1st woman to earn a PhD in biochemistry fought against food adulteration and gender bias | Bombay News

Mumbai: In early 1970s Bombay, where the silver foil covering the local gulab jamuns was 98% aluminum, an exhibit at Girgaum – overflowing with fake food dyes, powders filled with sawdust and fake weights – has been debunked. various cooking myths for the “housewife”.
Among those who demonstrated on-site food quality testing at this Consumer Guidance Society of India show was an unassuming scientist who had herself undergone a year-long quality test before to be able to enter the world of men. Kamala Sohonie, then director of the Bombay Institute of Science, had become the country’s first woman with a doctorate in biochemistry in the 1930s.
Physicist CV Raman, then the director of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru who, despite having passed her exams in chemistry and physics from the University of Bombay, was ready to follow in the footsteps of her father and of his uncle, both renowned biochemists. – had rejected his application for a research grant in the 1930s “because he did not consider women competent” at the time.
Angry at being denied admission, the Gandhian-born MP-born daughter of scientist Nayanrao Bhagwat sat down outside Raman’s desk in protest. Raman finally gave in on three conditions: first, she will be on probation for a year until Raman deems her work “worthy”; second, she worked whenever her guide demanded, no matter what time of day; and three, it won’t “spoil the environment” for other researchers.
Within a year, Raman not only deemed the calm Kamala, who studied the nutritional elements of milk, legumes and legumes, worthy of staying as a student, but also played tennis with her. . Kamala wrote to Raman and his wife, then honorary director of the Women’s Hostel, asking for a permanent settlement for more women.
Later, potatoes would lead the nutritionist to a revolutionary discovery. Invited to the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom to work under the supervision of the famous neurochemist Dr Derek Richter, she studied the enzyme “cytochrome C” in potatoes and discovered two things: the enzyme was present in every cell of plant tissue and it was involved in the oxidation of all plant cells.
Her peers encouraged her to apply for a fellowship with Frederick G Hopkins, who had won the Nobel Prize for his work on vitamins. Under his guidance, Kamala wrote his thesis on the enzyme which, unlike typical dissertations, was only 40 pages long. This made her the first Indian biochemist to earn her doctorate in the field in 1939.
Interestingly, on the boat back to India, Kamala was mistaken for a Spanish woman, a report in TOI noted. After the outbreak of war, the Italian ship will be diverted to Singapore, where it will be confined to a hotel by Italians.
Marriage to MV Sohonie, an actuary who proposed to her, brought her to Mumbai in 1947. Here, as a professor at the Royal Institute of Science, she not only worked on the nutritional aspects of pulses but also, at the suggestion of the then President. Rajendra Prasad, began investigating ‘neera’, a popular drink made from palm nectar, pulses and rice flour. Its high vitamin A, C and iron content prompted her to make it an inexpensive dietary supplement for malnourished teenagers and pregnant women in tribal communities, work that won her a Rashtrapati award.
At the Institute of Science, “she was kept out of her rightful position as Director of the Institute for four full years (perhaps due to internal politics),” biographer Vasumati Dhuru wrote about of Kamala in a book on women scientists.
As one of the nine women who established the Consumer Guidance Society Of India, which tested the quality of food in the market, she called the nankhatai biscuits served by the state nutrition program to the children of slums of “unfit” and the quality of items sold in “rotten” ration shops. In 1986, she would show how government milk sold in red-striped bottles was low in fat and stale.
After years of exposing food adulteration and writing books, Kamala collapsed at an event organized by the Indian Council of Medical Research in her honor in 1997 and died aged 86.
Today IISc Bengaluru has several female hostels.

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