Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Meet Our GEMS: Preeti Aghalayam

by Meera Srikant

Preeti is a Professor in Chemical Engineering & the Chairperson, Women's Forum, at IIT Madras. She has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and has worked as Assistant and Associate Professor at IIT Bombay. A life-time running addict, Preeti participates in several marathons and half marathons through the year. She is also on the organising committee of The Wipro Chennai Marathon, 2014, and a member of the vibrant Chennai Runners club. She is passionate about books, running, women's issues, and math, and is forever being put in her place by her 10-year old daughter (and resident critic). She shares why Prajnya campaign is important to her..

Why is this issue important to you?

I have specifically chosen to concentrate on the issue of raising awareness on safety on the streets for the increasing number of women runners we have in our midst. I am an extremely passionate runner, and as part of the organising team of several running events, I have discovered that one big reason women hesitate to get out into the open air for their exercise is that they feel unsafe. I have lived in several cities in the US and India, and have always managed to find the opportunity to enjoy the primal experience that running is, and I want to spread that joy. On a somewhat parallel note, as a professor, I also hope that my participation will enthuse my students, the younger generation, to come out and take up these issues and use their boundless energy and intelligence to come up with solutions.

What is it you feel most strongly about?

I want to feel safe, and free, and happy. I love my adopted city Chennai. I feel like it has a certain something, hard to put into words. The weather is terrible, and there are so many annoyances, but still, it has this character that I love - an unexpected congruence of the traditional and modern. I strongly feel that it has the potential to show the rest of the country, the world, how a metropolis ought to be. I want to make that happen - in my own small way - by ensuring that it is safe for all of us, to, say, enjoy a sweaty morning run in the semi-darkness of dawn, if we so wish, in various parts of this beautiful city.

Tell us about your activity and what you hope to do with it

First, a small group of us will conduct a Safety Audit in the area that we frequent a lot (Alwarpet), and populate the SafetiPin app with this information, from an early morning runner/walker perspective. Second, I have put together a small FB/Twitter campaign with the tag #RunSafe that will (hopefully!) get people talking about various issues they have faced in the past, and what solutions they think are possible. There are a handful of safety issues that are not exclusive to women, and a bit more to do with being on foot in roads that are increasingly taken over by vehicles, hopefully we will talk about that as well. Finally, I hope that towards the end of the campaign, there will be an opportunity to implement at least a few of the suggestions that emerge, and in addition to talking about it, demonstrate some action. 

Three things you would suggest to keep these individual actions going

I think involving the City administration in this activity is key, obviously. I am confident that they will be supportive.
I also feel that every institution could and should commit to examining their environs from a safety perspective, and individuals can champion this, perhaps as a New Year pledge.

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