By Sahana Ghosh
A hammer and compass in hand, India's women geologists are literally rocking it. Notwithstanding the dangers of remote environments, encounters with wild animals, limited access to toilets and the occasional "detention" by left-wing extremists in disturbed areas, these women of the Geological Survey of India have evened out the odds to carve out success stories.
Now standing tall at 40% of total workforce at India's premier geological survey body, they do not hesitate to get their hands dirty.
Forty-year-old Kasturi Chakraborty, a petrologist, says it's a good time for women to chase a career in geology.
"Earlier, women were mostly associated with lab work in geology. Now the mindset has changed and we are seeing more and more women on the field. Interest in the field is gender neutral... one has to harbour a love for nature," Chakraborty, Superintending Geologist, Petrology Division, Eastern Region, GSI, told IANS in Kolkata.
Whether it was during the time of Etheldred Benett (1776-1845), one of the first women geologists, or to the present day, sociological, logistical and political issues remain. Chakraborty advocates three Ps for making the cut: passion, professionalism and personality.
A sense of humour also helps when a geologist has to get started on a dig: examine satellite and other data about the terrain, arrange transport, set up base camp, hire labourers, inform police of your presence, know your danger zones (Maoist or extremism hit areas), break rocks, collect samples, analyse data.
And all this time (it could be a few months at a stretch) one is away from one's family and friends.
Riding on nearly two decades of experience, Chakraborty, who has worked in South India and is now involved in projects in East Singbhum in Jharkhand, believes the suspense of what's waiting for them in the terrain eggs them on to move past the challenges.
"As a parent, one has to groom the child to understand and adapt to the fact that the parent will be away for weeks or even months on end," says Chakraborty, who has a nine-year-old daughter.
Debjani Raychaudhuri, who studies meteorites and has primarily worked in the interiors of Bihar, draws attention to the toilet conundrum.
"As a lady, I feel Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swacch Bharat is of absolute necessity. It's really tough sitting there for hours and waiting to go back to my camp and get a chance. In the interiors, there is nothing," she lamented.
Other problems are "tackleable".
"Many officers including myself were detained by Maoists... they never harm you. They offered me cashews, raisins etc. They know us as the 'pathhar kankar wale' (stones and rock people). After sunset, they dropped us off at our site. You don't misbehave, they don't misbehave," the 32-year old explained.
Arya Ghosh, whose interest in the field was sparked by Sudipta Sengupta, one of the first Indian women to visit Antarctica on an expedition, makes it a point to apprise local police of their work in a particular area.
She also felt "courageous" enough to complete a project in Nayagarh district in Odisha that had been abandoned following extremist violence.
"I love to do this so I don't view them as obstacles. The scientific objective is my priority and I am willing to go to the extent to bring it to fruition... keeping one's safety in mind," says Ghosh, who works in metamorphic petrology.
Ghosh points out the misconception that girls are not hardy enough to handle some physically demanding projects that still exist in some cases, but it dissolves once you show what you are capable of.
As for gender-based discrimination, Raychaudhuri and Chakraborty say it's work that matters in the end. The trio say fitness is a must. So are knife, hammer, antiseptics.
"Every now and then you read about NASA. Our ISRO missions have proved to the world what we are capable of. We are equally able and learning more through geology would help highlight our prowess even more," Raychaudhuri added, urging youngsters to go out more and explore nature.
The perks of the job: finding out something new, exploring nature, friendly locals, picking up local dialects and the satisfaction to have contributed to building India.
(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)