The struggle for gender equality and women’s rights is not just for International Women’s Day. It’s the everyday stories of women speaking up and winning that inspire us and Sudha Murthy has been an icon for each and every woman out there. Because she always mustered the courage to change things around her.
In 2019, she appeared as a guest on the finale episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati. She shared a lot of stories on the show and also won ₹25,00,000. One such story was of her becoming the first woman engineer of her village and then the first female engineer at TELCO.
Her decision to study engineering in late 1960s was a revolutionary. She was the only girl in her class and it was not easy for her to fight her family.
In 1968, I decided to go for engineering. My grandmother said you cannot do this, then nobody will marry into our community. A lot of people had opinions to give, but I decided I will go. There were 599 boys, I was the only girl.
While the principal of the college gave her admission based on merit, he put forth three conditions: One, that she should wear only sarees. Second, she could not go to the canteen, and third, she could not talk to boys.
Elaborating on her response to all these conditions put forward by the principal, she said:
I agreed to the first condition, I said, okay I will wear sarees. Second, the canteen was so bad, I wouldn’t have gone anyway. About the third condition of not talking to boys in college, for one year, I did not talk to them. Then when I secured first rank, in the second year, they only came to me to talk.
On completing her engineering, she landed a scholarship to study in the US, but things changed when she came across a male-exclusive job opening at TELCO (currently known as Tata Motors).
1974 March mahina tha. Main M.Tech. final year mein thi. Main ek class se aa rahi thi maine ek notice padha. TELCO requires young bright engineers and the salary range was 1500…. But lady students need not apply… Mujhe bahot gussa aa gaya.
Furious and determined and not knowing whom to approach, she wrote a postcard to JRD Tata. At that time she didn’t even know his address, so she just sent it to JRD Tata, TELCO, Mumbai.
Main IISc mein padhi thi. Humare foundation day par JRD Tata aate the… Unko ek khat likha… Aap kaise bol sakte hai lady students need not apply. Humari society me 50% ladies hai. Aisa kiya toh humari society upar nahi aa sakti.
The letter apparently managed to reach JRD Tata and he ensured that even women got the interview call, no matter what the final outcome was. Sudha qualified for the job and decided to take it up instead of choosing a scholarship in America.
And that’s how she became the first woman engineer to work at TELCO.