Dr. Gayatri Saberwal
For most people, the lockdowns in the last few months have been something new. But I had a dry run last year, when I was at home for 3 months, generally in a wheelchair. It wasn’t so bad. We spend most of our time sitting anyway, so how does it matter if the chair has wheels? Yes, things are a little more clumsy and time-consuming, but since one saves so much time not doing the normal things – such as commuting – it is not a huge inconvenience. Remember this, all you young people, who don’t yet have to deal with bodily malfunctions! A positive attitude will take you a long way.
I was required to do physiotherapy every two hours, and the only way I could motivate myself to do so was to sample YouTube widely. On one of my excursions I chanced upon Justice Markandey Katju, a former judge of the Supreme Court. I had, of course, heard of him, but hadn’t ever listened to his views on anything. He is mind-bogglingly knowledgeable, about matters around the world. It is also fun to listen to him because he calls a spade a spade, if not a bloody spade. One of his favourite phrases is tumhara sur gobar se bhara hua hai (your head is full of cow dung), and he has no hesitation saying this even to senior people, in positions of authority.
In one of his talks he said something that I thought I would share with you. He gave a talk at IIT-Kanpur in 2016 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwLZjqexFQM), and in the Q&A session (at around 1’ 25”), asked a question. Should there be equality between men and women, and if so, why? He seemed to want to answer the question himself, which he did. In agricultural societies, there was need for hard labour. Since, on average, men are physically stronger than women, they had to do the agricultural work. Furthermore, in the absence of birth-control measures, women bore about one child per year, and virtually every woman had 15-20 children, although most of them died young. So, for a lot of the time, the women’s capacity to do physical labour was further reduced. Therefore, society evolved a division of labour, where men went out to do the hard labour and women stayed at home and looked after the children and did the domestic work. In today’s society, so much depends on the computer. You even control the launch of a missile through clicks. So, physical strength (for many areas of work) is no longer the key asset. And IQ tests show that, on average, women are as intelligent as men. Therefore, there should be equality between the genders. I liked Justice Katju’s remarks. If women feel inferior to men, it is often because society tells them this (from a very young age). Women are often far less ambitious than men. And for this I give an example. Many years ago, I heard that in medical school admissions in the US, both boys and girls may fail at their first attempt. Girls tend to give up at this stage, where boys will try two or three more times. So, if the class holds more boys, it is just because they persisted more. They didn’t assume – as I’m sure many of the girls did – that they weren’t good enough. I have also noticed this phenomenon myself, although in other contexts. It is a loss of talent for a country, and the world, if anyone believes they are inferior merely because society tells them so. It need not be gender – it could be race, caste, religion, language spoken, physical disability, or any of numerous other categories. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are inferior and stand up for those who are told they are. Draw inspiration from the courageous voices of the Black Lives Matter movement that is spurring positive change in the US right now. My remarks about gender, at least, are also very much directed at the young men in the graduating class. The women will struggle and fight, but they do need support. So, stand up for the women in your family, among your peers, or even for women you don’t know if you believe their cause is just. You will be a better human being. So, graduating class: I’m sure you realize, and may realize it even more in a few years, that IBAB has given you a nice platform to launch a career. You’ve acquired knowledge, skills, friends, mentors, a network and maybe even hobbies while on campus. You’ve mixed with people from all parts of the country. Most of you have had the enriching experience of living in a hostel, where diverse conversations lead to new insights and perhaps views on things. As you go out into the world, grow! Don’t stop learning.