Challenges in science
Science and technology have moved at a great pace since independence. What are the achievements and what more needs to be done? Extracts from a new book that focuses on this question.
WE can, perhaps, summarise the role of our people, our Governments, our scientists, and our industry in the fields of science and technology since Independence, in the following terms:
(1) The people of our country have, all through, supported science and technology. In spite of our being rooted deeply in tradition and superstition and in spite of a widespread lack of scientific temper, there has been no significant anti-science movement in India. (2) The credit for the successes in science in the country goes largely to: (a) the Government of India for its continuous support to science after Independence, in spite of its many faults and fallacies; and (b) to the efforts, commitment, courage, intellectual status, integrity, honesty, and scientific excellence of a handful of individual scientists. (3) The responsibility for whatever desirable should have, and could have, happened in India but did not (for example, no Indian working in India receiving a Nobel Prize), lies largely with our scientists and, to a much smaller extent, with the Government for not seeking accountability from the scientists it has appointed and supported, for putting unwarranted obstacles in the path of outstandingly brilliant and creative individuals, and for forgetting that scientific creativity cannot be ordered but needs to be nurtured.
(4) The credit for laying the foundations of the technological development of India must go, again, to the Government of India, especially during the first three decades after Independence.
The remaining credit must go to a handful of enterprising individuals who had extraordinary scientific and/or managerial ability and acumen to weave their way through the maze of difficulties created by the Government and the bureaucracy, and confidence in themselves.
(5) A disturbing fact that emerges out of this analysis of Indian science and technology since Independence is that there have been only two women who have headed a scientific agency or department in the country so far. The only agencies that have had women as directors of their establishments, are ICMR and ICMR. The reasons for this gender inequality in science also reflected in technology are worthy of a detailed sociological analysis, especially when a much larger proportion of women have reached the top of the ladder of hierarchy in most other professions in the country.
We conclude by stating a few of these challenges in the four identified sectors that concern science: the Government, the people, the scientists, and the private sector.
The Government's responsibilities would have to be primarily policy-making, supportive, regulatory, and legislativeOn the other hand, it must ensure that whomsoever the Government supports is held accountable financially, professionally, and socially. The Government will also need to ensure democratisation of education, with a gradual removal of all reservations and the emphasis on equal opportunity for all from the very beginning of formal education. For this to happen, the Government will need to have appropriate, practical, comprehensive, and workable science and education policies, which it lacks today. As for the people, there would have to be a people's movement to ensure that everyone in our society has access to education, that our education is barrier-free. And our NGOs will need to become truly organisations of the people and for the people.
The existing people's movements for the promotion of scientific temper that would encourage rational thinking within a framework of reason would need to be multiplied. We need to realise nationally that the scientific temper is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and prosperity.
Finally, we all would need to learn to work together to network, to support, and not to fight each other within a framework of ethics and mutual concerns, and not of the one-upmanship and selfishness that has so far characterised all sectors and sections of our society and its activities. And when our science and technology are moribund or cease to be self-reliant, our country will be dead.
In all this, time is not on our side. We have a solid foundation of 5,000 years to build on in the areas of science and technology, but we must build fast and ensure that the edifice is strong and functional. We can do it; we have all the resources. The question is, will we do it?
The Saga of Indian Science Since Independence, Pushpa Mittra Bhargava and Chandana Chakrabarti, Universities Press, Rs. 250.
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