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JoSAA Counselling 2022: Are IITs safe for women? Which engineering branch is suitable for girls? Professors answer FAQs by female aspirants

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Mechanical engineering is not for women; don’t join an IIT, there are hardly any women there; be ready to face comments if you’re taking admission under the supernumerary quota for girls. If you are a woman aspiring to join the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), statements such as these may have caused confusion.

With an aim to cancel all such notions, IIT Bombay conducted an ‘Open House’ session for women who qualified JEE Advanced this year to help them understand academics and life at the institute better. The session, which was held online on Tuesday, had an elaborate panel of professors and students addressing apprehensions and questions from female aspirants and their parents about the environment, opportunities, and safety measures at IIT Bombay.

The panel included Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of the IIT Bombay, Suryanarayana Doolla, Chairman JEE Advanced, Prita Pant of metallurgy engineering department, Pooja Purang, convenor of the gender cell at IIT Bombay, Preeti Jyoti of the computer science engineering department and students Aarushi Chaudhary, Divyashree Tambade, Kirti Agrawal, and Vidushi Verma.

Here are a few questions answered by the panel:

Are there any engineering branches that are not suitable for women?

This is absolutely not true. Only you can decide what works for you. And you are only restricting yourself by asking such a question. One important thing to remember here is that this is your first degree and only the beginning of your career. Getting an IIT degree may seem like the ultimate destination after the grueling process of JEE preparations, but this is not the end. Make use of every opportunity that comes your way based on your interests and abilities. See what you are good at and go ahead with it.

The panel for this session was carefully decided to show how normal it is to have women in various branches of engineering — be it civil, mechanical, chemistry or metallurgy. It is important to not decide on any preconceived notions promoted by society and movies. Another important factor is that different fields of engineering have evolved with time.

For example, in the case of mechanical engineering, it is assumed that one will have to stand in workshops for hours together or, in the case of civil engineering, the candidate is supposed to build. Even as these are the core aspects of the said branches, there are so many new aspects and opportunities within them now.

What is the experience of studying in a classroom with a skewed gender ratio?

Women make up about 18 to 20 per cent of every classroom. This means that there are enough girls on campus and there’s no need to feel scared. More so, there is no gender-based discrimination in any branch of engineering. There are equal opportunities for all genders. You can work with professors or on student-run activities in different branches that are of your interest and this is purely based on merit and aptitude.

Do students witness misogyny or sexism on campus?

We cannot say that there is no discrimination at all in society at large. People in the institute also come from the same social settings. You may experience that certain things are said just because you are a woman. There could be instances when you encounter sexist behaviour. But it is important to note that there are systems or offices in place to address these situations. Apart from offices such as the gender cell at IIT Bombay, there are also student representatives who you can reach in case of any complaint. With awareness and sensitisation, we have been trying very hard to reduce if not eliminate such incidents. It is important to reach out and speak up, there is an entire support system prepared to help you.

Is there any feeling of bias toward female candidates coming in through the supernumerary quota with lower scores?

There is absolutely no such feeling of being looked down upon by your peers on campus. Everybody is provided with equal platforms and opportunities everywhere, be it in academics, extracurriculars, internships or placements. It is very important to not have this feeling of inferiority. With every change in the system, there are going to be differences of opinion. But with time, change happens and the initiative of female supernumerary seats is being appreciated now. We have to look at it positively as the campus is a lot more vibrant now.

What about the safety of female students on campus?

The safety of women on campus is of utmost importance. While restricted entry exists and regular monitoring ensures safety from external threats, there are 24X7 security systems for each hostel too, including those for girl students. The campus is extremely safe to move around freely. There is no dress code imposed by the administration. More so, we work toward bringing greater gender amity on campus. Student representatives are actively encouraged to organise initiatives around gender equality. Sexual harassment of any form – physical, or verbal is dealt with seriously. While there are proactive measures, in case of a complaint, the gender cell responds within 24 to 48 hours with support and protection to the victim. There is a quick response team available 24X7 if you are in any uncomfortable situation on campus at any time. These teams are easily accessible.

What steps have been taken to make the campus more inclusive for the LGBTQ community and to ensure that there is no discrimination?

There is already a mechanism in place – the gender cell which works for all genders. The gender cell does not look at gender harassment in terms of one gender alone. We work toward providing measures for the prevention of sexual harassment of students of all genders. There is also a special students’ body named ‘Saathi’ that caters to the LGBTQ community on campus. They are always open and supportive to talk about issues and also help deal with issues. It organises a lot of events and discussions regarding the LGBTQ community and you can definitely be part of it either as an LGBTQ member or an ally.

Do you have any mental health counselling on campus and does it include female counsellors?

There is a lot of importance given to mental health issues faced by students. There is a student wellness centre with six counselors and the majority of them are women. They can be approached for any issue that you may be facing at the IIT Bombay. Apart from this, there is also an in-house hospital having mental health medical professionals. In addition to this, there are several other student support mechanisms, the most important being the student mentor program. Every student is allotted a mentor of the same gender in the first year. They are carefully selected to help freshers in transition. The student mentor program also holds a lot of events to encourage dialogue and discussions to help fresh students.

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