. This is because if the ISRO director Dr. K Sivan has ever said that this mission has 30% women force behind (though we don’t see them anywhere in any photos released to public yet, well let’s not forget admin staff, tea-supplier, cleaners etc) the rest 70% are still males, and the above statements are demeaning to all male-scientists who would have worked harder to make this mission a success. By giving all credit to some women, simply because they are at the helms managing this space mission amounts to disregarding the work done by all others in the mission.
I am not sure in what role the other unseen 30% women (we could hardly find 4/5 women in mission control photos) have contributed and without trying to degrade their contribution, we can surely say that other men in those teams or working in allied teams have put up more work than these women and hence are more praiseworthy (yes more and not equal) as I shall explain in this article.
To understand how the male scientists of Chandrayan mission have contributed more despite having two female project controllers, we need to understand a lot of procedure in ISRO and any other govt organization. So, let’s start with recruitment in ISRO –
ISRO Wants More Women
Officially in every job advertisement, especially those for scientists of any grade, ISRO mentions that they want to encourage women to join the country’s space mission. In order to encourage women, ISRO does not even take any application fees from women. Not only that women are allowed (along with SC, ST, OBC) to submit more than one application for the same post. Even though only the last application before the final date of submission is considered.
The general category of male applicants doesn’t get this opportunity. Even though I am not completely sure why multiple applications may be required, if we consider this for correction of any error in previous applications, then male candidates don’t get that opportunity. Moreover, males are required to pay the required fees for every application.
So, we understand that for hiring each of the females as a scientist, ISRO is disqualifying many other eligible but poor male candidates. So, these women’s success (if at all) should first go to those males who sacrificed their seats to these women. The very fact that they are women, they would have got these facilities and hence their success is marred with many unknown sacrifices.
Reservation Needs Lower Marks
More than being a female and therefore securing a position in ISRO (or DRDO, or BARC for that matter) as a scientist if they belong to any of the reserved categories then they would have got additional favour in terms of marks needed to qualify.
For instance, a 2019 ISRO ad for scientists had this marks criterion based on one’s caste (you hate caste? But Govt. doesn’t) –
So, if these females of the space missions belonged to any of the reserved categories mentioned above, they would have directly got some entry-level benefit in the written tests compared to others. Needless to mention that they would have gotten the same benefits throughout their life in all other exams including B.E./ B.Tech etc that made them qualify for these positions in the first place. We are still not sure if their parents also got such benefits and hence got prestigious roles as well.
So, for simply being women who may be from a reserved category they would have already disqualified many male candidates (both UR and reserved).
Are ISRO Interviews biased too?
ISRO wants more women and this is official and can be found in their job advertisements. So, in a quest of taking more women candidates in do they give any other additional benefits to women candidates? (Like giving lenient scores to women candidates).
There is no way to know that if during the interview a woman candidate is given a higher score compared to a male candidate. Because when an organization publicly wants more women, there is every possibility that they will be lenient to women applicants during interviews. I will not be surprised if the interviewers are ‘told’ to give women more marks and show lenient behaviour to them. The interview scores are published on ISRO websites as well, but from those scores, we don’t know if women get any kind of lenient scores.
What About Internal Promotions?
Since ISRO (and for that matter other govt organizations) are desperate to show gender equality in numbers, there is a possibility that ISRO may be lenient in giving promotions as well. Only a few years ago The Ministry of Women and Child Development has brought one Bill named National Policy for Women that categorically talked about this. To have women’s reservation in promotions as well. This kind of initiatives, however, do not need any specific mention in any policy. The organization that is openly desperate to hire women, might as well do that without specific mention just to show how successful women in that field are. It is only internal ISRO circles that will know the truth but there is a possibility that we can’t ignore.
Then What About Awards?
The project director of Chandrayaan 2, M Vanitha is the recipient of Best Woman Scientist Award of the Astronautical Society of India in 2006 and the mission director R Karidhal is the recipient of ISRO Team Award for Mars Orbiter Mission and also the ISRO Young Scientist Award. No matter whether their recruitment and promotions were through sexist methods, how could they win such awards if they were non-performers?
I don’t want to belittle their capability by saying they are incapable scientists, or these awards were also given because of some kind of reservation (in fact this was also a proposal at one time to reserve prestigious awards for women and make that a policy at national level), but still there is a possibility of that.
Apart from that, we have a plethora of other benefits given to all women employees in all organizations and specifically in govt organizations. Like not asking women to work beyond 7 pm, giving them more leaves etc.
Credit For the Team, Blame for the Leader
It is a global leadership best practice to assign credit of any success to the whole team and assign the blame for any failure to the leader. It’s not only true for an organization like ISRO but true in any leadership scenario. But only for Chandrayan 2 mission, we find that the credit is given to the leaders simply because they are women. Going by what ISRO Director K Sivan said, if we consider that there were 30% women in the team, then rest 70% were males (yes, we are still in a binary world).
