No Wasted Lives celebrates women in science: sanjana mohan

5th July 2018

“You’ll become a doctor when you grow up, you serve the poor,” Sanjana Mohan was told by her father. And so she did. She studied to become a medical doctor, and moved into the health sector to help vulnerable communities. Today, she is the director and co-founder of Basic Health Care Services in Udaipur, an organisation that runs health facilities as well as day care centres for children in remote and tribal areas in south Rajasthan.

Inspired by her aunt who was a doctor, and driven by her father’s wish for her to help the vulnerable of society, Sanjana was very lucky to get the support of her family. In India, it is often the families who stop women from pursuing their careers, especially in rural areas where young women experience resistance from their families and communities. The idea that a young woman would leave her community to pursue a career contradicts the mind-set of the elders. Equally, girls are not perceived to be capable to go into science. “A lot of nurses would make wonderful doctors,” says Sanjana, but the parents don’t think that their daughters could.

Not only was Sanjana lucky that her family supported her career ambitions, and accept that she moved to another city to study for her Master’s degree; she was also fortunate to have full support of her husband and his family, which helped her to build a career in science. Traditionally, the husband’s job has priority, and the woman has to take the backseat. Sanjana’s family recognised the importance of her job, and on two occasions, she and her husband decided to live in separate cities in order to pursue both careers.

While Sanjana has seen positive changes in society, this applies only for girls in urban areas. For them, it has become more acceptable to leave their homes to study – or even to go out with friends. Girls are more confident, and parents aren’t as controlling anymore. But the problem persists in rural areas. Families continue to be rigid and controlling, and the difficulties increase further after marriage. “The husband and his family take most of the decisions regarding their career, even for going out of home,” Sanjana rues.

She would like to see more women getting into science in all possible fields, be it medicine or nursing, as well as in classic science disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology. “Families in rural areas need to encourage their daughters to be able to think that they can do it,” Sanjana concludes.

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