Talking Trash Inwards India

When Almitra (Sidhwa) Patel ’58, SM ’59, was inward high school inward Republic of India in the 1940s, girls learned to bake too sew together during the periods when boys learned scientific discipline. But Patel loved biological science, then her father fought to allow her to get the start daughter inwards the science track. “I idea it was embarrassing that he did that, simply I loved the scientific discipline,” Patel says. “I didn’t realize it was a big deal.”

A few years later on, she became the beginning woman from India to earn an engineering grade from MIT. “Fortunately, I never knew I was a pioneer at the time. MIT is stressful enough without that,” says Patel, who was interviewed nigh her early experiences for MIT’second South Asia History Project.

Patel studied Course 9B, general engineering, and earned both an undergraduate grade too a principal’sec in materials scientific discipline inward iii years. “That was a marvelous class, 9B,” she says, noting that the major required her to study a broad reach of technical subjects. “I mean that’second the best thing that ever happened to me.

Having learned “a chip of everything,” equally she puts it, Patel spent 31 years inward manufacture, working primarily on refractory materials for induction furnaces. Then, facing a pollution crisis inward her village, she went on to go ane of India’sec leading environmental activists, taking her contend against municipal dumping all the way to the land’s supreme court.

It may seem a surprising pin for a woman who helped Republic of India to industrialize, simply Patel says, “I am ever on the side of the environment.”

Patel’second MIT studies and initial career focus were deeply influenced by her father—a “series industrialist,” as she calls him—who grew up during British rule inwards Republic of India too worked throughout his life to brand the land self-reliant. He launched several businesses, including 1 that made grinding wheels. For that, he needed an practiced inward refractory ceramics, so he identified one of the best programs in the earth to acquire ceramics at that fourth dimension—the ane at MIT—as well as insisted that his daughter apply

Patel agreed—provided she could starting time written report biological science, which she did equally an undergraduate at the University of Mumbai. She was then accepted into the master’second programme at MIT, although she needed just about prerequisite coursework. That was why she completed the Course 9B bachelor’sec grade as well every bit her master’second. “I appreciate it immediately inwards hindsight,” she says of the rigorous didactics she received at the Institute. “MIT teaches you logical decision-making—rapid conclusion-making amongst whatsoever information you accept.”

This foundation paid off every bit Patel moved dorsum home, joined her family unit’sec suite of businesses, as well as apace worked her style upward to managing partner at i of them—DAKA, a maker of refractory tools, where she served from 1965 until 1991. “My pride and joy was going to the factories as well as learning from the furnace foremen right at the grass roots,” she says. She later gathered the cognition into a book on induction furnaces that was published inwards 5 languages.

After retiring in 1991, she took on a novel challenge: the pollution piling upwardly inwards her hamlet most Bangalore. When she moved there in 1972, agricultural fields filled well-nigh of the 12 kilometers betwixt her habitation together with the city. But then the metropolis began dumping garbage along the roadside. As the piles neared her dwelling, Patel said to herself: “I’thousand going to make something near this garbage.”

She began by working amongst the city of Bangalore, and then joined ii Clean Republic of India campaigns to develop municipalities across the state on hygienic waste material management. She filed populace interest litigation with the supreme courtroom in 1996 and went on to serve on 2 courtroom committees on firm waste product.

“Making the policy has been rattling satisfying, too its achieve has been beyond my comprehension,” she says. Her landmark case led India to constitute its offset rules for firm waste direction inwards 2000; more comprehensive rules were passed inward 2016.

And patch pollution remains a global threat, Patel is keeping at the problem, fifty-fifty in her 80s. “I’m scrap on many fronts,” she says.