So, when such a big team worked together for the success of the Chandrayaan project and made us proud Indians, do we only congratulate the two heads and completely disregard the contribution of all other scientists? Do we still ignore the contribution of all those hidden organizations who had remotely helped ISRO to make this successful? Should we ignore that contribution of all males who would have worked overnight and let the females go home simply because they were not supposed to stay back by rule or because of their chivalry? We can’t discredit any of them. Rather if the blame for the initial snag (on 15th July) can be attributed to anyone, that should be the women leaders of Chandrayaan 2 mission who are now called Rocket women of India.
(No, my intention is not to blame anyone, but leadership best practice tells us this).
How a Women Myth was Created in Appollo 11 Mission
It is pertinent to mention how a myth around an African-American woman Katherine Johnson’s contribution to the man’s first moon landing was glorified. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the American magazines like Jet and Ebony that was crying for non-involvement of blacks in American space journey and those spearheading campaigns against white supremacy in the American space program never mentioned contributions from Katherine. Also, if her contribution was really significant then NASA would have first brought her to the front to shut-off all critics who were crying about white supremacy.
There are plenty of other pieces of evidence (detailed here) that nullifies any claim of her significant contribution. However, there is a Oscar winning Hollywood movie Hidden Figures that was made to boast about women’s contribution and a famous quote of American Astronaut John Glenn saying that he would not board the flight ‘if the girl (Katherine) didn’t check the figures’. John Glenn also quite mysteriously didn’t write anything about Katherine’s contribution in his book – “John Glenn: A Memoir or Alan Shepard’s Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon”.
This is a glaring example of how some tiny insignificant contribution of a woman (forget about multiple women being involved) is glorified to the extent of the best contributor for the most coveted mission of mankind.
But Directors Are Significant
Now the question is, for India’s moon mission Chandrayaan 2, women are at the helms. They may not be going to the moon, but there can’t be any reason to undermine their contribution, even if they got all the benefits and prohibited other better-qualified men to join ISRO or get promotions, simply because ISRO wanted a gender balance in their organization and hence gave them easy promotions and rewards.
While agreeing to the above analogy, we also need to understand that the directors and heads of a mission or for that matter any individual’s (including the astronauts themselves) contribution becomes insignificant to what such missions demand. That is why we see such large teams (of thousands of people) with multiple specializations from multiple organizations involved in such mission.
For example, it is said that it was Dr Ritu’s responsibility to design Chandrayaan 2’s autonomy system that enables the satellite to manoeuvre in space. However, could she achieve that without the help of other engineers or the technology that already existed before her? Could she assemble the system in one piece without the team of mechanical, electrical and electronic engineers all of whom are predominantly males helping her? The answer is no, she wouldn’t have done any of those. That is the reason for giving credit to these two women because they are women is completely disgusting.
30% Were Women
It is also said, that in the Chandrayaan 2 mission team 30% were women so women made it possible. This is clearly a baseless and frivolous claim when we remember the public pictures of the mission control room. If those women were really critical to the mission, then they would have been in the mission control room not anywhere else. However, we found only 4/5 women in the control room including the two directors. I am not saying women can’t perform in space mission etc. all I am saying is don’t demean the majority contribution of thousands of male scientists.
It’s all about Creating Role Models
Now the critics like us also need to understand that it is about creating positive female role models in space science. Which is much desired and needed as well. Because even as an MRA I personally believe that women may bring different kind of value than men can bring. It is important that we encourage women to come forward and instil confidence in them that they can. But in a frenzy to do that, we certainly can’t disregard the real contribution of our male scientists and assign all credit to a few women, like is globally done for Apollo 11 mission.
Last Few Words
I know that women scientists in ISRO (or for that matter in any organization) are dignified enough not to bother about these feminist/media hypes. Nor do male scientists bother even if women do get all the benefits described above. We also need to understand that when one is really educated and is involved in such a high-profile mission, one won’t speak up about these biases even if they exist. It’s the feminists and media who will continue doing this for their publicity and activists like us will continue to refute such claims. But even if they (male scientists) don’t speak up, it hurts them when they see their major contribution is overlooked and the credit is given to one/two persons because they are women.
If we give the entire credit to only two women as if they have made it possible then we necessarily delegitimize the credit of thousands of other physicist, engineers, mathematicians, aviation experts, and scientists many of whom might have already accomplished more than what these women scientists have contributed and achieved.
It is important that we understand and refrain from making gender-biased statements regarding our scientists, soldiers, athletes etc. They belong to the whole nation and all of them make us proud. Yes, any achievement of any Indian woman makes us Indian MRAs proud as well. We do share their achievements, make merry, burst crackers in their success. I have also applauded heavily when India launched Chandrayaan 2. But this hypocrisy of giving all credit to a few women of the mission is disgusting, shameful and most degrading for other scientists attached to the moon mission.