Letters From 1936 About the Women’s Hostel


‘We wish to suggest that the Ladies’ Hostel may be permanently located’

Kamala Sohonie, a renowned biochemist, once studied at IISc (Photo courtesy: Anil Sohonie)

Kamala Sohonie (née Bhagvat) studied biochemistry at IISc in the 1930s. She was said to have struggled to gain admission as CV Raman, who was IISc’s Director from 1933-1937, was resistant to allowing women to study at the Institute. In the first of a set of letters recently unearthed in IISc’s archives, we see that Sohonie (who would go on to become Director of the Institute of Science, Mumbai) and two other women students wrote to Raman suggesting that the Institute publicise the fact that women could live on campus. They also demanded that the temporary women’s hostel be made permanent, and that more facilities be provided to them. This document is significant as IISc’s records show that a women’s hostel existed only from 1942 onwards – from this letter, we know that women were provided temporary accommodation on campus even before this.

Though the letter is addressed to Raman, it was delivered to his wife, Lokasundari Raman, who served as Honorary Warden of the Women’s Hostel, who was requested to forward it to him after going through it herself. The last letter reproduced here is from Mrs Raman to Mr Raman, forwarding the womens’ letter with her own comments and thoughts about their demands.

Dear Sir,

We beg to bring to your notice a few matters concerning the Women’s Hostel.

At present, no mention is made in the Calendar regarding the facilities offered by the Institute for the accomodation [sic] of lady students in the premises of the Institute – in a ladies’ hostel under the care of a lady warden. By drawing prominent attention to this fact in the calendar such of those parents who wish to send their daughters to the Institute for research would be encouraged to send them.

Since the Hon. Warden is very busy and finds little time to attend to details pertaining to the hostel, for example the proper maintenance of the rooms and furniture, we wish to suggest two alternatives. (1) An appointment of a person who may be able to attend to the routine matters, (2) or that one of the inmates of the hostel, by turns, may be entrusted with the responsibility of looking into these details. Such an arrangement would also serve to secure contact with the authorities.

We wish to suggest that the Ladies’ Hostel may be permanently located to avoid frequent shiftings which has caused considerable inconvenience to us. On a previous occasion, that is during the last shift, on our return from leave, some of us were driven to awkward situations. One of us went to the old place only to be directed by a kind gentleman to another building. Another of us found some of our belongings in the old building but in a room opened and occupied by someone else. This situation perhaps arose under circumstances over which the authorities had no control, but if a permanent building is put up exclusively for the Ladies’ Hostel, none of us need have to face such awkward situations.

Another matter that we wish to point out is that great difficulties have been encountered to replace servants when they go on leave on account of illness, or for holidays, or when they are dismissed. It is necessary that some measures be taken to replace them immediately. We wish to suggest that there should be some understanding with the Hon. President of the Men Students’ Hostel so that the services of one of the mess boys would be made temporarily available.

No watchman is provided for the Ladies’ Hostel and there had been times when we found the presence of a watchman absolutely necessary, for example, when a theft had taken place in the Hostel and when a murder had happened nearby.

We wish to suggest that the Ladies’ Hostel be provided with a peon to go on necessary errands to the City. If this is not possible, we suggest that the services of the peons of the Men Students’ Hostel or of the Office should be rendered available to us.

We request that some facilities for Indoor Games be provided for the Ladies’ Hostel.

Trusting that you will give the above matters your earnest and sympathetic consideration,

We remain,

Yours obediently,

K Bhagvat

P Devi

M Mather

Members of the Women’s Hostel.

CV Raman (third from left), IISc’s Director from 1933 to 1937, and his wife Lokasundari Raman (Photo courtesy: RRI Digital Repository)

Dear Sir,

I enclose herewith an application received from the members of the Women’s Hostel for your kind consideration.

I may be permitted to point out that the statement made in para 3 of their letter is incorrect. Ever since I accepted the position of Hon. Warden offered to me by the Council, I have made it my duty to devote considerable part of my attention to looking after the comforts of the students entrusted to my care. I therefore find myself unable to support either of the two alternatives mentioned in their letter.

In order to avoid inconvenience to the members, I recommend that their present residence need not be changed any further. The matter of constructing a separate block for them is a matter for decision by the Council, but in my opinion, the present strength of the Hostel does not warrant it.

I do not agree to the transfer of mess boys from the men students’ messes when the cook of the Women’s Hostel is absent or is dismissed. I suggest that the “servant” employed in the Women’s Hostel should be a person who should be able to cook on such occasions when the regular cook is absent.

I recommend that a general servant be appointed for the Women’s Hostel to go on errands during the day and also be a watchman at night. With regard to the statement about the theft of some money from the Hostel from an open drawer, I am inclined to the view that with a little more care on the part of the student the incident would not have happened. I am not aware of any murder happening anywhere near the Women’s Hostel in the past.

With regard to indoor games, I recommend that a suitable sum be provided this year for this purpose which will be sufficient for the present members.

Yours faithfully,

Lokasundari (Raman)

Hon. Warden, Women’s Hostel.

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