Women’s History Roundtable: Anitha S.: “Be our voice” (March 9, 2013)


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Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

Ms Anitha S. has spent a considerable amount of time in Idinthakarai, the village which plays home to the struggle against the establishment of the nuclear power plant in Koodankulam. She told us that even though the media only picked up the struggle against ‘KK’ recently, the protest has been ongoing since 1988. The movement was started by the National Fishworkers’ Federation, as the proposed site for KK was a violation of an integral part of the coastal zone.

On September 9th and 10th, 2012, the police lathi charged a group of peaceful protesters from Idinthakarai, after which the village came into the news. The villagers had undertaken a sathyagraha march from their village to the power plant. In addition to lathi charges, the police resorted to outdated methods of suppressions including tear gas. Even after this incident, no official representative of the government visited Idinthakarai to explain the situation to the community.

Ms Anitha herself came into contact with the movement through Mr SP Udayakumar. She is a marine biologist, and noted that the Gulf of Mannar (100 km away from KK) is a bioreserve.

Ms Anitha told us that the bulk of the protesters are women, as are a number of the leaders. These women are able to lead the movement effectively, and Ms Anitha feels that this is a consequence of their extraordinary ability to communicate and listen actively.

These women leaders of the movement have five basic concerns:

  1. What would be the impact of the power plant on the health of women and children?
  2. What would be the impact of KK on the ocean, soil and air?
  3. How would it affect the livelihoods of the local community (mostly fisherfolk)?
  4. In geological terms, how safe is the area from natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, etc?
  5. What are the inter-governmental agreements signed by India with Russia? Especially since Russia has refused to ratify the liability clause of the agreement.

Studies by private groups have shown that there is likely to be a negative impact on all these areas.

The protesters have also demanded that the government provides written assurance that the energy produced by KK will be used exclusively for civilian power needs. The government of India has refused to provide this assurance, as these documents are ‘secret’ and under the direct purview of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The struggle took on a new phase after the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, with more media coverage. Post-Fukushima, various international bodies have imposed more stringent guidelines to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants. There are 17 conditions, and KK currently fulfills 6 of them. The Government has announced that in 2 years, all 17 will be fulfilled. However, they don’t seem to have a plan for the interim period.

There have been a number of disturbing incidents during the testing phase in KK. In March 2012, trial runs held in the plant produced sounds loud enough to be heard by the surrounding villages.

As per national standards, there should be a radius of 16 km around a nuclear power plant within which no habitation is permitted. However, at KK, the nearest house in 500 metres away from the walls of the power plant. These houses were a part of the rehabilitation settlements built after the tsunami in 2004 – which raises the issue of the seismological safety of the area.

The Atomic Energy Minister has predicted that by 2025, 25% of the country’s energy needs can be met by nuclear power. However, in order for this to be achieved, there needs to be a power plant at 25 km intervals along the coastline.

Ms Anithapointed out that if the government accedes to the protesters’ demands to shut down KK, they might have to do the same in other nuclear power plants across the country. Additionally, India stands to lose an enormous amount of money if we pull out of various deals to import Uranium from other countries.

Currently, Idinthakarai is in a state of constant and systematic protests involving hunger strikes, dharnas, awareness-raising meetings around the country, etc.

Ms Anitha emphasized the social change which has come about as a result of the protest. Women have emerged as leaders in the area, caste barriers are broken, conflict between the Church and the Temple no longer exists; all this has contributed to create a homogenized society in Idinthakarai.

Women’s History Roundtable: Sarada Ramani: “Women in the IT Sector: Trends, Challenges, Opportunities”


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Rapporteur: Archana Venkatesh

October 13, 2012: RoundTable Seminar: Sarada Ramani

Women in the IT Sector: Trends, Challenges, Opportunities

Ms Ramani began her seminar on Women and the IT Sector with a short history of the evolution of the computer industry. She took us through Pascal’s adding machine, Babbage’s Differential Machine, IBM and Apple.

Ms Ramani pointed out a few highlights in the evolution of computers in which women played a significant role. The first woman programmer was Ada Lovelace, who was an analyst working on Charles Babbage’s analytical engine in 1842. The next documented step taken by women in the world of computer programming came nearly a century later, when American women worked on ballistics calculations during World War Two. In 1943, the wives of scientists at Los Alamos computerized the Manhattan Project. In 1946, a team of women were part of the original team behind ENIAC, the first electronic general purpose computer. Later in 1949, Grace Hopper invented the root language of COBOL, which is still used in some programs. In 1962, Jean Sammet became the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery. Mary Allen Wilkes became the first person to use a personal computer in 1965. Also in 1965, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was the first woman to complete a Ph.D. in Computer Science.

The Indian IT industry came into existence in the 1960s, when India acquired computers from the (then) USSR. In 1968, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) came into existence. In 1975, the National Informatics Centre was established. In 1976, the Computer Maintenance Corporation (CMC) was formed. In a bid to indigenize computer products, CMC acquired all the machines from IBM after IBM pulled out of India in 1978. 1986 saw the creation of the Wide Area Network. In 1991, the Ministry of Electronics was set up (currently the Ministry of Information and Communications). During the same year, STPIs (Software Technology Parks of India) was set up. STPI meant that an organization could have an office without a physical space. The first e-mail server, VSNL, was set up in 1991. The National Telecomm Policy was formulated in 1999. In 1998, the IT industry comprised 1.2% of the GDP, and 4% of exports. These figures have increased significantly over the next 15 years. In 2012, the IT industry comprised 7.5% of the GDP and 25% of exports.

Coming to the presence of women in IT today, Ms Ramani pointed out that women generally score higher on the 16 competencies exemplified in leaders. In spite of this, there is still a significant gender gap in leadership positions in the IT world. Only 4.9% of all board directors are women. Only 22.6% of people employed in IT organizations are women, and women make up 36% of the organized labour force. These figures are reflected in the IT industry as well, where there still exists a large gender gap. It should be noted that at the entry level, 72% of employees are women; but at the top of the pyramid, only 7% of top management comprises of women.

Ms Ramani then told us a little about eWIT – an organization of women in IT. It is a platform to facilitate the interchange of ideas and provide a voice for women in the IT industry. eWIT works to increase the percentage of women in the IT industry, and improve the movement of women from lower to higher levels in the organization. It is a 7 year old NGO, and was formed by women in the industry.

eWIT works in many areas, including research and consulting, networking and academic initiatives. As part of their work in research and consulting, eWIT partners with the Computer Society of India (CSI) to conduct various programs highlighting the roles of various stakeholders in the IT industry. eWIT also does research on leadership and women, and the changes which are required for women to access leadership roles. They also consult with large corporate organizations to identify best practices to understand and mitigate problems faced by women in the workplace.

Networking serves to increase the sustainability of the workforce, and understand why women tend to leave jobs. eWIT has launched the Role Model series, in which women in senior positions talk about the challenges that they face and how they move forward. eWIT also holds panel discussions about various topics related to women and the workplace.

eWIT also runs 2 programs a year in colleges to impart entrepreneurship and employability skills to college students.

Ms Ramani concluded the discussion with a list of Best Practices which should be implemented in all organizations in order to encourage an increased percentage of women in the workforce.