Originally published by The Better India – October 2016.
Dr. Chandrani Prasad Verma fought tough odds to become India’s first female mining engineer. This is the story of her struggle, passion, dedication, and success.
There was a time when virtually every profession in the country was dominated by men. But the winds of change have blown steadily but surely to be more inclusive today. Although there are still some professions that are the exclusive preserve of men, sometimes because of the demand of late hours or the physical strength required to tackle the job, women are beginning to enter these fields as well and break every misconception about their ability to work.
Doctors, engineers, politicians, wrestlers, astronauts, and cricketers: name the job and women are everywhere, in every field. But, until this year, there was still one stream of engineering where the law did not allow women to enter: mining engineering.
The Mines Act, 1952, said that women would not be allowed to work in any underground mines and would be allowed to work only on opencast mines between 6 am and 7 pm. Also, restrictions under the Coal Mines Regulations, 1957, would be imposed on women seeking admission to mining engineering courses in colleges.
In May 2016, the Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, declared that it will begin admitting female candidates to its mining engineering programmes from the academic year 2016-17 onwards. Several IITs and other prestigious universities in the country also welcomed this move and opened the doors of their mining engineering courses for female students this year. However, there is one woman who did not wait for the system to change. Instead, she fought it tooth and nail to become the first female mining engineer in India way before the rules and regulations on the subject changed.
Dr. Chandrani Prasad Verma, now a Senior Scientist at CSIR – Central Institute of Mining & Fuel Research [CSIR-CIMFR] – became the first female mining engineer in India in the year 1999.
Chandrani’s father worked as a mining engineer in Western Coalfields Limited, in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. She had always been fascinated by the stories about the mines that her father shared with her. By the time Chandrani was in Class 10, she had made up her mind to pursue a career in mining.
“Once there was a fire inside the mines and my father had to stay in the office for two days. When he came back, he told me how they had handled the situation. Everything seemed so interesting and surprising that I could not wait to work like my father,” recalls Chandrani.
After finishing her schooling in 1992, Chandrani did a diploma course in Mining & Mine Surveying in 1995 from Govt. Polytechnic College, Nagpur.
It was obvious that after her diploma she wanted to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in mining. However, to her surprise, no engineering college would grant her admission in mining engineering.
“People kept suggesting to me that I take up courses in computers or IT, which are more women specific. But I would ask them: ‘Who has decided what is woman specific?’ Besides, my family was always by my side as they knew how passionate I was about mining,” says Dr. Chandrani.
Next, Chandrani and her father contacted a lawyer. A petition was filed that there can be no gender discrimination in education. The proceedings took a year and finally, in 1996, Chandrani got admission in the mining engineering course as a ‘special case’.
“When I went to attend the counselling for my admission in engineering, the professors were shocked to know that I was opting for mining and had ‘wasted’ one year just to do so. They kept insisting that it would be a useless endeavour because I would not get any job after the course. But I just shook my head and asked them to give me admission,” said Chandrani.
Chandrani completed B. E (Mining Engineering) from Ramdeobaba Engineering College, Nagpur, in the first position, with merit, in 1999. She had opened the path for many more girls to follow in her footsteps; after her many girls took up this course and the colleges also did not restrict them.
However, despite being the university topper, Chandrani was not selected for any job during the campus recruitment process, simply because she was a girl.
But her determination to continue down this road did not waver for a second and her spirit remained indomitable. She started working as a lecturer in her college. Simultaneously, she continued on her journey to acquire more degrees in mining. In 2006, she completed her Master’s in Mining Engineering (M.Tech) from Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT), Nagpur.
In December 2015, Chandrani completed her PhD on Web Pillar Design in Highwall Mining under the guidance of Dr. N. R. Thote, Professor, Mining Dept., VNIT, and well known Numerical Modeling Expert, Dr. John Loui Porathur, Principal Scientist, CIMFR, Nagpur.
Chandrani got married in 2007 and had a child in 2008, but she incorporated her family life seamlessly with her professional career, never hesitating to take up new challenges at work.
“Her best quality is that she does not hesitate at all. She is very clear about the fact that she is here to work and she never expects special treatment,” says Dr. Thote, Chandrani’s PhD guide.
Dr. Thote also recalls an incident where Chandrani had to work on the geo-technical testing of around 400 coal samples for her research. Usually, the testing is done by lab technicians who charge money for the same. However, in this case, the lab technicians wanted to charge extra because they did not think Chandrani would be able to manage on her own. But, instead of paying more, Chandrani tied a scarf across her face and entered the lab herself.
Within two months, Chandrani had tested and prepared almost 600 coal samples, all on her own.
Chandrani was the only woman candidate when she went for an interview at CSIR – Central Institute of Mining & Fuel Research. It was a walk-in interview and the candidates had to wait until midnight. Most of the members of the interview panel were hesitant to recruit a female as a research fellow in mining, given the fact that she would have to physically enter the underground mines. But one of the interviewers, Dr. Achyuta Krishna Ghosh, insisted that they recruit Chandrani. He had sensed her passion for mining and was impressed with her determination since she had travelled all the way from Nagpur to Dhanbad and then waited until midnight for an interview.
“It is because of Dr. Ghosh and the support of my family that I am a scientist in CSIR today and am living my dream. He has always encouraged me to go for the toughest challenges,” says Chandrani.
If proof were needed, Chandrani’s courage and dedication show that women can achieve anything they set their minds to. It is just a matter of time before we see more diamonds like Chandrani shining in the mining industry in India.
You can send your wishes to Dr. Chandrani Prasad Verma at firstname.lastname@example.org.