Sudha Murthy – Computer scientist, engineer and philanthropist

“I went there on the stage and the 3,000 of them, who were now leading normal lives, wanted to hear from me and I was absolutely speechless. The tears started to flow and I quoted a shloka (passage) from Ramayana: ‘God… don’t make me rich, don’t make me beautiful, don’t make me a queen. If at all you want to give me anything, give me a soft heart and a strong hand, so I can wipe the tears of others.’ At that moment, I realised why I was born, and it gave me a tremendous amount of peace.”Sudha Murthy on her speech to a group of 3000 rehabilitated sex workers, whom she helped escape abuse through her philanthropic efforts

Profile

sudha_murthy.png
Sudha Murthy in front of the Infosys Foundation logo [11]
Name: Sudha Murthy (born Kulkarni)

Life: Born 19th August 1950 (age 69), Karnataka

Degrees:

B.E. in Electrical Engineering (KLE Technological University)

M.E. in Computer Science (Indian Institute of Science)

Occupation: Computer scientist and engineer, Chairperson of Infosys Foundation [1][2][4]

Early Life:

Sudha Kulkarni was born in Shiggaon, Karnataka, India to Dr. R. H. Kulkarni (a surgeon) and Vimala Kulkarni. Her older sister Sunada is a distinguished doctor, her other sister Jayshree graduated from the Indian Institute in Technology, and her brother Srinivas Kulkarni is a renowned astrophysicist (who is currently a professor of astronomy and planetary science at Caltech) – showing her parents’ devotion to making academic success the central component of their children’s lives. Even from an incredibly young age, her resolve to help others improve academically was clear to see – she taught her own grandmother (who was illiterate) to read and write at the tender age of twelve! (This was later mentioned in a short story written by Sudha herself.)[1][2][3][4][5]

 

After completing her secondary education, in 1968 she started her B.E. at KLE Technological University in Hubli, Karnataka. In later interviews and memoirs she recalls how

“There was no toilet for girls in my college because girls never went to engineering colleges…  I was the first girl to study engineering which was considered a male domain in Hubli.”[2]

 

Friends of her parents and neighbours tried to discourage her parents from allowing their daughter to pursue her degree stating “Nobody would marry an engineering graduate.” There were no women in the entirety of the engineering college, and it took a year and a half after her starting her course for a women’s lavatory to be built on the premises. She was “ragged mercilessly” by the 250 men in her class, but she never missed a single day of lectures in the five years of her course stating that I knew if I was absent even for a day there would be no one to share that day’s notes with me.” [2][11] Her persistence and diligence shone through and she graduated first in her class and received a gold medal from the Chief Minister of Karnataka.  She then went on to complete an M.E. in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Science, yet again graduating first in her class and receiving a gold medal from the Indian Institute of Engineers.[1][2][4][5]

 

Engineering career at Telco

During the last semester of her Master’s degree, Sudha had initially decided to study abroad for a PhD at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when she came across a notice at her college from Telco (Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company), a giant multinational Indian automotive company, responsible for manufacturing vehicles for transport and automotive design.

The notice read “Telco Pune wants young, bright, hard working engineers. There will be a campus interview … Lady students need not apply.” [1][2][11]

Angered, Sudha wrote to Telco expressing her disappointment in the company she had looked up to as a titan of the engineering industry. A week after she sent them her message, she received a letter inviting her to attend an interview at Telco at their expense.

After the interview, the panel explained to her why they did not want women employed at Telco, citing the fact that “training would be wasted when the girl marries and quits her job to go live with her husband”. Sudha then asked the panel how many of them were married, and challenged their hypocrisy. A week later she was offered a job and she officially joined Telco Pune in 1974. She was the first female engineer to work on the shop floor on Telco and in her words “To say the environment was hostile is an understatement. The men were rude and refused to take orders from me as a woman.”[2] After working as a Development Engineer in Pune, and also in Mumbai, she then worked at the Walchand Group of Industries at Pune as a Senior Systems Analyst.[1]   

Creation of The Infosys Foundation 

In 1996 she started The Infosys Foundation, a not-for-profit initiative which supports programs in the areas of education, rural development, healthcare, arts and culture and destitute care in underprivileged, remote areas of India. The American branch of the Infosys Foundation, Infosys Foundation USA, also supports several STEM and community building initiatives throughout the US. The healthcare side of Infosys has not only donated money to expand the capacity of and construct hospitals across India, but has also focused on expanding mental health resources in Bangalore. Sudha herself has highlighted the importance of helping underprivileged women (and their children) in rural areas, as in these areas patriarchy has a larger role. She personally travels to 800 villages across India, overseeing the construction of orphanages, rehabilitation centres, schools, science centres and 70,000 libraries.[6][7][8][9] The Computer Science and Engineering department at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and the law library at NLSIU were both endowed by the Infosys Foundation.[1]

Alongside being a Trustee of the Infosys Foundation, she is a Visiting Professor at the Post Graduate Centre of Bangalore University. She is also a prolific fiction author in both Kannada (the language of the state of Karnataka) and English, and has published 37 books which espouse her philosophy and views on hospitality and charity through narrative fiction. [1][3]

 

Sudha Murthy’s brilliance as an engineer and scientist is self-evident as throughout her life, even from childhood, she has relentlessly dedicated herself to her work and the pursuit of knowledge, pushing aside the barrier of gender discrimination that stood in her way. She forced Telco, a titan of industry both then and now, to open up its doors to women engineers, paving the way for thousands of women who would follow in her steps and work there.

