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First IIMA Faculty and Doctorate from US. But They Call Her 'Mistress': Kamla Chowdhry's Unconventional Life

Kamla's photo from IIMA archives.

Kamla's photo from IIMA archives.

Chowdhry was born in Lahore, studied in Shantiniketan, earned a doctorate in social psychology she from Michigan University in 1949 and was the 'first faculty member of IIM'.

Textbooks are replete with contributions of men in science, politics, art and political movements, often rendering a masculine tone to the way we look at history. But what about women? Were they all confined to their homes since history was documented? We have instances and examples to show that it is not the case. Despite this being a man's world, women have contributed with whatever little resources they had.

However, their names and contributions are often shadowed, pushed to a corner and never talked about. Such is the case of Dr Kamla Chowdhry, who was in fact among the first faculty members of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad when it was established in 1961.

But not much is known about her life, work and time at IIMA as is known about her male counterparts. Sexism is what loomed over the greater part of her professional life. Today marks Dr Chowdhary's 100th birth anniversary and an alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad has written an elaborate essay on the "founding mother" of IIMA.

"I first heard of Dr. Kamla Chowdhry in the corridors of Louis Kahn’s red-brick buildings, but not as any kind of pioneer. She was known as Vikram Sarabhai’s mistress," the essay says. Vikram Sarabhai was a scientist and a founding member of the IIMA.

Chowdhry was born in Lahore, studied in Shantiniketan, earned a doctorate in social psychology she from Michigan University in 1949 and was the 'first faculty member of IIM'.

After years of being in oblivion, Chowdhry's contribution is seeing the light of the day. An 8-minute-long documentary on her life has been put out by the IIMA's Archives and Communications team.

"Sexism played a defining role in Chowdhry’s professional life, almost certainly barring her from becoming the first director of the institute she helped found. Now, new archival evidence is showing that she was more central to the IIMA project than has ever been publicly acknowledged," the elaborate essay on her life says.

first published:December 17, 2020, 17:48 IST