The Google doodle of the day celebrating the 153rd birth anniversary of Rukhmabai Raut — one of the first practicing female doctors in colonial India and the woman who took a firm stand against the norm of husband’s claim over the wife, regardless of her consent, — is the latest in a slew of trailblazing Indian women to be recalled and felicitated by the search giant. Among the recently featured were India’s first woman advocate Cornelia Sorabjee, social activist Anasuya Sarabhai, Kathak legend Sitara Devi, Hindustani singer Begum Akhtar and chemist Asima Chatterjee — not household names but copiously deserving to be recalled for the pathbreaking contributions of their lived lives. The cute, fun animations — some country-specific and some global — have become a lively feature of Google’s daily presence in the last few years and are a great little dose of daily history. The company has brought guest illustrators on board to do more than 2,000 and counting.
The first doodle came about as a comical, out-of-office message by its founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin on August 30,1998 — less than a week before Google was officially incorporated as a company. The founders were going to attend the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert and left behind its insignia — a spare stick figure — behind the second “o” of “Google”. The design was simple, however as Google would note its history of the doodle, it opened the door to the idea of decorating the company logo to celebrate notable events. The doodles, at first, focused on familiar holidays; eventually, they came to include everything from global and niche histories to celebrations of mundane delights like hole punch and an ice-cream sundae.
The ideas came from brainstorm sessions of Google employees as well as Google users, who are encouraged to email proposals to the team of doodlers, aka the illustrators and engineers responsible of daily Google doodles. The selection process, according the About page of doodle, “aims to celebrate interesting events and anniversaries that reflect Google’s personality and love for innovation”.
The 2010s increasingly saw Google at the crossroads of issues of inclusion and representation of women and minorities off-and-online. The company was held at a high standard was under-utilising its global platform to highlight women’s largely-unknown contributions to creativity, innovation and justice. An analysis of the Doodle database by SPARK movement, a girls advocacy group, between 2010 to 2013 revealed sexism. The research found that out of the accounted 445 personalities, 62 per cent were white men, while women accounted for about 17 per cent and women of color just 4 per cent of the doodles. The study noted that while the “designs have come a long way, the white male-centric focus really hasn’t”.
Google has, since then, proactively responded by incorporating greater diversity in its effort towards correcting the ‘history’s unconscious bias’ against achievements of women — especially women of color. The diversity numbers of the doodles started improving in 2014, according to SPARK’s initial research quoted by CNN.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8 this year, it featured thirteen illustrious women that spanned across history and the world, in fields ranging from journalism to archaeology and art. Among them was the late Indian dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale who revived the almost-obscure Bharatanatyam dance form in the 1930s and gave it its internationally acclaimed, contemporary rendition. The list included achievers like English mathematician and computer programmer Ada Lovelace and Egypt’s first woman pilot, Lotfia al-Nadi.
Social reformer Savitribai Phule, painter Amrita Sher-gil and legendary actor Nutan are some other remarkable Indian women with a featured doodle to their name.