She also understands the needs of those who are massively underprivileged, and how this disproportionately affects remote, rural parts of India, which so often get left behind. She is a trailblazer in her field, who battled with so much sexism yet achieved so much – every scientist should aspire to be as diligent, determined, empathetic and multifaceted as she is!

 

Full list of honours and awards bestowed upon Sudha Murthy:

  • Gold Medal from the Indian Institute of Engineers, India for having secured the 1st Rank in MTech of all the branches of Engineering
  • Gold Medal from the Chief Minister of Karnataka Sri Devaraj Urs, for securing the highest marks in B.E. of all the Universities of Engineering in Karnataka
  • Cash award for having secured the highest marks in SSLC
  • C S Desai Prize for standing first in University Exams of Karnataka
  • Youth Service Department Prize from Government of Karnataka, for having been the outstanding engineering student of Karnataka
  • 1995: Best Teacher Award in 1995 from the Rotary Club of Bengaluru
  • National Award from Public Relation Society of India for outstanding Social Service to the Society
  • ‘Attimabbe’ award for her technical book in Kannada (Shaale Makkaligagi Computer _ meaning computers for school children)
  • Award for Excellent Social Service by Rotary South – Hubli
  • 2000: ‘Karnataka Rajyotsava’ State Award for the year 2000, for achievement in the field of literature and social work
  • 2001: ‘Ojaswini’ award for excellent social work for the year 2000
  • ‘Millenium Mahila Shiromani’ award
  • 2004 Raja-Lakshmi Award by Sri Raja-Lakshmi Foundation in Chennai
  • 2006: She also received the R.K. Narayana’s Award for Literature.
  • 2011: Murthy was conferred honorary LL.D (Doctor of Laws) degrees for their contributions to promote formal legal education and scholarship in India.
  • 2013: Basava Shree-2013 Award was presented to Narayan Murthy & Sudha Murthy for their contributions to society at Basaveshwara Medical College auditorium.
  • 2018: Murthy received the Life Time Achievement Award at the Crossword-Raymond Book Awards.
  • 2019: Sudha Murthy received “Hemmeya-Kannadiga” award from television.
  • 2019: IIT Kanpur awarded her Honorary Degree (Honoris Causa) of Doctor of Science.
  • She won a very honourable award “Padma Shri” (Fourth highest civilian award given by the Republic of India)

 

References:

References are categorised by the following types:

🗒️= Written

🎧= Audio

💻= Video

[1] 🗒️Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudha_Murty

[2] 🗒️Infosys article on Sudha Murthy: http://nipun.servicespace.org/inspire/infosys.html

[3] 🗒️Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_I_Taught_My_Grandmother_to_Read

[4] 🗒️Quartz article by Sudha Murthy:

https://qz.com/india/1038178/sudha-murthy-wife-of-infosys-founder-nr-narayana-murthy-recalls-being-only-girl-in-her-engineering-college/

[5] 🗒️YourStory interview with Sudha Murthy: https://yourstory.com/herstory/2019/03/philanthropist-sudha-murty-women-mission-2019-48f3izxrxd

[6] 🗒️The Hindu Centre article:

https://www.thehinducentre.com/the-arena/current-issues/article25633350.ece

[7]🗒️Infosys Foundation article:

https://www.infosys.com/infosys-foundation/newsroom/csr-funding-came-boon-to-us.html

[8]🗒️Infosys Foundation “About Us” page:

https://www.infosys.com/infosys-foundation/about.html

[9] 🗒️Time of India article on Infosys:

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/Infosys-chief-Narayan-Murthy-rejects-govt-offer/articleshow/2017881441.cms?referral=PM

[10] 🗒️The Hindu article on Sudha Murthy:

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/women-should-believe-in-themselves-sudha-murthy/article2234665.ece

[11] 🗒️Mygoodtimes.in article:

https://www.mygoodtimes.in/lifestyle/trending-now/sudha-murthy-reveals-the-three-conditions-imposed-on-her-while-she-was-in-college/

Additional Resources:

💻 A beautifully moving talk given by Sudha Murthy at CITRIS (The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) about her story and her motivations behind her philanthropic work. 

 

 

Authors Note:

It was my mother who introduced me to Sudha Murthy and her work – Sudha appeared on the Indian version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?” (Kaun Banega Crorepati) and watching her talking about everything she accomplished with such humility and grace inspired me to write about her. I highly recommend following Infosys Foundation India https://twitter.com/Infy_Foundation and Infosys Foundation USA https://twitter.com/InfyFoundation for updates on her foundation’s charitable work.

For more information on POC scientists please visit our resources page or read through the rest of our blog. We are constantly updating both.

Written by Pruthvi Mehta. For more information see the about page or follow her on Twitter @q_the_ordinary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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