Early Life and Education
- Birth and Family Background: Kamala Sohonie (nee Bhagvat) was born on June 18, 1911, in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Her father, Narayanarao Bhagvat, and uncle, Madhavrao Bhagvat, were renowned chemists who had studied at the Tata Institute of Sciences (now IISc).
- Academic Excellence: Sohonie graduated with a BSc degree in Chemistry (principal) and Physics (subsidiary) from Bombay University in 1933, where she topped the merit list. She then applied for an MSc degree at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru, headed by CV Raman.
Run-in with CV Raman
- Discrimination Faced: Raman initially rejected Kamala's application, stating, “I am not going to take any girls in my institute.”
- Determination and Confrontation: Undeterred, Kamala traveled to Bengaluru to confront Raman personally.
- Courageous Challenge: At an event in 1997, Kamala criticized Raman's narrow-mindedness and vowed to complete the course with distinction. Finally, Raman relented but imposed various conditions, including probation and non-recognition of her work until approved by him.
Academic Achievements and Career
- Success at Cambridge: Sohonie completed her PhD at Cambridge University in just 14 months, with a concise thesis of 40 pages. During her time there, she made significant discoveries related to the enzyme ‘Cytochrome C' found in potatoes, which plays a crucial role in cellular respiration.
- Service to India: Returning to India in 1939, Kamala served as the head of the Department of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge College, New Delhi. She later worked at the Nutrition Research Lab in Coonoor as the Assistant Director before joining the Royal Institute of Science in Mumbai.
- Neera and Nutritional Research: Sohonie studied ‘neera,' a drink made from palm extract, on the suggestion of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India's first President. Her research established that neera was rich in Vitamin C and other vitamins, making it a beneficial supplement for malnourished tribal children and pregnant women.
- Milk Quality Improvement: Kamala also collaborated with the Aarey Milk project to enhance the quality of milk production.
Legacy and Recognition
- Rashtrapati Award: Sohonie's pioneering work on neera and her contributions to scientific research earned her the prestigious Rashtrapati Award.
- Changing Perceptions: Kamala's success and determination led CV Raman to alter his opinion about women in science, and he started admitting female students from that year onward.
Personal Life and Passing
- Marriage and Life in Mumbai: In 1947, Kamala married MV Sohonie, an actuary. The couple resided in Mumbai.
- Passing: Kamala Sohonie passed away on June 28, 1998, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of breaking barriers and advancing scientific knowledge.
Kamala Sohonie's remarkable achievements and perseverance paved the way for future generations of Indian women in science, inspiring them to pursue their passions and overcome gender biases.